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Using Fulcrum at Amherst College Press by Beth Bouloukos

Welcome to a series of blog posts by publishers, talking about the platforms they use to publish their open access books. In these posts, a range of different presses tell us what platform they use, why they chose it, and how it fits (or occasionally doesn’t quite fit) their work.

The fourth post in the series is by Beth M. Bouloukos, director of Amherst College Press. Beth reflects on the Press’s experiences of using Fulcrum to publish open access books at Amherst College Press.

Amherst College Press (ACP) is unique among university presses for being housed in a liberal arts college; it is also unusual in the US context as we publish all our books using a platinum open access (OA) model. Amherst College published books under the ACP name decades ago, but we published our first peer reviewed, born open access book in 2015. In its current incarnation, ACP is housed in and funded by the Amherst College library. While ACP publishes everything as digital, open-access works, we also make physical copies of our books available for sale at the lowest possible cost. To learn more about ACP’s OA business model and others, see this collection of case studies hosted on PubPub, which details the business models of a range of OA scholarly book presses.

Because we are a microscale press at a small college, partnerships with external groups have been essential for us. One of these fundamental partnerships is with the Fulcrum team at Michigan Publishing Services (MPS), which developed and hosts the electronic publishing platform we use. This platform allows us to acquire books that are best served by multimodal OA publishing. For example, our Electronic Communities of Making series promotes thoughtful reflection on the communities and practices driving electronic creativity by publishing works that reach across electronic literature, game studies, and internet research to explore the intersection of theory, practice, and pedagogy. Fulcrum has allowed us to publish multivocal media-rich titles that incorporate interviews, videos, music, maps, and archival materials, such as Radical Roots: Public History and a Tradition of Social Justice Activism, The Border of Lights Reader: Bearing Witness to Genocide in the Dominican Republic, and the forthcoming Deep Horizons: A Multisensory Archive of Ecological Affects and Prospects

As we are a library-funded press, many of our goals align with those of MPS, which is closely linked with the University of Michigan Press and part of the university’s libraries. We chose them for their commitment to making our books durable, discoverable, and accessible. Along with our colleagues at MPS, we are currently part of a Mellon-funded sustainability project to ensure that we develop practices that help to preserve the scholarly record of projects that might have components that break over time as technologies change. MPS also takes discoverability as a tantamount concern and our exceptional usage numbers are no doubt in debt to this commitment. We also liked that Fulcrum has incorporated Hypothesis annotation, which we hope will make our books more attractive to instructors and expand our readership.  

In 2022, ACP adopted an accessibility statement as part of our mission, which relates to how we define “access” in open access. Accessibility features make books more findable, machine-readable, preservable, and mobile-compatible. It made sense for us to partner with Fulcrum because accessibility is a core design component of the e-reader they built. Fulcrum’s workflows and technologies make it the most accessible university press publishing platform; the Fulcrum team strives to meet WCAG requirements and follow the same workflows as the University of Michigan Press, which was the first university press to be Benetech Global Certified Accessible. The DAISY Consortium reviewed the Fulcrum reader along with other user groups that included readers with limited dexterity and print disabilities and reported back usability issues for Michigan to remedy. Fulcrum’s hope is to continue testing with other users: this spring, for example, Fulcrum tested an ACP title with a reader using a Thorium e-reader for Braille and found that it was accessible. Read more about the ways Fulcrum is developing the platform and its content to be inclusive, accessible, and usable for all readers here

Although we feel it is the most durable, discoverable, and accessible platform, Fulcrum does not allow for the same range of possibilities as does, for example, Manifold from the University of Minnesota Press. We rarely have a project proposed to us that looks to incorporate functionality that Fulcrum does not have; however, the vast majority of our pipeline is solicited, so we do not deliberately seek out projects that might be best served by an intensely flexible platform like Scalar. That said, there have been projects that we initially thought could use current functionality in the platform and eventually necessitated developer time, which means we incurred additional costs. 

When thinking about a platform-to-press fit, cost is always a major concern. One thing to note for those publishers considering Fulcrum is that there is a yearly charge, which is a flat fee regardless of how many titles you publish. The current cost might be a barrier to using the platform for some smaller or underfunded organizations. However, Fulcrum does offer a per-title fee that might make it a fit for publishers that want to publish a one-off title.

Read the other posts in this Publisher Spotlight series on the platforms presses choose to publish their OA books: https://openaccessbooksnetwork.hcommons.org/category/publisher-spotlight/ 

CC BY 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.