Why? (How it all began.)

On July 23, 2014 one of my PhD students was admitted to the defence of her thesis. To explain what this means at Leiden University requires a little bit of archaic language: the candidate can now obtain from the beadle a date and a time for the defence. And, at least three weeks before that date, the candidate has to make available several copies  of the printed PhD thesis.

Now we get to the part of the story that focuses on timing, scheduling and licensing. As it happened, the candidate was from China, and on September 30 her permit to be in the Netherlands was to expire irrevocably. And, again as it happened, the only remaining moment available for the defence was on September 16. Consequently, the printed PhD thesis had to be available on August 26. The candidate had five weeks to make this happen. Unfortunately, there were some additional constraints. First, for her future scientific career, publication under ISBN-number was required. Second, as she needed about 50 copies and did not command a fortune, prices had to be low. Third, as Leiden university provides a substantial renumeration to each candidate who agrees to license the manuscript for digital publication in the University’s repository under an open source license, the publisher of the thesis in book form had to agree with this scheme. As these constraints do not tally with the business models of publishing companies that operate on the market for scientific publications it became clear by August 1 that the candidate was facing a problem.

Enters dotLegal Publishing as first deus ex machina.  As a diligent supervisor, I had been searching for publishing possibilities on internet, and had found out that getting hold of ISBN-numbers is a matter of days for publishers, and to be considered a publisher requires an enterprise that is registered at the Chamber of Commerce. As dotLegal already was a small, adequately registered enterprise it was conceivable to add a publishing branch to it. And as I did not yet have a publishing business model at all, I opted for one that welcomes and accommodates “open source” licensing.   

Enters CreateSpace as second deus ex machina. My Googling yielded a very promising testimony on a publishing timeline with a service called CreateSpace, which allowed hopes for making the books available within two weeks, provided adequate pdf-files were provided.

The results were astonishing:

  • 50 perfectly produced 247-page pocket books containing the thesis, including Table of Contents, Footnotes, Tables, Figures, Index and Bibliography, were shipped to the Netherlands and arrived within 2 weeks of finalising the proofing phase;
  • the costs were, including shipment, below $500,
  • if required, the book is distributed by Amazon USA and/or Amazon Europe
  • for a price (of around $15)
  • leaving a profit (of around $5 per book) to be shared between author and publisher.

I reckon that such a service might be interesting to those authors that do not aim for stardom and riches, but for publication, sharing and distributing useful information and knowledge. I decided to keep dotLegal Publishing alive for some time and to at least inform PhD student at Leiden University of its services.

Of course there are caveats. An important cost-reducing aspect is how the pdf files are produced and delivered. My first author used Lyx and Bibtex for the thesis (including Table of Contents, Footnotes, Tables, Figures, Index and Bibliography), separate .jpg files for graphics and the Gimp for graphical design of the cover. There must be alternatives (e.g., MS-word/Zotero ). But these are issues that I will discuss separately when I get to it.