Global Navigation Element.

Fall 2011 Vol. 11 Number 2

Table of Contents


National Academies Press Grants Free, Global Access to All Reports

The National Academies Press has released all of its PDF content to the public free of charge. More than 4,500 reports from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council can now be downloaded by anyone with access to the Internet.

“Flipping the switch” on June 2 was the culmination of more than 15 years of work by the publishing house for the National Academies to disseminate its online content as widely as possible while remaining financially self-sufficient. For NAP to sustain itself, proceeds from book sales and services must cover printing, production, and dissemination costs as well as support a staff of about 30 employees.

In order to live up to its goal of widespread dissemination, NAP sought to remove the price barrier for its electronic content. In 1994 it began offering full text of books online in a page-by-page format. In 2002 NAP conducted an online experiment to determine how much revenue would be lost if all reports were available free in PDF form. The research concluded that NAP could anticipate a $2 million decrease in sales each year.

“At the time, our leadership decided that NAP should sell PDF versions of our books while continuing to provide the free page-by-page format online,” said Barbara Kline Pope, executive director of NAP. “We weren’t prepared in 2002 to lose such a huge portion of our budget. Since then, we have gradually made more and more content free online, and we’ve reduced our costs. All of this translated into a financially responsible evolution of our business model.”

By the time of the June announcement, more than 65 percent of NAP’s books were free to anyone, and 100 percent were available as free PDFs to the developing world. The 35 percent with a price tag were popular new reports and classic volumes like “How People Learn,” which reliably bring in the lion’s share of the revenue.

NAP has worked over the past decade to streamline operations so this remaining 35 percent could also be free to anyone. In addition to cost cutting to bridge the budget gap, NAP is receiving some financial support from the Academies. “In this environment of perpetual transition for publishers, we are fortunate to be an integral part of our organization,” said Kline Pope. “It’s been a universal goal to make the results of our work even more available to the American public and to readers throughout the world.”

Based on the performance of NAP’s free PDF reports before the announcement, projections suggested that this change will enhance report distribution from about 700,000 downloads per year to more than 3 million by 2013. The impact on dissemination is already apparent: Since June 2, readers all over the world have downloaded more than 500,000 free reports — more than double the number downloaded in the same period last year. To peruse the publisher’s catalog of National Academies publications, visit
-- Lorin Hancock

Previous Table of Contents Next

Copyright 2011 by the National Academy of Sciences