At the AAUP Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City this month, Joseph Esposito (CEO of GiantChair) shared his intriguing vision of the future of university presses and book publishing in general. Mr. Esposito describes 5 different coexisting "stages" of book publishing, from Stage One ("The medium was print; the distribution indirect...and the entire business was conducted in the world of bricks and mortar")  to Stage Two ("the paradigm for online bookselling of print books") to the more recent, ebook-centered stages. The proposed model for the future, Stage Five, envisions a world in which university presses publish high-quality ebooks in a few target areas, then stream access to these titles via subscription-based aggregators.

Citing the subscription-based models of Netflix's streaming videos and Pandora's streaming music, Mr. Esposito points out

I cannot help but remark on the irony that so many pundits say that the book business is going to move in the direction of the music business, with massive piracy and the equivalent of Apple's iTunes.  Meanwhile, the music business is beginning to look more and more like the traditional magazine or journals business, except that the products are delivered online.

and offers a somewhat striking prediction, given the audience of university press book publishers:

I am predicting that everyone in this room will become a Web marketer, a direct marketer, and a manager of a subscription service in the coming years.  If you are thinking about sustainability, the time to begin working on these things is now.  Look forward, not back; think innovation, not preservation.

I am looking forward to someday becoming a subscriber to a university press.  It is inevitable.

The whole talk is posted on the AAUP website and is worth a read if you have a few minutes.