When some Spaniards decided they wanted to translate one of my books into Spanish and give it broad distribution, including in Latin America, we came up with a new publishing model that may have some instructive elements for future academic book publishing. As described on my blog, Bollier.org (at http://www.bollier.org/blog/think-global-print-local-new-commons-based-publishing-model and http://www.bollier.org/blog/spanish-translation-%E2%80%9Cthink-commoner%E2%80%9D-now-published), we wanted to pioneer a new mode of artisanal, decentralized text translation and international book distribution and publishing.
After producing the translation (in this case, financed via crowdfunding; not a recommended model for academia), we posted the translated text online with a Creative Commons license while working with small publishers in four different Spanish-speaking countries to give them free (non-exclusive) rights to print and distribute hard-copy books in their countries. Ideally, we wanted to have arrangements with print-on-demand publishing sites/retailers, but that proved to be too administratively laborious for a single book. (But imagine the efficiencies and convenience if that infrastructure were built out!) We were inspired in part by what the OER movement has done with open textbooks.
Through our scheme, we maximized the reach of the Spanish translation, kept costs quite low, and avoided the costs of international shipping from a centralized production facility. We used our network of interested commoners and activists to market the book, and the book itself was priced at a reasonable cost. The project also built bridges of cooperation among different players, opening up the possibility of future collaboration and validating a new model of publishing.
Our experience was rudimentary and experimental, however, and could obviously be improved upon. But if systems and infrastructure were created to regularize this type of book publishing and adapt it to the needs of a given discipline, it could provide a more responsive, author-friendly, knowledge-accelerating mode of scholarly communication. Key challenges would include startup capital, entrepreneurial management, editorial curation, and institutional partnerships -- and of course, acceptance by university leadership. However, the collective benefits would be plentiful.