In the past I've written on this blog about Open Book Publishers, a recently founded academic press publishing on the open access model – the books are published in the Creative Commons framework. They are non-profit and use print on demand technology so prices for physical copies are around £14 (or £25 for a hardback), which is about the same as the lowest prices charged by other academic publishers. Electronic versions are of course much cheaper – around £5.
Their list has grown since then and includes some forthcoming economics titles that look promising: one is David Levine's Is Behavioural Economics Doomed and another is a volume edited by Amartya Sen, Peace and Democratic Society. There's also a recent volume of essays on the history of copyright (£4.95 as a pdf, £14.95 for a physical copy). The essence of the model can be found on the information for authors page.
The website says: “We are excited that, during
our first two years of operation, our free online editions have been
accessed by people in over 120 countries, and that each of our books is
being viewed by about as many people per
many traditional print-only titles will reach in their entire published
Founder Rupert Gatti recently published an article (pdf here) in the Cambridge alumni magazine making the case that all academic work should be published under a Creative Commons licence. The purpose of academic research, he argues persuasively, is to share knowledge whereas the aim of publishers is to restrict access to varying degrees. Copyright on academic works benefits the publishers, who no longer, however, serve the purposes for academics they used to for the researchers. Publishers are no longer essential to reach readers, very few scrutinise and edit manuscripts as they used to, and publishers' selection of what is worthy may well differ from an academic assessment, for publishers more clearly want what will sell. His article is well worth a read.
My experience via this blog and previously as a reader is that academic publishers vary quite widely in their policies and attitudes. Some would share fully Open Book Publishers' commitment to scholarship and public value – I'd certainly include my own in that category. Others are clearly more commercial and price for a small number of library sales. I think the commitment is more important than the choice of business model, because – as in any other area of business – it's values that ultimately determine behaviour.