Open Access monographs in the humanities and social sciences – guest post no. 2

Sarah Stamford’s summary of the JISC/Open Access Network conference held at the British Library 1st & 2nd July 2013.

Condensing a two-day conference into a short report is quite a tall order, so I will bring together points which particularly attracted my attention under four headings: Concept, Models, Issues and What’s missing.

“OA monographs” presupposes the product will be an ebook, or ebook and print in some combination, possibly including paid-for content and licensed under Creative Commons.  Although this implies the content will be free at the point of use, costs are involved in getting it to the reader and how these will be met is unclear.  The potential is there to change both the shape and the delivery of the scholarly monograph.

1.         Concept

  • Open Access is an opportunity created by technological developments.  The level of demand is unknown but may be presumed to exist from the use of the (relatively small) number of OA monographs currently available.
  •  It grants access to scholarly research to readers outside universities and institutions in developed countries, for example to general readers and those elsewhere in the world.
  •  HSS topics appeal to a broader readership than science; to some extent OA may help to raise the profile of these disciplines and justify continued research.
  • The value is not just in the monograph per se, but the ability to bring a number of texts together for correlation and further study (as with a print library collection).
  • Including multi-media and interactive content in ebooks expands the potential to link to primary source material (digitized texts, 3-D images, video clips etc).  This is likely to change the identity of the scholarly monograph.
  • Although paper remains “a viable product” (Rupert Gatti, Open Book Publishers) and authors like to have a print copy with their name on it, is print, originally seen as the revolutionary way of disseminating ideas, now restricting accessibility?
  • “Commercial ebooks are stupid” (Philippe Aigrain, author of Sharing)
  • Is the monograph the purpose of research, or something produced as a by-product of it?
  •  Is the concept of “an author” valid when research is often collaborative?
  • Authors expect to earn money from book publishing, but not from journal articles.

2.         Models

We already have Google Books, Hathi Trust, Project Gutenberg, etc, as Open Access ebooks.

Open Library of the Humanities

Considering options for funding OA – same as journals? Take advertising? Author pays (APCs)? Library pays, possibly via a consortium. Or maybe journals subsidise ebooks?

How to satisfy need for author’s prestige, also looking at formats, preservation, costs of production. What might be the effect on sales of print books if OA ebooks become the norm?

Knowledge Unlatched

Consortium of libraries and publishers based on lowering the risk to both. Price to libraries set (either for individual text or a collection) by the number of libraries willing to commit to a subscription once title is published.  OA version on KU’s platform will be basic text (.pdf?), a premium model with extra whistles and bells will be available from the publisher at a higher price.

[I have some problems with this model – transparency of costings, libraries may be unable to decide whether to purchase title in advance of publication as it is often some years before the relevance of a monograph is appreciated, can’t see why library would want to purchase the OA version if academics will want the premium model, and a cost model whereby most popular texts are the cheapest may be the wrong way round]

Palgrave Open

Model at present is similar to that for traditional publishing. They claim it is sustainable but haven’t yet decided who will pay – could be author, funding bodies or institutions or combination of all three. Aim to publish 10 titles in 2014.

Open Book Publishers

Based in Cambridge set up by 3 academics.  Not for profit organisation, funded by Universities, EU, Wellcome Trust and their own sales.  Also crowdsourced funding for one book via Twitter.

They have published c.30 titles as ebooks on OA.  Revenue from sales comes from payment for POD, digital .pdf or downloaded ebook but it’s the same content in all formats.  Expanding into allowing comments from readers to be added to text and adding QR codes to embed video material in print copies.

Aim is to extend scholarship and cite readership of c.500 hits per book per month against how many people would read a print run of 200 copies sold mostly to libraries and restricted to their members only?

ebooks@cambridge have previously assisted this company.


Their OA books findable via Google Books and Amazon. Some discussion about their imposition of CCNC licensing on all authors, restricting reuse, and their costing model.

Directory of Open Access Books launched at the conference.

3.         Issues

These are points which came up several times in discussions.

Peer review              Is current system broken? Are there better ways to carry it out in a digital environment? Who can review? Who reviews the reviews?

Gold v Green              Arguments as with ejournals

VAT                            OA (zero price) would not attract VAT, or would it?

REF                            HEFCE seem unlikely to include OA in the next REF due to lack of viable model.

Repositories                What are their role? Should they consider moving more in publishing content?

Learned societies        What is their role in OA publishing?

Long-term access       With no contract or money changing hands, is there any obligation to retain OA monographs in perpetuity? Who has responsibility for this? Archiving critical (eg Portico etc) – who ensures it happens?

Costs                           What exactly are the production costs? Paper is cheap, print pricing based on extra work carried out by publisher in bringing book to market (copy-editing, metadata, supply and marketing) So who pays for those functions in OA?

Copyright                   Who ensures it is enforced?

ORCID                        Identification of researchers would assist OA, but can be contentious.

Digitising                    Primary sources, even more important if OA monographs are going to link to them. But what happens if they are licensed?

Cataloguing                Should OA resources be included in library catalogues/discovery tools? How?

4.                     What’s missing?

  • No mention of market research into the extent to which researchers want to read monographs in e-format.
  • Current models are based on production and delivery, not consumption.
  • Impact on library budgets.  Will these be used to fund institutional publishing via OA, and what happens if libraries are then expected to buy premium content?
  • Do librarians have the skills to support academics in publishing their research?
  • What is the role of the University press here, for example, should CUP publish Cambridge University-generated content in OA?
  • Less profit in monographs than journals, so money is tight.
  • In an environment where all Universities have access to the same content, what will distinguish their libraries?  Services and their historical collections?

Videos of the conference presentations are available on YouTube.

Sarah Stamford (Selwyn College Librarian / Chair of the ebooks@cambridge Advisory Group)


2 thoughts on “Open Access monographs in the humanities and social sciences – guest post no. 2

  1. Pingback: Springer expands Open Access program to eBooks

  2. Hi Sarah, Thank you for engaging with Knowledge Unlatched and sharing your concerns with the model. Of course, in the short time given to the presentation it was impossible to cover all aspects. But let me take your points one by one.

    ‘transparency of costings’ – we’re committed to making details of costs as transparent as possible. The range of possible costs for origination are well known and we will be making these known even more widely. What does vary is length and complexity of books to a much greater extent than, say, individual journal articles and much of the work done on books is time related based on these factors. Additionally different presses offer different services and compete on this. What looks to some as skimping on costs looks to others as necessary cost savings. Equally some presses choose to invest more in production value and others less. This will all be reflected in their costs and pricing. Our view is that this variety of offerings is probably a good thing and ultimately it is for the academic community itself to decides what services it wants.

    ‘libraries may be unable to decide whether to purchase title in advance of publication as it is often some years before the relevance of a monograph is appreciated’- This has always been the case. And yet, libraries have also been willing to purchase books around the time they are published based on the reputation of the publisher, the author or as part of an approval programme, or because of a recommendation by a faculty member – who also may be responding only to a short entry in a publisher’s catalogue. If monographs only reached libraries once there value is proven they would be read by fewer people.

    It is because the books are available in the library that they have the opportunity of being read and can become part of the subject’s discourse.

    ‘can’t see why library would want to purchase the OA version if academics will want the premium model’. The OA version will be a stepping stone for those libraries that also want to buy the premium version (at a discount that reflects their contribution to the OA version). We agree that this is not optimal, but rather a step towards exploring what people will do with the OA version. We’re trying to solve the problem that not everyone who wants access to these books can afford the old closed model and we need to gather data on usage of OA. You may have heard Toby Green’s presentation of how they’ve shifted from limited OA and some added services to much greater OA and increased sales of value-added services. The fact is we don’t really know how that will play out, but at KU we see our model as a start at a time when so much is in flux that no one has any definitive answers. We believe that our pilot will provide a lot of useful information for both libraries and publishers.

    ‘and a cost model whereby most popular texts are the cheapest may be the wrong way round’ I’m not sure what you mean by this, but if you are referring to the cost to each library being less as more libraries participate – let me clarify. Yes, if you divide the Title Fee by 500 libraries it costs each library less than if spread over 250, but we hope that eventually the library community will see the benefits of sharing the costs widely – thus making each library’s budget go further and thus be able to support unlatching more books. However, this issue sits at the heart of the shift from collecting to connecting. What we’re hoping to achieve is to lower costs all round and achieve OA for large numbers of monographs. Which ones will become classics cannot be foreseen.

    At KU, which is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, we are committed to reducing barriers to access of scholarly long-form works in ways that benefit all stakeholders. We’re open to ideas on how to improve the model. We just completed a survey of ARL press directors and 87% said they were likely or very likely to join the pilot. We’re awaiting the results of a similar survey sent out by JISC. We’re forming a library advisory group. Would you like to join us?

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