How long till we have Open Access books?

Who reads poetry? (Photographer: Idle Ethnographer TM)

Who reads poetry? (Photographer: Idle Ethnographer TM)

There’s an extremely informative article on the LSE Impact Blog giving a useful overview of the still uncertain future of open access monographs. There are a variety of potential models which could be adopted for publishing open access monographs and it’s still unclear as to which is the most viable:

This means that there are some extremely interesting experiments happening at the moment. Some borrow from the dominant OA journal publishing business model, which asks authors to pay a fee (or APC) to cover the costs of producing and disseminating their work. In some cases, they may seek to lower the initial fee that they charge by continuing to make profits on the print or formatted e-book versions of the book. Of course, the challenge for the author in this model is finding the money for that initial fee; although some funders (notably theWellcome Trust) have indicated that they’re happy to pay, much research in HSS is not grant-based and the author may not have access to the levels of money that publishers charge.

Another model builds on a more traditional source of funding for monographs: library budgets. Knowledge Unlatched is currently operating a pilot to establish the feasibility of a library consortium which underwrites the first copy costs of books in order to make them open access on publication. The project’s organisers hope to be able to show that for as little as $60 per title, libraries can pay to ‘unlatch’ a book and make it open access for everyone. Of course, there’s an altruistic element to this activity: the project acknowledges this explicitly, but also offers participating libraries a chance to shape the future of the work.

One of the key questions from a commercial standpoint is the implications of open access for usage and sales. Perhaps even more challenging is the important role monographs play in credentialization. This impedes experimentation because people’s careers are built, in part, through following established norms within their disciplines:

One of the big challenges of open access for monographs is that in many HSS disciplines, books have taken on a significance which goes beyond their core purpose of communicating a researcher’s ideas. Publishing a book can have a significant positive effect upon a researcher’s career, particularly when they have been picked up by a publisher considered prestigious within their discipline. This makes it very difficult for researchers to do anything that differs from disciplinary norms, particularly those at the start of their careers and looking for secure employment. It’s encouraging, therefore, that well-established publishers such as Oxford University Press are joining the OAPEN-UK project (with the full support of their authors), while others are engaging with similar projects to explore how they might develop an open access offer.

These remarks point obliquely to another possibility: open access edited books. Unlike monographs these have a minimal credentializing function. My own experience of editing has been one of intense enthusiasm from a curatorial standpoint which rapidly diminishes once I’ve been confronted with the realities of the market. Or in other words: I love the idea of edited collections as a vehicle for weaving diverse strands of scholarship into a useful whole but I find it incredibly frustrating how expensive these are. The commercial imperative of scholarly publishers undermines the communicative intent behind these collections. So why aren’t these being self-published? What does a commercial publisher add to the typical edited book beyond impeding its circulation by slapping a massive price tag onto it?

Categories: Higher Education

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