Open Book Publishers was born in 2008, sparked into life by co-founder and managing editor Alessandra Tosi’s first-hand experience of the frustrations of academic publishing. The thrill of seeing her book in print was dampened by the realisation that, thanks to its exorbitant price and small print run, very few people would have the opportunity to read it. She and co-founder Rupert Gatti began OBP to make high-quality academic books accessible for everyone everywhere and free of charge.
Nine years on we have come closer to realizing our ideal of a world where scholarly works are available to all. With the publication of our hundredth title, Michael Bryson and Arpi Movsesian’s Love and Its Critics: From the Song of Songs to Shakespeare and Milton’s Eden, it is a good time to ask: what have we achieved as we arrive at this milestone, and what do we want to do next?
Over three blog posts we will discuss our innovative publications, our Open Access model and our technological development to celebrate some highlights from our first one hundred books – and to chart a course for the next hundred!
Innovative Presentation, Improved Research
The internet is fundamental to Open Access as it allows everybody to easily reach information. But the internet is not just a channel for Open Access – it is also an enabling force that can be harnessed to create new research. From the changing sounds of musical performance throughout history to video footage of Zambian storytellers performing their tales, we have found that digital publication offers great advantages to scholars seeking to communicate their research more vividly and comprehensively.
Many of our authors make innovative use of the digital medium to add sound and moving images to the written word, or to engage directly with archival materials, with fellow scholars, or with students, and thereby improve the quality of their work. Here are ten examples:
1) Dorottya Fabian’s A Musicology of Performance brings sound as well as scholarship to the study of musical performance through its wealth of embedded audio examples, tables and graphs. These interactive elements map the connections between different performance styles and broader cultural trends. By having the musical examples embedded directly within the work, readers are much better able to understand, and evaluate, Fabian’s assessments and interpretations.
2) Denis Diderot’s ‘Rameau’s Nephew’: A Multi-Media Edition is a new version of Diderot’s classic, edited by Marian Hobson, embedded with musical pieces specially selected by Pascal Duc and performed for this publication by students of the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique, Paris. The aural material complements the superbly lucid translation, enhancing the book’s scholarly approach. As one review kindly put it, “It is no exaggeration to say that Hobson, Tunstall, and Warman, with the aid of Pascal Duc and his students at the aforementioned Conservatoire have attempted something truly remarkable: reconstructing the cultural context of one of the most complex and important works in eighteenth-century literature.” This work won the 2015 British Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies’ prize for a digital publication.
3) Robert Cancel’s Storytelling in Northern Zambia allows the reader to play video recordings of Zambian storytellers as they navigate the text, illuminating visual and aural aspects of performance that go far beyond the words on the page.
5) From Dust to Digital, edited by Maja Kominko, provides integrated links to the online archives and databases that are its subject.
6) Digital publications can be particularly valuable in the classroom. Our Classics textbooks are available in interactive editions with teachers’ annotations, to encourage student engagement.
7) We have partnered with Dickinson College Commentaries to offer enhanced key texts in Latin for students and teachers, and since they are Open Access, classes of any size can use them without worrying about cost. For example, the Latin section of the Summer Language Institute at the University of Virginia is using our Cornelius Nepos ‘Life of Hannibal’ commentary for their intensive class this summer. We are delighted that our textbooks are being adopted at a time when the price of US textbooks are soaring.
8) Likewise Stephen Siklos’s Advanced Problems in Mathematics: Preparing for University is one of our most-read titles, having been accessed over 21,000 times.
9) Our publishing model allows us to be nimble in responding to current events. Our anthology Tolerance: The Beacon of the Enlightenment was first published in French by the Société française d’étude du dix-huitième siècle (the French Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies) in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo assassinations in January 2015. With the support of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, it was translated by over 100 students and tutors of French at Oxford University and we published the English edition on the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks on 7 January 2016. This attracted widespread media coverage on its launch, with articles on BBC News, The Guardian, Times Higher, MashableUK, Bookanista and Oxford Today.
10) We are currently working on a new project inspired by this experience. An anthology of texts on Enlightenment ideas about Europe was published in French (in May to coincide with the Presidential elections), in English (in June to coincide with the anniversary of the Brexit referendum) and, soon, in German (to coincide with the government elections).
Digital publication offers great opportunities for lively and original presentation, easy access for students and scholars, reuse of research data by others and a nimble format that allows swift responses to current events and interactivity with the reader. In the next post, we will look at the potential of our Open Access books to have a global impact.