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What should I ask a publisher about Open Access?

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There are many academic publishers who publish Open Access work, including some of the most well-known such as Cambridge University Press, Harvard University Press, Oxford University Press, The MIT Press, Palgrave Macmillan, Springer, Elsevier, and so on.

There are also publishers whose entire publishing output is made available on an Open Access basis, such as ourselves, Open Humanities Press, UCL Press, punctum books, and many more.

These publishers and their practices vary hugely: some are not-for-profit, while some have profit margins in excess of 30%; some require an embargo period, while others will publish Open Access immediately; some will not charge author fees, some will. Find out the policies of the publishers you are considering, and choose accordingly. Some of the key questions to ask are:

  • Will I have to pay a fee? How much is it? What does it pay for?
  • Is the publisher for-profit or not-for-profit?
  • What peer-review systems do they have in place?
  • Do they create Open Access editions?
  • Do they insist on an embargo period?
  • Is their Open Access edition just a downloadable PDF?
  • Are the Open Access editions easily discoverable? How is the work distributed?
  • Do they let you keep your copyright?

Will I have to pay a fee? How much is it? What does it pay for?

Some publishers charge BPCs (Book Processing Charges) or APCs (Article Processing Charges) or other types of fee when publishing an Open Access work. Many do not. In some cases, these charges are essential to the continued work of the publisher and the costs of publication are laid out in a transparent manner. In other cases, the calculations behind the fee are not transparent. These costs might be met by the author, their institution, or another funding body.

At OBP we do not charge authors a fee: we believe this ‘author pays’ model simply shifts the burdens and inequalities of closed-access publishing from one group to another.[1]

Is the publisher for-profit or not-for-profit?

While it is not necessarily the case that for-profit = bad and not-for-profit = good, this is an important factor to be aware of, particularly if the publisher charges expensive fees to make your work Open Access.

OBP is not-for-profit: this enables us to work more efficiently and cost-effectively, but more importantly we believe that the public money and scholarly labour that underlie the academic publishing process should not fund shareholder profits, inflated executives’ salaries, or excessive overheads. For more about our funding model, see this blog.

What peer-review systems do they have in place?

One myth about Open Access is that any fee-based publishing model is equivalent to vanity publishing and likely to be of poor quality. This misconception is dealt with more fully in this post – suffice it to say here that the quality of the review process cannot be assumed from the business model of the publisher, for good or ill, so find out what a publisher’s peer-review system is before you publish with them. Reputable publishers should be transparent about their practices, as we are at OBP. Look out for their compliance with the requirements of independent bodies such as OAPEN and the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB).

Do they create Open Access editions?

Some publishers will not create an Open Access edition; they simply allow a pre-publication version of the work to be deposited in an institutional repository, often after an embargo period. (This is typically the author’s Word document and has not been copy-edited or typeset by the publisher.) For more information about these different practices, including the terminology associated with them (Green, Gold, etc) click here.

At OBP our Open Access editions all come from the same master file as the paid-for editions.[2] All our books are rigorously peer-reviewed and edited, and produced to the highest standards.

Do they insist on an embargo period?

Some publishers will not allow the publication of an Open Access version of the work until a paid-for edition has been in circulation for a period of time. For more information about these different practices, including the terminology associated with them (Green, Gold, etc) click here.

At OBP we believe that embargo periods are against the spirit of Open Access and should be avoided.

Is their Open Access edition just a downloadable PDF?

Some publishers will limit their Open Access editions to a freely downloadable PDF. This is a very basic form of Open Access. At OBP, our Open Access editions include interactive PDF, HTML and XML editions that are all fully searchable and can be downloaded, reused or embedded anywhere.

Are the Open Access editions easily discoverable? How is the work distributed?

Some publishers will make their Open Access editions clearly visible alongside any paid-for editions, as we do at OBP. Others will make the Open Access edition difficult to find. Look at their title pages to see how ‘open’ publishers are about their Open Access publications.

Where else is the book available? If you are dealing with a smaller publisher, do they distribute via the major retail outlets (e.g. Amazon, Apple iBook store, B&N, Google Play) and distribution channels (such as Barnes & Noble, Bertram Books, Blackwells, CNKI Bejing, SWETS and YBP)? Do they provide MARC records for libraries, automatic metadata distribution to Crossref and prepare publication metadata for wholesale and eBook distributors? What are their marketing and publicity plans? Open Access is little use if nobody knows about your work.

At OBP we also have partnerships with organisations across the world to make our books more accessible for a global audience, including World Reader and Library for All. To us, Open Access means democratising access globally as much as possible.

Do they let you keep your copyright?

Many publishers ask you to sign away your copyright to them before they will publish your work. This restricts your and others’ ability to share and distribute your work, and is not compatible with full Open Access. It is typically associated with so-called Green or Hybrid OA.

Not all publishers require you to sign away your copyright – we don’t at OBP – and publishers who ask for it don’t always insist if you push back.

Many authors are woefully uninformed about copyright issues. For more about this essential topic, see this post.

This blog post is part of a series for academics who want to find out more about Open Access. Click here for the other posts.

[1] We are working as part of a consortium of not-for-profit Open Access publishers, ScholarLed, to develop infrastructure and funding channels that eliminate the need for BPCs and enable a more equitable and sustainable funding model for Open Access publishers.

[2] At OBP, our Open Access editions are available in PDF, HTML and XML and we sell paperback, hardback and digital editions (epub and mobi) at affordable prices. Our sales are an important revenue stream that enable us to provide Open Access editions of all of our books.

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