OBP's responses to the UUK Open Access Monographs project questionnaire

Academic Publishing Nov 27, 2018

OBP has participated in the data-gathering exercise that is currently being carried out by Fullstopp Gmbh on behalf of the Universities UK Open Access Monographs working group. The questionnaire, which is available online, has been designed to collect information that will inform future OA policy decisions, and in the spirit of openness we share our responses in full below. We also share the data we provided to Fullstopp, which comprises sales data for all the print editions of our books published before the end of 2017. We also have sales information for our digital editions and readership statistics for all our titles that we are happy to make available if requested.

We are always happy to share information and data about our work – we put as much of it as we can on our website, but if you’d like to know more, please get in touch!

Questions for qualitative interviews UUK Open Access Monographs project

Open Book Publishers, www.openbookpublishers.com

When did your publishing house enter into OA publishing?
OBP was founded as an entirely OA publisher in 2008.

What were the motivations back then?
To create an OA, not-for-profit, scholar-led and non-APC Press for peer-reviewed monographs and edited books in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Since then, has your approach/strategy changed?
We set up as a flexible initiative in terms of publishing model, and experimental in terms of presentation of research. Our basic approach to publishing hasn’t changed but we have adapted to achieve financial viability and allow growth; we have expanded our list to include textbooks and the Sciences; and have fostered partnerships and collaborations with scholarly groups and institutions.

If so, what are the changes and why did you make them?
We steadily increased our staff from an initial two to the present six full-time employees. We Introduced a Library Membership Programme in 2015 (more info here) to involve libraries more directly in our work, and to part-finance our operations. In the same year we started employing a dedicated marketing and library specialist.

In 2017 we launched several open source IT development projects financed by grants (more info here). Although separate from our core publishing activities these projects intersect with and support our publishing operations, and the work of other similar publishing houses. We are actively working within the ScholarLed collective, OPERAS_EU and HIRMEOS to promote a more just, effective and not-for-profit OA ecosystem internationally.

How do you assess the market development on both the author side and the funding side for OA monographs over the past 18 months?
There has been a slight increase in the publishing subventions authors are able to secure (we do not apply APCs but ask authors to apply for grants, mainly at their institutions, if they are able to). We are also seeing increasing interest in OA publishing options from authors and institutions – although it is difficult to judge the relative importance of our activities in raising awareness amongst these groups from external developments in OA.

What is the nature of the most significant challenges your publishing house is facing?
Obtaining financing to develop new types of publications and to create broader, long-term and collaborative projects.

Do you feel that there are infrastructural challenges that hinder the broader and quicker dissemination of OA monographs?
Definitely. The existing discovery and distribution channels for digital books are not well suited for Open Access content, nor easy for small or new publishing initiatives to interact with. They are dominated by both revenue considerations and DRM, and are all gated-access – so difficult to upload content into. There is very little scope for any technical innovation in new content within these channels either. In addition we are seeing the creation and emergence of large-scale digital content platforms that are owned, managed and controlled by single entities. These are not designed to be openly managed by the scholarly community and so are liable to take-over and control by parties with vested interests.

A difficulty presently is that the primary public funding route for OA publishing is via APCs and BPCs to commercial publishers – who have strong financial incentives to create their own managed digital platforms. To maintain research and researcher independence, to encourage broad innovation in dissemination processes and practices, and to fully realise the potential OA has to offer, it is essential to create alternative platforms – and this requires alternative funding routes. It also requires coordinated coalitions of scholars to manage and control the platforms – rather than leaving it to the service providers themselves, who will be incentivized to distort the platforms for their own objectives.

A wider spectrum of platforms is therefore needed and we are working towards the development of non-exclusive, open, community-managed and non-profit platforms in partnerships such as the ScholarLed collective, OPERAS_EU and HIRMEOS.

What is your position regarding a potential mandate for monographs to go Open Access under the next REF?
We would rather avoid mandates when possible, as we don’t believe one model fits all in research or dissemination. However sometimes – when broad and coordinated action is required to introduce a new system – the only way to effectively do that is via a mandate. We also believe that research funders (including public research funders) are entirely within their rights to include an OA requirement for the dissemination of outputs from research they fund.

Our primarily concern with the introduction of a mandate will be in the details of the implementation. If (as with articles and APCs) the primary focus is to make payments to existing publishers to enable OA for existing formats on existing platforms – without any consideration given to effective cost control or the development of alternative OA publishing infrastructures – then there is a danger of entrenching the existing industrial structure and methods and so missing out on many of the potential benefits a truly OA structure may allow.

It is also important that the costs claimed by publishers are made public and can be vetted, and that a proper competitive system is set in place. It is important to avoid OA publishing funds being used to enable or sustain high profit margins, the overly expensive publishing practices of legacy publishers, or restrictive practices in digital publishing – including the practice of double-dipping – and to promote instead fairly priced and innovative publishing practices that encourage new entrants and publishing techniques.

Which impediments to implementation do you see, if any?
Lack of serious monitoring of publishers’ costs, lack of non-APC outlets for scholars who are unable to source subventions, insufficient information provided to scholars about the different OA options available to them, insufficient funding being made available for non-traditional publishing options, the value still attributed to publishers’ reputations rather than a direct assessment of the content they publish. Without serious cost control and introduction of innovative practices this could become little more than an expensive route to sustain the status quo.

Which structural challenges do you find most significant?
Serious reform within the publishing industry will not be successful until researchers evaluate each other on the quality of the work itself, rather than indirectly through the publisher brand. Work to weaken the emphasis on the publisher brand over content needs to go hand in hand with an OA funding mandate.

The control that commercial service providers have on the entire research dissemination process is extremely restrictive and damaging to scholarly inquiry, impacting as it does on promotion, on research activities and topics, and on who is able to undertake research. Presently the scholarly community is being largely controlled by the publishing industry – rather than visa versa. Enabling scholarly independence and control of outputs is vital. The appearance in the last decade of a significant number of independent scholar-led OA presses and the partnerships they are forming, together with the growth of the Open Textbook movement and an increased understanding of OA, is helping to shift scholarly publishing from a legacy set-up to new modes of publication and dissemination of knowledge. But there is a long way to go…

Regarding early career researchers and their specific situation when it comes to funding, what does your publishing house propose as an approach?
We promote diamond OA so early-career academics unable to secure funding are not discriminated against when submitting their work to OBP. However, a better recognition in the REF, and related assessment exercises, of works published by new OA academic presses who follow strict quality-control processes is required, especially for early-career academics who depend on the perceived impact of their publications to advance their career.


Rupert Gatti

Dr Rupert Gatti is a co-founder of Open Book Publishers. He is also a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he is Director of Studies in Economics.