In 2015,  Karin Wulf asserted in her Scholarly Kitchen post, Books, Glorious Books: Explorations in Open Access Monograph Publishing, that while open access articles and books share an undergirding philosophy, they differ significantly in practice:  “The basic issues are the same for OA journals and monographs, yet cost, use, licensing, distribution, and the varied significance of the form across disciplines and within fields play out very differently.”

In the intervening years since Wulf’s writing, we’ve gained more clarity around one of the central, practical uncertainties circling OA books – who will pay? Similar to the journal model, books published via the gold route are made freely available to the reader with a book processing charge (BPC) generally applied by publishers to cover the costs of editorial, production, and digital publication. With increasing frequency, funders are expanding their mandates to cover OA monographs. In addition to the Austrian Science Fund, which was one of the first to fund OA for scholarly publications including monographs, UK funding bodies intend to extend the open access (OA) requirements of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to include books, though the policy has yet to be implemented, fostering lively debate. Switzerland has likewise applied a mandate for OA books, and even more recently, the French Minister for Higher Education and Research and Innovation unveiled a National Plan for Open Science, which will make OA mandatory when publishing articles and books resulting from government-funded projects – just to call out a few.

But where do we stand on key issues of use, discoverability, rights, and perhaps most importantly, implementation infrastructure?  A number of new, insightful and thorough industry reports have been published over the last year, tackling these very topics. Below, we’ve assembled key highlights from each to help you stay abreast of open access book developments.

1)  Knowledge Exchange’s  Summary: A Landscape Study On Open Access (OA) And Monographs

Published in March 2018 and revised in July, this report from Knowledge Exchange is a landscape study analyzing existing information about how OA monographs operate in relation to OA policies, funding streams and business models in the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Austria, using a literature review, a series of web-based questionnaires and qualitative interviews.  In addition to painting a very detailed picture of the state of open access books in each of these geographies, the report also makes key recommendations for funders (e.g. streamline compliance and requirements in how BPCs are administered and monitored between funders), policymakers (e.g. work with funders on cost effective ways to make monographs OA), authors (e.g. become more educated about the benefits of OA books), university administrators (e.g. address issues around the reward system), publishers (e.g. use a common set of metadata), and librarians (e.g. look at OA licensing and acquisitions in a coordinated manner).

2) Universities UK Open Access Coordination Group’s Open Access Monographs

This report from Universities UK provides an overview of the open access (OA) landscape for monographs, significant publishing activities, and recent reports that provide an insight into the transition to OA for academic books. Headline findings include evidence that the cost of making a monograph OA varies, as do book processing charges (BPCs). Some publishers offer reduced BPCs for early career researchers (for example School of Advanced Study [SAS] Digital Humanities Library) or cover the costs for their own institution’s authors to publish with their own university press (for example, UCL Press at University College London). Likewise, new publishing routes for OA monographs are being established at a rapid rate, with innovative models emerging year-on-year, which stands in contrast to the relatively linear transition to OA for journal articles.

3) Springer Nature’s The OA Effect

A new report from Springer Nature presents interesting findings about the tangible benefits of publishing academic books under a gold OA model. Specifically, their research illustrated that OA books are downloaded seven times more frequently than non-OA books, pull 50% more citations over a four-year period, and increase online mentions by a factor of 10 over a three-year period. Much like OA for journal content, the study finds that increased visibility and wider dissemination of research are the most popular motivations for OA monograph authors. In tandem with the report, Springer Nature also hosted an event to document authors’ attitudes toward OA books, with only 20% of respondents saying they were ‘very likely’ to publish an OA book, despite the benefits.  Funding uncertainty was frequently cited as the major obstacle.

4) Swiss National Science Foundation’s The Impact of Open Access on Scientific Monographs in Switzerland

The OAPEN-CH pilot project was designed to acquire know-how and first-hand experience of the publication and funding of open access monographs in Switzerland. Quantitative data on use, sales and costs was collected in order to investigate the effect of open access. The perceptions and expectations of authors and publishers were also integrated into the analysis. Key findings, made public in April 2018, are as follows:

  • Open access had a statistically significant positive influence on the trackability and visibility of the monographs
  • Placing open access monographs in the OAPEN Library increased international reach, with monographs used mainly in neighboring cultural and language regions (70% of downloads were from France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland).
  • Open access had a statistically significant influence on the use of monographs (number of book visits, page views and downloads).
  • Statistically, open access did not have a negative influence on the sales figures for printed books.

In the light of the OAPEN-CH findings, the SNSF has fundamentally reframed its open access policy and now pays a modular book processing charge (BPC) to cover the costs of producing an open access monograph as well as the costs of the peer review process, distribution and metadata creation.

5) Book Industry Study Group’s Understanding OA E-book Usage: Toward a Common Framework

Although not yet published, another key study to watch comes from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) in collaboration with KU Research and faculty from the universities of Michigan and North Texas. With funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this collective recently launched a one-year project designed to foster a community conversation focused on improving usage and engagement tracking for open access (OA) e-books.  In addition to identifying the challenges in understanding the usage of OA e-books, this project will also suggest some opportunities for resolution and create a framework for future action through community consultation. It will focus on the challenges of identifying and aggregating relevant information from different platforms, analyzing what has been gathered in ways that respect user privacy, and communicating relevant information about usage to stakeholders. An important objective is to connect strands of research currently being conducted separately in the United States and Europe, by both for-profit and non-profit entities. Following the conclusion of this research project in May 2019, BISG will publish a white paper of findings and propose a pathway for future action.


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Author: Kurt Heisler

Kurt Heisler is Director of Sales, Publisher, for Copyright Clearance Center (CCC). He has been with CCC for over 10 years and is responsible for helping publishers find efficiency through automation, technology and market-wide collaboration. His primary focus is the market-wide adoption of the RightsLink® platform, and the exploration of new efficiencies and revenue opportunities for publishers. 

Author: Chuck Hemenway

Chuck Hemenway is Director, Publisher Solutions for CCC. He has been at the company for over 20 years and is responsible for helping publishers find efficiency through automation, technology, and market-wide collaboration. His primary focus is the market-wide adoption of the RightsLink platform, and the exploration of new efficiencies and revenue opportunities for publishers.
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