OAPEN-UK was a collaborative research project gathering evidence to help stakeholders make informed decisions on the future of open access scholarly monograph publishing in the humanities and social sciences (HSS).
The final report of this project was released last month, and I recommend reading the full document. It is a thorough “state of the nation” report on the current landscape of OA in relation to monographs in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), and I found many quotes which I’ve collated here both as my own record of what I’ve learned, and hopefully to encourage more people to read the report and discuss it with others.
Sections in italics are my own interjections, and I’ve added emphasis in places; otherwise the text is faithfully reproduced, with page numbers:
19 Researchers seem happy to give up their royalties in the pursuit of open access as long as publishers will do the same with their profits – this probably aligns with the view, expressed by the majority of respondents to our 2012 survey, that publisher profits should go back into supporting their disciplines.
22 Institutional case study: “They [researchers] are primed to ask lots of questions and it’s hard for us to go to them with new pronouncements unless they are properly thought through… if you can send a clear… message, then it makes it sit easier, even if you don’t like it, it still makes it an easier pill to swallow.”
Better to present researchers with one proposal and explore its pros and cons, rather than giving them a range of possible solutions? Giving a range of options can be interpreted as lacking leadership or decisiveness regarding which would be most suitable…
24 Researchers are often suspicious of initiatives from the university’s central management and can be unwilling to engage with new ways of doing things, especially where they believe them to be a distraction from their core business of doing and communicating research. Particularly evident in, for example, the slow uptake of the research management systems that all three case study institutions were implementing, it has clear implications for the introduction of open access mandates.
24 There are also large numbers of researchers – especially early career and retired academics – who do extremely valuable research which deserves publication but who work outside academic institutions.
I know a number of people in this situation, who have a need to read and use research information but no legitimate route to access it.
25 Creative Commons guide for researchers, published as a standalone output from the OAPEN-UK project
26 Other developments in research policy and management show that changes need to work alongside institutional priorities and ethos in order to stick. It follows that good practice in one institution may not translate easily to the rather different context of another one; the “good” element of the practice will certainly depend – at least in part – on how well the change fits with existing notions of what the institution should do and how it should behave.
26 What works well for implementing open access monographs in one context will not necessarily be effective in another.
Good practice/success stories not necessarily transferable
27 The institutional case studies reveal a tension between researchers and central departments. It coalesces around areas where researchers are expected to change or add to their administrative practices in order to support the efficient operation of the university.
27 Institutional case study: “Academics can be involved in collection management, but their level of engagement varies between departments. One interviewee described how staff in the English department, twice a year, amalgamate their requests and send them to the library for the subject librarian to prioritise; but, she went on to say, other departments are less well-co-ordinated. Academic involvement in removing books is, again, limited.”
Le sigh… I am familiar with this situation…
28 The increasing competitiveness of universities sits uneasily with their traditionally collaborative working practices, which will affect possible joint ventures such as university presses and centralised or subject repositories.
28 Institutions may be keen to show leadership on open access, but do not want to risk getting too far ahead of the curve.
34 Like institutions, publishers have a strong sense of their identity. Their mission and values inform the way they think and talk about open access, and any plans for introducing open access monographs will need to sit well with the publisher’s sense of itself. On a more practical level, a publisher’s other areas of business also affect the way it approaches open access for its monograph lists.
35 Open access needs better metadata for discoverability and usage, but metadata is already a known challenge for e-books.
36 Figure 14: Learned society membership – 33% are not a member of any learned society – has this membership declined recently, or have there always been a large minority of academics who have no affiliation to a learned society?
39 Those with smaller budgets are more concerned; funding spent on publishing an open access book is no longer available for research (the view that publication charges are part of research costs is not universally held).
39 Drivers behind moves towards open access often seem similar across funders but, upon investigation, they are subtly and importantly different.
Again, successful projects/approaches may not be transferable
40 Funders say that policies and business models must also allow for researchers’ continuing attachment to the physical book.
42 Researchers and publishers, in particular, were very keen to stress the complexity involved in writing and editing a book and the importance of flexible timescales when writing.
Difference of format and subject context from journal articles in the sciences where all parties are keen to publish quickly
43 Universities and funders told us that they prefer to close grants when the research finishes, at which point many books will not have been conceived, let alone written and accepted for publication. Furthermore, a researcher’s ideas about how and when they want to publish could change significantly over the period of the project, making it difficult to build publication costs into their budgets.
44 Figure 15: Reasons researchers changed publisher
Would be interesting to know if academics have a default position of assuming same or new publisher, and therefore whether push/pull factors and/or inertia are most important factors
48 Authors stress that editorial support is a very important factor in their publishing decisions. The publishers we spoke to understand this and agree that the business model by which a book is published – open access or traditional – must not affect the editorial work. Overall, this is the area of publishing where interviewees from all sectors feel there should be little or no change in a move to open access. Indeed, most stress that it is essential for policies and processes related to editorial conduct to remain exactly the same if open access is to be credible. In particular, decisions about whether to publish a book must be taken without any reference to an author’s ability to pay for open access. In other words, the open access option should not be discussed until after a book has been accepted for publication based upon peer review in the traditional way.
49 … publishers feel that marketing and promotion of open access content will need a different approach. Monograph marketing currently tends to focus on librarians as the main purchasers of content and the most common route to readers, even though this may not in fact be the case.
49 Where open access business models involve purchasing of alternative formats or premium versions, librarians will remain an important audience but the way that they are approached will need to change.
50 Open access may also present an opportunity for authors to do more promotion within their communities. Some researchers feel they already do a lot of this; sometimes perhaps more than they should have to. But interviews with authors whose titles were made open access through the OAPEN-UK project suggest that many remain uncomfortable with what they see as “self-promotion” on social media.
52 … metadata and standards are a known challenge for publishers, librarians and third party suppliers. This is particularly true for publishers who run different versions of their content management systems in the various territories where they operate…
53 Librarians are, on the whole, happy for their institutional repository to be the main long-term source of open access monographs produced by their own researchers, but they also support a joint central repository for open access books. The role of copyright libraries [libraries of legal deposit] also needs to be clarified.
54 Researchers are clear, and publishers understand, that open access should not affect the production quality of a monograph. This is important for authors (who still like to receive a print copy of their work) and also for the credibility of open access books as they begin to move towards the publishing mainstream. Some researchers in the humanities and social sciences remain suspicious of books that are only published electronically.
55 …majority of sales and usage [of monographs] comes from third party sites – library vendors, e-book aggregators, retailers such as Amazon, and Google. The metadata challenges, described in the section on content management and preservation, are part of the problem. In addition, many third party suppliers simply are not set up to deal with open access content. Some are not able to offer a zero price to end users. Others operate blanket digital rights management (DRM) across their platforms, which means that usage restrictions are applied even where licences do not require them. Publishers, too, can struggle to promote an open access copy of books on websites that are built to sell.
56 Institutional and subject repositories are another route for discovery and availability of open access monographs. Books published under the more usual open access licences – Creative Commons, for example – can be freely shared and therefore posted within repositories. But where publishers have developed their own open licences, the issue becomes more complicated. Lack of clarity about how universities should deal with a non-commercial clause may also lead to problems.
57 In an open access world, we expect online usage to grow as a proportion of the overall figure.
60 … without complete control of their systems, organisations can find it difficult to implement changes that are needed for open access monographs.
61 Many organisations create manual workarounds. Publishers in particular have to do this for open access monographs, leading to problems when global changes to the system (from within or outside the publisher) override the changes that support open access books. Universities may create or commission programmes or bits of code to help non-interoperable systems work together; this can work quite well but is not scalable and such work needs to be repeated every time the external system is updated.
61 Publisher interviews “OA could generally only be achieved with workarounds and tweaks to systems that are not designed to give content away for free. Often such workarounds are manual: this is sustainable at the current level of OA, but may prove problematic if the volume of OA books grows.”
66 Publishers asking a funder or institution to support the costs of open access monograph publishing (either through an upfront charge or by continuing to pay for alternative formats of the book, or both) must recognise that those funders or institutions will have an interest in understanding whether they are getting value for money. We recognise that publishers need to protect their commercial interests so they may not always be able to disclose as much as their customers might like.
The very opposite of an open system…
70 Lessons learned
- The environment for open access monographs moves fast and in unexpected directions.
- Be flexible with your objectives and keep reviewing what you can realistically expect to achieve.
- Address challenges as they arise; collaborate to find the best available workarounds rather than seeking a perfect solution.
- Accept that you cannot control what third parties such as aggregators and book vendor platforms will do, even though they will almost certainly make changes that affect your activities.
- Make somebody responsible for open access monographs and set aside some of their time so they can work on it.
- Be aware that changes inside your own organisation may affect open access monographs and you need to be prepared to recognise them because people will not necessarily think to tell you.
- Wide and open-minded collaboration can enhance the effectiveness of your work.
- The real world is the real world, and you have to work within it. Data are messy, measures are frustratingly unstandardised and things change all the time. If you are trying to build something perfect you will fail; it is best to accept and be honest about the limitations and focus on what is possible within the context you find yourself in
- It is impossible to see the whole picture at the beginning of the project and only by getting started will you uncover challenges.
- Individual, face-to-face conversations remain very important. Collaboration is crucial but there are always things that people will not want to share in public; make space for them to talk directly and regularly to you
- Think carefully about timescales.
- Individual books have their own sales patterns which can be quite unpredictable, so it is difficult to draw conclusions based on small samples.
- We are in an environment where open access monographs are uncommon and any findings from projects or experiments will reflect that.
What do we want? / Gradual change! / When do we want it? / In due course!