If you’re an academic or a graduate student, it’s likely you’ve heard about Open Access (OA). You might have used OA books or articles in your research, published something on an OA basis, or simply come across OA during a presentation, a Twitter thread, or a blog post like this one.
At Open Book Publishers, we publish Open Access scholarly monographs. We’re the leading OA publisher in the Humanities and Social Sciences in the UK, and we’ve just celebrated our tenth anniversary. We’re scholar-led – our three co-directors are academics and most of the people who work for us are active academically – and we are not-for-profit. To date we have published 132 top-quality and rigorously peer-reviewed books by some of the world’s leading scholars, including Amartya Sen, Lionel Gossman and Noam Chomsky, and all our books are freely available to read online in HTML, XML and PDF editions that are fully searchable and can be downloaded, reused or embedded anywhere; they can also be purchased in affordable paperback, hardback and ebook formats.
But why does OA matter? For two reasons: 1) it means more readers and better research, and 2) it is changing the way scholarly publishing works.
Let’s take 1) first. A typical academic monograph priced between £60-£100 can expect to sell 200-400 copies in its lifetime, with most of those sales coming in the first year or two after publication. By contrast, on average our books receive 400 views per month with little apparent fall-off over time, and we expect to hit 2 million total views by the end of this year. The statistics for each book are available on its title page and our readers come from around the world, demonstrating that OA books find their audience: one of our most successful titles, Oral Literature in Africa by Ruth Finnegan, had fallen out of print when we republished it as an OA title. It has now been viewed over 160,000 times and accessed more in Africa than any other continent.
More readers mean more citations; an increased profile for your writing and your discipline; and more colleagues, more students, more interested members of the public who are able to access your books and articles without hitting price barriers. Digital publication also allows innovative forms of presentation that can improve the research itself – for example Dorottya Fabian’s A Musicology of Performance includes a wealth of embedded audio extracts, enabling readers to better evaluate Fabian’s interpretations; our World Oral Literature Series includes recordings that form a repository of oral literature as well as a series of academic studies; and Caroline Warman’s anthology Tolerance was brought out on the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacres and participated in a wider discussion about a topic of strong public interest thanks to its OA format.
We believe in OA because we think the dissemination of knowledge should not be limited by a lack of resources, and this applies to authors too: we never charge anyone to publish with us. If your work passes our stringent peer-review process, we will publish it. Our books are frequently recognised for their excellence by reviews and prizes, and as a publisher we won the 2013 IFLA/Brill Open Access award for initiatives in OA monograph publishing; we were selected as one of seven high-impact OA organizations by the Accelerating Science Award Program; and we were shortlisted for the 2017 World Innovation Summit for Education Awards.
Now 2) – Open Access is changing the way scholarly publishing works. Increasingly, funding bodies require that research they have financed is published on an Open Access basis. For a publication to be admissible for REF 2021, an author’s final peer-reviewed manuscript must be made publicly available in an institutional repository within three months of acceptance, while for REF 2027, monographs must be published OA. As a result, established publishers are making work available Open Access and there are more and more OA publishers.
But it matters how Open Access mandates are implemented. Some publishers charge a hefty fee to make a book or article available Open Access, while work archived in institutional repositories can be difficult for readers to discover and is often placed under a lengthy embargo. We believe the purpose of OA is to make work available as widely as possible, with as few restrictions as possible, so that knowledge is easily accessible for all. Models that charge the author, delay OA publication, or make it difficult for a work to be widely shared and used, are not compatible with Open Access as we believe it ought to be.
That’s why we are working with like-minded organisations including ScholarLed, HIRMEOS and the Radical Open Access Collective to develop open software and other types of infrastructure so that Open Access publishers can operate sustainably, without charging authors or readers. We are building relationships with libraries to explore new OA funding pathways and we are taking an active part in the UUK Open Access Monographs working group to advocate for developments in OA publishing that we believe will best serve scholarship. We are also publishing a series of blog posts for Open Access Week 2018 to give academics more information about OA publishing, so they can choose the publication models that best suit their research.