Open Access to academic books: Working towards the “tipping point”

09 June 2020
monographs 3

Authors: Angela Holzer (DFG), Pierre Mounier (OPERAS), Jeroen Sondervan (Utrecht University), Graham Stone (Jisc)

Open access for academic books is deemed to be a relatively underdeveloped area. To help evaluate to which point this assumption is true and to understand the landscape, Knowledge Exchange ran a project on open access academic books between 2016 and 2019. Project research outputs included a landscape study, a survey report and a high-level stakeholder workshop in Brussels. This early focus on the topic of academic books in open access led to a better understanding on an European level both with regard to the current situation and what aspects of the landscape need further development and attention.

In the last couple of years, more and more publishers (commercial and non-commercial alike) across the continent have increased the number of open access books they publish, as shown by the evolution of the Directory of Open Access Books, from 10.000 open access books at the end of 2017 to almost 29.000 today. In parallel, several collaborative projects took place to support the development of open access books, such as HIRMEOS and COPIM.

This evidences the existence of good will and desire to move forward in order to arrive at a seamless, efficient and sustainable infrastructure for publishing, navigating, accessing and long-term archiving of open access academic books. This is not enough, however. The share of open access books is still very low.

The landscape study showed that national contexts can be very different. There are also different routes that can be taken to achieve the same end result of open access. Although there may be enough money in the (journals) system (Schimmer, et al., 2015), the monographs world is not the same. Therefore different approaches need to be taken and one size does not fit all. The library budget cannot sustain a book processing charge (BPC) model for example (Eve et al., 2017). Indeed, inefficient models (such as the BPC or traditional print sales model) are more of an issue than the scarcity of budgets (Ferwerda et al 2017, p112), which is why both OPERAS and COPIM are investigating business models. However, one thing is certain, while print continues to be in demand, business models should embrace both print AND open access.

A large number of reports on open access books were published between 2017 and 2019. In 2020 and beyond we need to harness the evidence from these reports to give a strong initiative at policy level in order to push forward and streamline open access academic book publishing. One of the first examples of this was the policy briefing paper on open access to academic books from Science Europe, which was published in autumn 2019.

With the exception of funders in countries such as Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland, who are early adopters of open access book policy, books are often excluded from or not mentioned explicitly in open access policies. In 2018, the Swedish Research Council noted that it intended to extend its policy on open access to monographs and book chapters at a future date.

However, 2020 has seen a significant step forward. On June 2nd, the Dutch Research Council (NWO) announced its renewed open access policy for academic books, which is accompanied by a yearly funding scheme of €500.000 to support researchers with Book Publishing Charges (BPCs). This policy builds upon the briefing note ‘Open access policy for academic books' in the Netherlands, published late 2019. The NWO policy will continue until 2022. Following this, it may align with Plan S policy guidelines as NWO is a member of cOAlition S.

Another cOAlition S member, UKRI has recently closed its OA consultation, which will inform policy from 2021. With open access books included in both the Dutch and UK policies, there is a great opportunity for progress.

The five European countries noted above cover at least eight languages. In this respect it is important to respect regional differences, such as national languages and multilingualism, disciplinary differences and community organized endeavours. Therefore, transnational open access books policies such as HorizonEurope and Plan S must embrace these differences. Above all, current open access policies are mostly targeted at journal articles. We can't say it enough, but we want to make clear that a journals' approach cannot be applied without adaptation to books.    

It is also important that researchers publishing books are encouraged and enabled to embrace open access. To do this we need to dispel myths and misinformation about open access, such as the lack of quality and peer review (Deville et al, 2019) and that open access is at the expense of print. Neither of these myths are true. We need to show the benefits for authors, such as increased dissemination of their research and in some cases even increased print sales (Ferwerda et al, 2013). However, we also need to tackle legitimate concerns head on, in particular the use of licences and the issue of third-party rights. We hope that initiatives such as OpenGLAM will support work that is already out there such as Jisc's Guide to Creative Commons for Humanities and Social Science monograph authors.

Further, we recommend that these policies should be supported at regional, national and international level by consortial infrastructure, such as a monitoring instrument (e.g., OA book watch, which was conceptualized at the Brussels' workshop (Adema, 2019)), coordination and engagement instruments (e.g. OA Book network and OA books toolkit) and a sustainable infrastructure for archiving and indexing (OAPEN/DOAB). It is therefore essential that research institutions, and more particularly the most prominent ones in Europe, take a leading role in this effort and initiate a concrete plan to set up and support a sustainable infrastructure in support of open access books.

Finally, we encourage the formation of a task force of open access books experts to engage with cOALition S and to propose a set of recommendations and guidelines to support forthcoming policy for open access books.

As open science seems to have reached a "tipping point" in the academic community, it is clear that there is still much to do on open access books. This endeavour is necessary if we don't want the scientific communities that use the academic book as the golden standard for publishing to be left out. As evidenced by many of the recent reports, not least the recent Knowledge Exchange work in this area, there is a will in the community to make progress and better serve researchers' needs. This needs to be supported in a coordinated manner both by research performing and funding organisations.

About the authors

All authors have been part of the Knowledge Exchange Task and Finish group on open access academic books.

Angela Holzer works for the German Research Foundation (DFG). She is responsible for the programmes Open Access Publishing and Licences as well as for strategic topics regarding funding for Open Access.

Pierre Mounier works at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). He is associate director of OpenEdition, co-coordinator of OPERAS and co-director of the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB).

Jeroen Sondervan is open access publishing consultant at Utrecht University Library and project leader for the open access theme of the Utrecht University's open science programme. He has co-written the national policy brief on open access books in the Netherlands.

Graham Stone is the senior programme manager for OA monographs at Jisc in the UK. He is the UK representative for OPERAS and leads Jisc's contribution to the Research England and Arcadia funded COPIM project.