Category: Publishing

Supporting Open Access Monographs: Ingredients for a Prototype?

Supporting Open Access Monographs: Ingredients for a Prototype?

With the UKRI consultation on Open Access deadline imminent UWP’s Press Manager, Andrew Lockett wonders out loud what kind of additional pilot project to further encourage OA monographs might be worth considering. 

Calls to support public publishing infrastructure, ‘new’ ‘business’ models and alternative approaches to monograph publishing are popular. With the work of COPIM progressing well and building on established ventures like the Scholar-Led consortium, OBP and OLH (in journals) here are some thoughts about what a ambitious pilot scheme could look like. Caveats abound. Agreement between parties, governance and practicalities would be difficult in context. But could it be useful to think of values in the sector and consider the merits of a carrot- rather than stick-based approach? 

I have called it COUL after a long search for an upbeat acronym. 

Collective Open University Library – ­UK (Monographs Publishing).

Participating members based in UK universities should agree to match or add to new funding from UKRI/RLUK. The scheme should be based on a mixture of the best elements of the US TOME scheme (see https://www.openmonographs.org) which is a venture organised between the Association of American Universities (AAU), Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and Association of University Presses (AUPresses) and the Lever Press idea: https://www.leverpress.org. The latter is a useful warning of dangers inherent. The premise is a good one but its outcomes in terms of published outputs have been modest in number, considering. For the scheme to work to optimum levels, experienced publishers should be paired with librarian experts and publishing-orientated academics to work towards lean governance and structures, each of whom should already be aware of the standpoint of the others and not just be ‘batting’ for their side. All three expertise groups being fully engaged in the project design would be vital for success. 

The basis of the scheme would be to encourage the following three elements:

I) Non-profit low cost monograph publishing at a local and small scale level that could be undertaken by any participating members.

II) Dissemination of open access monographs and awareness raising within the members.

III) The scheme would financially support publishing at those institutions that produce monographs working with a rubric that rewards activity in several ways:

  • based on the numbers of titles published to a maximum of 10 titles per imprint in the first instance but expand thereafter
  • based on the success in reaching audiences in views and downloads and other relevant metrics that may be developed 
  • recognise publications that go beyond tick-box equality, diversion and inclusion and demonstrate progressive orientation in the research or publication procedures, whether that be student co-creation, commons orientation, ethics aware citation practice, a focus on human well-being, and communications or impact strategy or outcomes that truly serve to educate
  • as the above implies the scheme should include a small element of research-into-teaching titles that focus on the communication of new research to undergraduate and graduate students in this author’s belief that bridges need to be built between research and teaching in scholarly communications that are being lost under current REF orientations

As a result a proportion of funding say 70% would be up-front based on submission. With 30% to follow reflecting delivery so that stronger projects are incentivised. The funding should be competitive (but not too competitive as to be greed-inducing) and be expressed over a period of a minimum of 5 years with the expectation that it could and would be renewed. I would recommend funding in the region of up to a maximum (depending on project scope) of£6000 per monograph to start with;£2500 for retrospective recognition. The idea would not to be to cover entirety of all costs of a publication in form of a ‘pure’ subsidy (though these sums can be sufficient) but to get publishing initiatives off the starting blocks with ‘seed and support funding’ on the basis of lists of titles not individual books. This weighting would bake in a degree of realism and discourage support of too long, ill-considered, very marginal publications that OA should not be considered the answer for – i.e. The ‘vanity’ publication or the ‘impractical’ monograph. Experimental publishing should be approached separately and via separate means: the ‘vanilla monograph’ hugely valuable as it is, poses enough challenges.  

The funding allocations would be agnostic about where it would be directed (to allow for local circumstances but also efficiency of existing providers). It would not include funding elements for research but would permit:

  1. Publication by traditional and new university presses
  2. Spending on publishing services by cost-effective third party private providers 
  3. Spend on in-house resources for the projects 
  4. Use of self-publishing services in conjunction with any of the above
  5. Non-intrusive monitoring of readership patterns of monographs funded for research purposes

The following priorities should be kept in mind:

  1. Encouragement of low-cost monograph production at all suitable sites with UK university libraries and those they work with or via scholarly associations and scholar-led groups. 
  2. High standards made visible, transparent, flexible but consistent. These should not necessarily just be concerned with technical or workflow orientated but also about the practice of wider ethics and community-building and based around ideas of a knowledge commons and aimed at the reduction of existing inequalities in the system across the university sector being considered a priority. 
  3. Raising of awareness of scholarly communications within specific academic communities as a prime objective of the scheme: those benefiting from funding could work with Jisc (perhaps?) on publication and marketing of specific tool kits to libraries and specific academic groups explaining merits to individuals and groups of publishing this way. 
  4. Directed support as a priority to humanities and social sciences and those STEM topics that do not receive grant support from funders. 
  5. Encouragement of publishers or groups who publish well, who use the opportunities afforded by open access and the internet proactively and not just to shore up existing workflows, sunk costs and unexamined overheads; operations that seek to keep costs and prices low with mission based motives and who do not seek to trade on exclusivity, elitism, ring-fencing and prestige; the scheme should look to encourage established operations willing to look at a different future as well as the new kids on the block.

The aim should be to create a vehicle with long term potential that learns from a variety of experiences and adjusts accordingly and build momentum over years. The starting point I would suggest might be 100-200 titles could be supported using collective subscription mechanisms similar to or building on those/working with those established by Open Book Publishers, Knowledge Unlatched (in its early days), Jisc, Open Library of Humanities or in the future by the COPIM project. It is important not to proliferate too many schemes rather focus on a maximum of 2-3 that could seriously and reliably build capacity. Perhaps one has to take the view in the light of the complexity and actors involved there is the risk ‘the perfect could be the enemy of the good’. But a bigger risk is that the ‘timid is the enemy of any improvement’ and might lead to further decades of OA monograph trench warfare, unintended consequences and heightened, even dangerous scholarly communications inequalities and resource concentration. The question for myself reconsidering whether COUL is possible, is at once, it is too ambitious or just not nearly ambitious enough?

ANDREW LOCKETT
Press Manager, University of Westminster Press
The views expressed are those of the author only and not the University of Westminster or agreed policy of the University of Westminster Press.

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