Is Open Access a Life Raft or Speedboat For the Monograph?

Alison Muddit, David Parker, Brian Hole

(L-R) Alison Muddit, David Parker, Brian Hole

The University of California (UC) Press started thinking about open access (OA) a few years ago and saw it as integral to the future of the press and a means of democratizing content. Alison Muddit, Director of the UC Press, presented some features of today’s OA landscape, which include:

  • Models developed for STM access,
  • Unclear funding sources,
  • A strong cultural attachment to print,
  • Uncertainty if it will be regarded in faculty evaluations, and
  • Transitioning to an environment of simultaneous open and digital access.

Today, we face a crisis with monographs, the humanities, and the press. Digital monographs remain vitally important vehicles for the humanities and social sciences. The UC Press wanted to reinvigorate it with a new OA model.

UC Press’s Luminos OA system preserves what works well in monographs: selection, peer review, approval by editorial committees, etc. Libraries and publishers cannot solve these issues on their own. The business model shares cost of publication among key stakeholders. Total baseline costs are about $15,000, of which the author’s contribution is $7,500. If a library is a member of the Luminos environment, its faculty receives a discount on charges, and the  library supports publication costs; any funds not used go into a waiver fund to subsidize authors who cannot afford the fees. The Press has published 6 books so far and has enrolled many libraries and authors in its system.

In the future, we must go beyond just proclaiming the benefits of OA, but win over faculty from the entrenched value system. Most faculty will choose prestige over benefits of OA. The technology must create an experience of reading close to reading a physical book. The goal is to make OA monographs not only as good as print but better. In answer to a question whether it will be easier to win over authors of monographs than article authors, Alison said that the university press brand is meaningful. There is lots of misunderstanding among faculty who are less familiar with concept of OA and perceive that OA journals are vanity publications in which one must pay to publish, and they are not peer reviewed.

Brian Hole, Founder and CEO of Ubiquity Press, was working at a large publisher and discovered that it was not as much loved as he thought. Its OA costs were high, so he set up Ubiquity Press with the aim to be as cost efficient as possible. Ubiquity’s APCs are about 10% of those of other publishers.

Costs are kept low by using open source software for the platform. They had a lot of success with humanities journals because they were affordable. University and society presses now use the platform; the aim is to remove risk from the publishing process. (Ubiquity is a completely OA press and is not available to those wishing to do non-OA publishing. It handles licenses very well, has developed a book production system, which it will soon release as open source software.)

Organizations using Ubiquity’s platform include UC Press, the Open Library of Humanities;  and LingOA (for the linguistics community). They are trying to make a community of these initiatives working together and sharing the same infrastructure and networking together, which creates more efficiencies. Many journals from 3rd world countries, such as Sri Lanka are using the platform because of its low costs.

David Parker, Sr. Vice President at Alexander Street Press (ASP), said that new archival content is being made available to the scholarly community through OA. He described a new initiative at ASP, Anthropology Fieldwork Online, which is the largest database of field notes available anywhere. The project required complex negotiations for rights to the content.  To get everything on a single platform and open, a new OA model, the anthropology commons, was launched. It is funded by contributions from paid sales, delayed OA, and sponsored content. Many organizations are willing to underwrite digitization costs to make their content available immediately, and some contribute to sponsored content.

From ASP’s viewpoint, the future of OA archives has these characteristics:

  • Only a sliver of OA archives are digital or OA.
  • Archives don’t benefit from the “need to publish” impetus that marks journals or monographs.
  • Therefore, innovation will find even more fertile ground in archives because they are unconstrained by publishers’ models.
  • Digitization, indexing, and discovery will progress exponentially.
  • Anthropology commons is only the beginning.

Don HawkinsDon Hawkins
Charleston 2015 Conference Blogger and Against The Grain Columnist

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