The cover of Peter Subers forthcoming book entitled, “Open Access.”

Two interesting developments occurred recently in the world of open access (OA) publishing, a topic I’ve become far too involved with for my own tastes over this past year. However, since both involve money and business and editorial material and consistency, I found myself unable to resist poking around.

The first is the news from Hindawi that, as part of launching ISRN Oceanography, they will begin paying authors to produce review articles. The articles are being positioned as solo-author reviews called “Spotlight Articles,” and may only be submitted upon invitation.

I was wondering when this day would come — not for Hindawi in particular, but for an OA publisher in general. Review articles are the best way to attract readers, and ultimately readers legitimize a publication — otherwise, it’s just a broadcast, not a show. Therefore, it made complete logical sense to me that someday an OA publisher seeking readers would find itself commissioning review articles.

The invitation circulated thanks to Colin D. MacLeod, a Scottish research fellow, who received an email invitation from Hindawi. MacLeod offered this straightforward assessment of the likely rationale for offering to pay for review articles — namely, to catalyze a new journal:

By inviting, and indeed paying for, review articles from people who are well known (and possibly even respected – whether I am respected in my field or not is up to others to judge!), they can quickly gain a level of acceptability, something that I presume is becoming ever more difficult as more and more people become aware of how much of a scam these journals can be.

It’s undeniable that OA journals need an audience to survive, and they are more financially viable if that audience has some researchers seeking to publish some papers. As competition for audience and authors increases, it’s natural for the stakes to rise. There are at least two ways to compete for authors and their fees — lower prices to authors or create enhanced venues for authors. In this case, it seems Hindawi sees paying for review articles as a way to carve out a new title and start the audience-submission engine, taking the “superior venue” route. It’s a pretty good idea, and at $1,000, each single-author review article only needs to attract one research article to justify the expense.

The second interesting twist involving OA, money, editorial material, and publishing is the news that Peter Suber, a long-time advocate of OA publishing, is releasing a book with MIT Press — a book with a list price of US$12.95 (US$9.99 for the e-book). It’s clear from the description that the book is basically a repackaging of some of the material Suber has published via blog posts over the past decade, but I’m sure it’s much more polished, thanks to editing and so forth.

While Suber is publishing a book we’ll all have to pay for, his first sentence on his blog remains:

I work for the free circulation of science and scholarship in every field and language.

In addition to working for OA, Suber also works for money, as he received an advance from MIT Press to write the book, one he described to me in an email as being somewhat less than adequate:

The advance didn’t cover the time I needed for writing, but it was something.

That’s a good indication that MIT Press didn’t overpay for the book, and knows its true market value, something every publisher has to determine, whichever side of the road of the toll-gate they’re walking.

Luckily, Suber has many other funders to cover his time, as the acknowledgements section at the beginning of the book makes clear. These include the Open Society Foundation, Wellcome Trust, and Arcadia. Other acknowledged supporters include SPARC and the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication, both trenchant OA organizations.

In a move that may placate the OA purists, Suber negotiated to have an OA version of the book made available after 12 months — but the irony of having a book called “Open Access” for which even the e-version costs $10 is pretty striking. And as Suber pointed out in an email, nearly everything in the book comes from his blog, which is freely available online:

If you can’t wait [one year for the OA edition], everything I’ve said in the book I’ve said in some form or another in an OA article over the years, probably more than once.

So, here is free information being sold on behalf of an advocate of OA for a price because of the . . . value-add of editing, branding, and distribution leverage? Hmmm, where have we heard that argument before? There wasn’t even any peer-review management involved. And why does the e-book cost money if digital goods have no marginal costs? Maybe value-based pricing makes some sense after all?

Suber’s main point in writing the book was apparently to make more people aware of the alleged benefits of OA publishing (how a model that burdens research funds with publication fees accelerates research is beyond me, but that’s why belief systems are so pleasant).

Yet, the irony of a person who believes so strongly that access increases readership and utility, who then puts a price on a book for a year in order to pay out an advance, shouldn’t be lost. Both the enhanced prestige of MIT Press and the distribution channels it commands demand a compromise, something Suber proudly notes is reasonable by his standards. My question then, is, Who determines when a compromise is appropriate? And if it’s reasonable for publishers to charge for content, then why is OA such a zone of moral zealotry? Shouldn’t it co-exist peacefully as merely an option? Or, is zealotry part of its business model?

Someone recently said that OA is usually predicated on one of two tenets — morality or sustainability. To me, these two developments show that, ultimately, when cash is on the table, morality fades and sustainability wins — in one case, the sustainability of a publishing program and, in the other, the sustainability of an advance against royalties.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


60 Thoughts on "Money Talks — How Audience Priorities and Publishing Incentives Can Lead to Unusual OA Behaviors"

If OA journals need an audience to survive, then one wonders what the defining metric will be? Page views? Downloads? Unique visitors? These are much easier to manipulate than subscriptions, because they are free!

I think they need an audience in order to a) have legitimacy and b) be exposed enough to researchers to attract author-pays or funder-pays articles. Metrics may be less important than mindshare. What I envision occurring is that the conceit of “a journal” will be eroded and the predatory publishers will have to actually compete based on the value of what they deliver in a competitive market. And then, you’re right, metrics will matter.


I note you use the term “predatory publisher”–a term publicized in Beall’s List, and sometimes controversial. Do you think “predatory tactics” of paying for review articles should be communicated to Reuters, who would be responsible for policy involving publication of literature review articles, or might they just not care? Many thanks for your unique help in elucidating all of the relativistic factors involving this scene.

Paying for review articles is a relatively common practice, and inviting reviews is pretty common, as well. I don’t think those actions are predatory.

It is noted that paying for review article is relatively common. Is that this impression is coming more from the medical disciplines? I’ve not seen this practice in the behavioral and social sciences.
An exception was a year “prize fund” established by one publishing house for selected journals, which I think was “paying for quality review articles” under a different umbrella.

Yes, it’s quite common in medicine for the authors to get a small honorarium, usually a couple of hundred dollars. But this varies. It’s hard to generalize, but I don’t think it’s predatory.

It is possible that the relative prestige of OA journals will be based solely on who publishes in them. This is the irony, that under OA the reader may become irrelevant! For example, the journals will have no incentive to facilitate discovery. Serving the authors, who pay the bills, is all that counts.

Academic researchers around the world need to publish in journals in order to advance their careers (graduate, get a job, get the first promotion, etc.) and the higher the Impact Factor of the journal the more value it has for the CV. Thus, it is very important for journals and their articles to be discovered and cited (to have high Impact Factors) in order to attract better authors.

I agree that the impact factor will be important, but it is a measure of the author, not readership.

It is a measure of the journal, not the author. And in some cases, a measure of the editors skills in arriving in the happy position of high self-citations…


Facilitating discovery IS serving the author. It will probably be one of the USP’s OA journals will use when competing with each other for papers (among other services).

I do not know what a USP is, but I do not see journals competing on discoverability, unless it can be linked to citations. In any case I would think it low down on the author services.

Author pays is not just a new business model, it is a new business.


USP is Unique Selling Proposition.

Publishers are already competing on this. This might be more clear in the competition for book authors perhaps?

Finding a workable OA model for publishing scholarly books is a hard pursuit, one that will likely require a constitution capable of digesting considerable irony along the way.

I don’t accept wholesale the moralistic taxpayer argument; it is too full of holes to make the sale to me. Consider the extreme case, which has probably already been made somewhere by someone: Many university presses are subsidized in one form or another, and because state universities are supported by taxpayers, their subsidized university press books should be made freely available — at least to the state’s citizens and to the nation if the university has received federal funding. If the OA model for a state university press’s monographs is “author pays,” then the taxpayer argument is even stronger (on its own terms), for who pays the academic author’s salary? The state!

Still, university presses or, more broadly, scholarly monographs are in danger. Their sales have steadily dwindled, and their prices, steadily increased. Is there a path to some form of OA to mitigate the danger in which scholarly book publishers find themselves? For now, I am not convinced that the demise of the long treatise is a good thing, a destructive/creative event on the way to some other form of financially sustainable scholarly discourse. Will the long treatise, digital or otherwise, survive without some form of market intervention (after all, OA is a market intervention)?


Bob, as you well know, Frances Pinter, I, and others have been working on models of OA scholarly book publishing for a while now, and various experimented have been undertaken and new ones are being tried. It will take a while for all this experimentation to sort itself out. Perhaps the shock of another university press being closed in Missouri will help drive this move to explore alternatives, though I can’t say I see many visionaries around at the top of university administrations ready to take the plunge. Those at Michigan and places like Athabasca University in Canada are among the few to commit seriously to a new model so far.

Actually, I suspect that the book was peer reviewed–or at least, the proposal for the book if not the the completed manuscript. This is common on the book side of scholarly publishing (at more than one company where I’ve worked) even for popular/trade books like this one.

(I work at Springer, my opinions are my own.)

I doubt it was peer-reviewed in the blinded, structured peer-review sense. It was edited, but I doubt it was sent out for peer-review with rejection a possible outcome.

Unless MIT Press has changed its governance considerably, the project would have received blind peer reviews, the reviews been presented to the author, the author’s response to the reviews collected, and all attached to a publishing proposal prepared by a commissioning editor for final decision by the Editorial Board, composed of MIT faculty. Having worked under that governance, I can vouch that projects were rejected before and at the Board meeting on the basis of reviews. That’s not to say that the process was as rigorous as some journals’ double-blind review procedure, but it had rigor and teeth.

Then I stand corrected. Thanks. It only makes the parallel more complete, I’d add.

Definitely parallel, Kent, although I’d reiterate the concern about the viability of scholarly monographs per se. The situation for scholarly monographs in the humanities and social sciences appears more dire than that for those in the sciences. I suppose to complete the parallel: note that Peter Suber has an interesting analysis of why OA is harder to apply in the humanities and social sciences. See his website.

Your last sentence suggests that you think there was something immoral in what Hindawi and Suber have done, in favoring sustainability. What Hindawi is doing has many parallels in scholarly book publishing, where books are commissioned all the time to help promote a book series or an entire publishing program to help make it an attractive place for other authors to publish. As for Suber, I’m sure he would have preferred full OA publishing of his book on point of first publication, but he got the best deal he could from MIT Press (which, by the way, has published some books fully OA to begin with, such as its famous “City of Bits”). The payoff for Suber is not just a modest royalty, however, but much more importantly the likelihood of having his ideas given a more formal review in the form of a book, rather than just comments on blog postings. (I might just volunteer to review the book for The Journal of Scholarly Publishing, for example.) No doubt you detect a hint of hypocrisy in Suber’s not holding out for full OA immediately, but I would myself be loath to label this as in any way immoral. Speaking of hypocrisy, by the way, i find this much more on display in Seth Godin’s using Kickstarter to raise $90,000 for his new book (when he only needed $40,000) and then planning to work out a deal with a regular publisher presumably paying him a nice advance and royalties, thus milking the revenue stream at both the front and back ends of the publishing process. Godin talks a lot about the bankruptcy of traditional publishing models. If this is what he envisions as the future of publishing, God help us all! It’s the same kind of vision that Robert Maxwell had in capitalizing on STM journal publishing.

I approve of sustainability. I think it often blunts morality. I was merely pointing out that their compromises exist, and mean something.

I agree with your assessment of Godin’s play with Kickstarter, as well. Money makes people do strange things, and often things their parents wouldn’t be proud of.

Just to add, I know that reviews are commonly paid for in Physics as well as Medicine – it’s not a new thing at all. I think it’s a reasonable method for attracting more readers and ensuring the high quality of the journal. I know from personal experience how hard it is to garner respect for a new OA journal (especially a Gold OA one) but it’s worth mentioning that being accepted into repositories such as PubMed go a long way towards this, Impact Factor is not everything.

As one of the more zealous OA types I’m having a little trouble working out whether I should be troubled by the apparent faded morality here. As far as I can see we have:

1. A publisher is making content OA. That scores quite high on my OA morality chart. (The novelty appears to be that the authors are being paid for writing reviews that are then made OA. So what? This is not an OA issue – it is a how do you get authors to write review issue. As has been pointed out, this is an issue that many subscription-based journals struggle with, and many have already reached the same solution.)

2. Some OA material is being collected together, and people are being asked to pay for the convenience of having the material (plus some new linking material) collected together in one convenient package. The OA material will remain OA and the new package will itself become OA after an embargo. Again, the indicator on my OA morality chart is not dipping down to outrage yet. We are very used to embargoes – look at the NIH policy, for example – and while we want them to be as short as possible we realise that they continue to be a compromise that we live with. (I know the thought of OA zealots compromising will shock some but there you go.)

Here’s a more general point. Let’s go back to the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

‘The literature that should be freely accessible online is that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment.’

In neither of these cases are the works being given to the world without expectation of payment. The expected payment may be small, but it is a payment. So a reasonable person would quickly see that these works are not even in the class of literature to which OA is being called for. But they are OA. Rather than signs of petty and sordid compromise as OA crashes against the harsh realities of the real world, they are signs of OA being extended to other classes of material. Enough to make the heart of any OA zealot sing. (Of course, many of us would like to see OA monographs, as well as text-books and other educational resources, etc., but the primary focus of OA right from the start has always been the primary literature.)

On the “paying for review articles,” one of the tenets of OA publishers has always been to make research free. Yet, here’s an OA publisher paying to establish audience, validity, and reputation — all of which are fine, but it’s a notable inflection point in the competitive landscape. To me, an OA purist would believe that simply publishing OA is sufficient. Yet, here we have an OA publisher fighting for audience and marketshare. Again, fine, but a definite line is being crossed, and one that puts sustainability first.

As for Suber’s move, the embargo is in place for his personal enrichment (an advance against royalties), not for the sake of keeping valuable publishing entities viable as part of a compromise. So, it looks like a duck, but it’s not a duck. It’s an individual who is, I think, using OA conceits to wrap up a traditional publishing deal and give himself time to earn out his advance. I think that’s a personal financial motivation in OA clothing.

OA publishers have been fighting for audience and market share for ever. They use blogs and twitter to promote their articles, they get listed in A&I services, they try to optimise their websites to maximise exposure to Google, etc, etc. The idea that OA purists believe that ‘publishing is sufficient’ is odd and I have really no idea where you might have got that idea. A good OA publisher uses all the tools they can to maximise the exposure of the articles. Doing so is not against any form of OA – pure or otherwise.

On the book, again, so what? If Peter can make money out of writing a book – remember, not the focus of the OA movement, not the ‘literature that should be freely accessible online’ – then why not? If I wrote a play about OA would I, as an OA advocate, have to put that play on for free? (Actually, I probably would as I can’t imagine anybody paying to see it – but that’s not the point!) There is no irony or hypocrisy in make money out of talking about, describing or debating open access.

As a longtime publisher of scholarly monographs, I’m afraid I must object to their dismissal as not being “primary” literature. Are you under the impression, David, that everything appearing in books must first have appeared in journal articles? Hardly the case for humanities and social sciences, at least.

No, I’m not under that impression. I’m afraid that I slipped into a bit of journal-publishing jargon that differentiates between ‘primary’ literature (journal article) and reviews, indexing and abstracting, etc. It was certainly not my intention to be dismissive of monographs and I’m sorry that my sloppy writing may have given that view.

David, can you go a little deeper into this phrase:

The literature that should be freely accessible online is that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment.

Every researcher I know publishes papers with a full expectation of being paid. The payment comes through the funding the paper helps garner, not to mention the career advancement. Researchers regularly patent their methods and results and publishing them in papers helps sell licenses to those patents. Is the payment in question meant to refer only to direct payment for the article itself (and I ran a journal for several years that pays authors a royalty based on subscription income and usage), or should we exclude any articles that are used as tools to secure payment through other channels?

Researchers are human beings, and they like to have a roof over their heads, to feed their families and to pay their employees. Publication is a part of that process, and I worry about notions that scientists should act as ascetic monks forgoing all worldly pleasures, performing research solely as a charitable act toward mankind. Poor career prospects are already driving away so many of the best and brightest minds from science that when we reinforce the notion that scientists should not be rewarded for the results they bring in, we make things even more difficult.

David, no the OA movement is not suggesting that researchers lose their homes or let their children go hungry in the name of dissemination.

The wording was intended to differentiate journal publishing from other types of publishing where authors expect some type of direct financial return from their publisher. You mention running a journal that paid royalties to authors – great, but how many do that? How many of the journal at OUP pay authors? (I select OUP only because you should have the numbers to hand.) When I worked at OUP none did – but that was 10 years ago. When I worked at Elsevier none did – but that was even longer ago. Have things changed so dramatically? In fact, when I was in publishing it was much more common for authors to pay (page charges, reprint charges, figure charges) than it was to be paid – is that not still the case?

Talk to your colleagues in other departments within OUP – textbook authors, monograph authors, children’s book authors, popular science authors and journal authors. Which set of authors is not like the others? Which set get some payment (sometimes small, sometimes very large) and which doesn’t? I think the answer is broadly clear. Of course I’m sure you’ll find the occasional counter example, but the the trend should be obvious.

I didn’t mean to imply that the OA movement was about bankrupting researchers, in fact, I was trying to convey just the opposite. I think it’s misleading to suggest that researchers have no financial expectations from publishing journal articles. The journal article is at the heart of the financial transactions that make research a rewarding career. Unless the author fails to list the publication on his CV, on grant applications, for tenure/thesis committee meetings, as part of job applications and makes it ineligible for any prizes, then there is an expectation of financial return.

OA is actually seen by many as a way to increase that financial return. It requires an initial investment (the Author Processing Charge) but the wider dissemination is a path to greater readership and potentially greater financial rewards.

Let’s be realistic and not pretend that the research paper is some sort of charitable act by the researcher. The statement from the Budapest Initiative seems a bit of handwaving, a way to deal with types of publications (books, review articles) where the APC doesn’t really fit as a means of making things sustainable. If it’s vital that research results be made openly accessible, why does that principle suddenly lose its vitality if the same results are published in a slightly different package, between book covers rather than journal covers? Is the knowledge in books not as important?

But this is all something of a distraction from the actual useful goals of OA. To me, the real benefit of OA is to broaden access to the literature and hence increase the pace of progress and the spread of knowledge. If every journal on earth elected to pay authors a small royalty on their papers, would that invalidate OA as a movement? Would you abandon that principle and embrace toll access because journal articles now offered a direct financial reward to the author? If not, then arguing that “expectation of payment” is at the core of OA is somewhat irrelevant.

Actually, rather than hand-waving I think the Budapest statement is very precise. It identifies a class of material where the authors do not receive financial reward from the publishers as being the main focus of attention for Open Access. I guess that authors publish without expectation of payment in the same way you blog on Scholarly Kitchen without exception of payment. You are not going to get a royalty cheque, but perhaps your profile will increase, potential employers may spot you and think ‘there’s a clever chap, we’ll nab him’. There is not a direct financial relationship, but there can be a wider economic benefit.

There is a difference between somebody who makes their money as a writer and somebody who makes their money as a researcher, part of which is writing. The ‘without expectation of payment’ formulation encapsulates that. So, to take an example, Feynman when writing ‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman’ was writing with the expectation of payment, while Feynman when writing ‘An Operator Calculus Having Applications in Quantum Electrodynamics’ wasn’t, although it was part of his job as a researcher. The latter is the focus of open access, not the former. I don’t think this is an overly subtle distinction.

Does the payment of a royalty invalidate open access argument? No, certainly not, but it complicates things. It’s a complication that hardly arises for journals. (You didn’t answer my question about how many OUP journals pay authors, so let’s just assume it’s 0.) But for books it does. There is a limit to the moralising even of OA advocates and I think that telling writers that they are not allowed to receive royalties for their work would probably take most of us over that limit. But many monograph authors are looking at their royalty statements (where they exist) and deciding that they would rather have wider dissemination of their work rather than hard cash. The question is then how to pay for the production costs of the books – costs which in many cases vastly exceed any royalties. This is where initiatives such as that mentioned by Sandy above or the OAPEN project come in.

I think the distinction is arbitrary. If writing articles is a required part of how you make a living, then you expect financial recompense for writing those articles. The line drawn here seems a bit random–OA is only important if you’re not getting a direct payment for the written word, even if the actual written material is identical and you’re being paid indirectly. You’re concerned with preserving the livelihood of book authors, but not so journal editors. The money made by a commercial book publisher is off limits, but the money made by a not-for-profit university press from its journals (money that is put directly back into scholarship, unlike the book publisher money that goes into shareholder pockets) is not worth protecting. Is it just that journal publishers are an easier target?

If the goal is the wider, more open dissemination of information, then there is no inherent difference between the information contained in a book or that contained in a journal article. The only difference is in the process of how that information was put together. It’s like saying that you want to strictly limit calories, but only food that you buy at the store counts. If you grow it yourself, then those aren’t real calories. Only calories where money directly changes hands contribute to weight gain.

If the goal is the greater spread of knowledge, then those limits shouldn’t be in place. It’s okay to have a broad goal but to acknowledge that the pathway to particular types of knowledge spread may be more difficult than others. That’s where experimentation comes in. There’s not an easy way right now to make OA books work, but that doesn’t mean the knowledge contained in them is somehow different or unworthy of spreading and that they don’t count toward the ultimate goal. Why are book authors protected and other authors not? What difference should author expectation make? Again I ask, if a journal paper author expects a direct payment for his article, does OA become less important for that piece of knowledge? Is the core of the philosophy one that states “more knowledge should be readily accessible” or one that states “author profits are more important than the spread of knowledge”?

To answer your question though, I know of no other journal, other than the one I helped create at Cold Spring Harbor that pays a royalty. I’m always a bit perplexed as to why no one has taken this further.

I mostly agree with David C. here–and, indeed, drafted the AAUP Statement on Open Access with the principal aim of urging that OA not restrict itself, definitionally or otherwise, to STM journal publishing.

David P. uses an example here that does not really address the point. I don’t really expect OA to be overtaking the trade book market anytime soon, so Feynman’s trade book is a red herring. If David P. had, however, compared Feynman’s article with a monograph he had published for which he received a very small royalty, then the comparison would be apt. I would argue that the kind of payments authors of monographs receive seldom ever reach the magnitude that would make an author think about writing as a way of earning money. So I wouldn’t draw a line in the OA sand between journal and monograph authors, anymore than I think it is hugely significant that readers for monographs are paid small honoraria whereas readers for journals typically receive nothing. And what do you do with the fact that some journal editors are paid, even if the authors of articles are not?

I believe it is a big strategic mistake to attempt drawing this line, however, if OA advocates want to help their cause. It serves them ill to alienate scholarly book publishers working on OA experiments by refusing to accept that they are really OA ventures.

Sandy, how are you defining “small”? A monograph author could typically get low-to-mid 4-figures in total, even at a University Press in the mid-90s (I’m in Marketing now, so I don’t have access to what my current employer pays, but I imagine it would be similar). Plus, in my experience, monograph authors are VERY concerned about their royalties. In fact, when I was at OUP in the mid-90s, we kept losing physics monographs to Cambridge–because they offered $500 more. It is hard for me to imagine that the vast majority of would-be monograph authors would happily not only give up this positive income, but then also want to actually pay 10x as much to have their monograph published.

Plus, at least in my area (applied sciences–materials science, optics, electrical engineering), enough books come out of industry that wouldn’t be covered by any mandate that there wouldn’t be much library savings, anyway. Also, even within academia, I can imagine researchers saying that their monograph is based on their teaching/lecture notes, and not on their funded research, so a funding-based mandate wouldn’t apply, anyway.

Also, when I was at OUP, the honorarium for reviewing a full book would be a few hundred dollars–enough, say, for a new iPad. (The amount varied by how big the manuscript was.)

What I have seen so far is that the OA book idea seems well suited to conference proceedings, with the OA BPC paid by the conference organizer. (Which is not, in a way, dissimilar from the bulk order those organizers have traditionally placed when publishing the volume.)

I would agree that most royalties for monographs fell within this range in the past, but with sales now typically more like 200 to 300 copies in hardback plus perhaps a 100 paperbacks (produced POD) over a monograph’s lifetime, royalties are now more likely to be at the low end of this range–if royalties are offered at all. So, a hardback priced at $65 selling 300 copies, say, would produce a royalty of $731 based on net receipts (assuming a 25% overall average discount) and a rate of 5% of net. Paperback sales (and e-book sales) might bring this up to $1,000 eventually. I’ve not many authors who find this amount worth spilling blood over. Indeed, at one point, to cut down on accounting costs for issuing checks in small amounts over many years, we at Penn State Press started offering authors a flat upfront payment of $1,000 to cover all sales in all formats, with the proviso that if the book happened to sell more than 2,500 copies in paperback a royalty would be payable on sales beyond that amount. There was no resistance to this offer whatsoever.

Where will OA funds come from? I have suggested, in my essay “Back to the Future,” a variety of possibilities, everything from a library acquisitions collective to advertising to crowdsource (Kickstarter et al.) to endowments (such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is supported by), not to mention that startup grant that many top research universities now give to junior faculty to use for whatever purposes they want (at the time I retired from Penn State it was around $10,000). University of Michigan head librarian (and economist) Paul Courant has persuasively argued that this kind of grant could easily be increased to cover the full costs of a first OA book ($25,000 to $30,000) as universities compete with each other for top faculty as it represents but a very minor part of the investment a university makes in a faculty member’s career over a lifetime. I think that would be the easiest way to get the OA monograph process started as it would not involve doing anything new or creating any new bureaucratic or procedural processes.


Well, materials science books tend to start at around $129, so all else being equal (and I believe–but don’t know for certain–that it isn’t, but I would not be able to publicly discuss details) you’re talking about at least double that, if the sales quantities were the same. And also you’re not including eBook Package revenue, which authors share in, as well.

Now if we assume that a mandate either wouldn’t apply (i.e., from Industry) or could be gotten around (“this isn’t from my funded research–it’s my integrative approach to the field done on my own time during the summer”) then your OA approach would be competing for authors with a royalty-paying approach. Given that most researchers are OA-neutral; which do you think they would tend to prefer?

Which isn’t to say that it shouldn’t be tried–like I said, I think such an approach fits very well with proceedings and perhaps some kinds of multi-authored contributed volumes (for example). But one should not be surprised if the preponderance of potential book authors would choose to go with the publisher that’s paying, as opposed to the one that’s charging.

Thanks, Scott, for adding to and clarifying one of the probably annoying questions that need answering if there’s to be successful, extensible experiments in growing sustainable OA monographs. The hothouse for holding them needs choosing with care and foresight built on answers to those annoying questions.

OpenStax and a few other initiatives appear to have chosen the textbook arena as their hothouse. That choice was clearly driven by a desire to respond to student anguish over free-market textbooks, a wish to have near costless content to support campus investment in learning management systems, and perhaps the early spirit underpinning the MOOC initiatives that have grown up alongside and after these OA textbooks. The size of the selected hothouse is considerable, and the incumbent competitors are not idly standing by. McGraw, Pearson, Cengage and Wiley have already responded in similar and varying ways. We are in for an lively period testing whether those responses will reveal adequate or inadequate answers to the annoying questions.

In the meantime, a hothouse for scholarly OA monographs would not likely be buffeted by such robust, dominant free-market incumbents, but the incumbents in the scholarly monograph market — the university presses, etc. — do operate a free-market approach and compete against one another with royalties, marketing promises, packaging strategies and so forth. It, too, could be a sizeable hothouse encompassing all disciplines, funded monographs, conference proceedings, edited volumes, and on and on. It might, however, be possible to construct an OA hothouse restricted to a particular channel — university and research libraries — and particular disciplines — say, architecture or history or literary criticism — and leave the other channels and disciplines to the free market. Even so, it would still need to be a large hothouse drawing on a sufficient pool of committed authors, publishers and library purchasers. And OA proponents would need to accommodate the initial or perhaps permanent limitation that OA monographs would NOT be OA outside the university garden walls. Within these walls, the number of questions might be reducible, and the number of credible answers might increase.

Sure, some authors might prefer to publish the traditional way and get paid a modest royalty, but then they will have to be content with knowing that access to their work is limited to those small handful of campuses, numbering just a few hundred, whose libraries order their books, rather than being available for anyone anywhere in the world to read and cite. As citation counts rise in importance for research monographs, as they have for journal articles, many scholars may find the benefits of much wider use more than fair compensation for a thousand or two in royalties.


Are assuming that book/eBook purchase funds will remain limited? I might speculate, though, that if journal prices go down and/or vanish due to a changeover to OA for journals, this implies more resources available for books.

Secondly, if a publisher sells all monographs in a comprehensive (and DRM-Free) eBook package that also includes monographs and professional books from Industry (as well as textbooks), then the academic monographs get sold through with them. And the libraries still will want to buy those industrial/professional books.

So one could make a marketing claim that authors can eat their cake and still have it, too. At least, as a marketer working with acquisitions support, I think that that is the message I would use. And then we could compete for authors and see how it shakes out. 🙂

I would want to make clear, though, that I’m not opposed to OA books as such. Just that it is my sense that a royalty/payment model with a DRM-Free ePackage is probably going to be the approach most popular with most authors.

(Disclosure repeat–I work at Springer, my opinions are solely my own.)

The new ebook aggregations coming out of Project Muse (UPCC), JSTOR, Oxford, Cambridge, etc., are not, so far as I am aware, accepting books from commercial publishers. One challenge for presses participating in these new aggregations is whether to include books that have course adoption potential. If included, then paperback sales will disappear at all subscribing institutions. It remains to be seen how much money any single author is likely to receive from having an ebook included in these aggregations. Much will depend on whether a “sale” through such an aggregation is regarded as a regular sale (invoking the small royalty percentage) or a subsidiary rights sale (where, typically, revenues are shared 50/50 with the author).

Sandy, I’m not sure what I can say without seeming to be spamming the discussion and acting like a marketer (which I am, but, still… :)) If you’re interested, though, I can send you more information offline.


There ARE some out there (not polite to mention them by name, I think?) who, on one hand, seem to argue that depositing in a repository IS publishing (i.e., all Green, all the time, no embargo), and that the biggest problem with the Finch recommendations is that publishers will still have revenue streams. This does strike me as a minority of OA advocates, but they exist.

OTOH, Kent, those making the most practical motion in OA are companies–or people starting companies and viable entities to do it. PeerJ is for-profit, for example. I also imagine that eLife, while non-profit, hopes to at be a revenue rather than cost center for its philanthropies. It might be helpful to try to distinguish between OA advocacy as such and anti-commerce agitation as such?

Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? This is one of the silliest and lowest personal attacks yet on a blog that has become mostly snarling and barking.

My sense of decency is that people who are inconsistent in matching public positions with personal actions are susceptible to criticism.

Apropos of Kent’s response to ‘Barbara’ – I agree with her – your holier than thou approach and general biliousness gets in the way of vigorous and rational debate. I get paid a modest fee for writing a quarterly review article for a commercial journal that takes a good five days to write. I am a supporter of OA but also live in the real world. Peter Suber gets a no doubt small advance for expending great effort on what will no doubt be an excellent book – goodness what a fuss!

I applaud paying authors, and think paying for review articles is a good idea. I say as much in the post:

It’s a pretty good idea, and at $1,000, each single-author review article only needs to attract one research article to justify the expense.

That’s not “biliousness,” that’s evaluation and general approval. Maybe the bile resides in the lenses you’re viewing the post through.

As for Suber, how you square his public statements with his private actions is one question his choice to accept an advance for a book on OA raises. If he were to stick to his principles, he could donate the advance to SPARC or do something similar. He could publish his book as a free e-book, if free access really achieves the stated goals of the book = broad readership. Instead, he’s essentially acknowledging that help editing, branding, promoting, and distributing his book is worth compromising his OA principles. If that’s the case, then what advantage does OA provide? If an OA advocate can’t use OA to reach an audience, isn’t there an implicit problem in the hypothesis?

I and the other authors here expend great effort to publish a post per day. We’ve refused many times commercial support, because we feel it would compromise our principles and limit our freedom to say what we want. Does that make us “holier than thou”? No, but it makes it clear that you can get information out without sacrificing free information principles. I think you might want to re-think the implications of Suber’s choices.

There’s a very well known method of OA book publishing that doesn’t rely on embargos or anything. If you head on over to you’ll be able to go and download any of the books that Cory Doctorow has written, for free in any one of a number of formats. He also has deals with a publisher and so you can choose to pay for one of his books if you so wish. I’m not fully appraised of the details, but it seems to me that Peter Suber could have also self published via, say Amazon and charged a much lower price for an eBook.

Publishing and scholarly communications are two complex beasts, and the combination of their genes has not yielded anything simpler.

MIT Press, as I understand it from a party involved, approached Peter Suber, not the other way around. Does this make any difference to the discussion so far? To me, it does. The publisher brought an eye for the market and an interest in scholarly debate to the party, a catalyst, a spark of perceptive imagination as well as insight on how best to package the content. Is this something of value and worth rewarding?

Supposing that there were today a planned OA economy in place to support monographs and university/scholarly presses. Would the MIT Press commissioning editor have approached Suber with the packaging idea and necessary blandishments to persuade him to divert time from his other work to prepare the book? Would Suber have been asked to come up with the usual Author-Paid fee rather than receive royalties and possibly an advance? If he were not to pay the fee, what happens if the book fails to attract sufficient sales to cover costs and the publishing value worth paying for? If he were to have paid the fee, would the book be offered for free download to all comers? What source of future revenue from Suber’s book would then cover the cost of processing the order, collecting the reviews for promotional purposes?

There IS a link between the commissioning of Suber’s book and the commissioning of review articles for journals. In both cases, the publisher is seeking to improve its position in the market, to extend its reach, to generate more readers and more sales/subscriptions, to attract more authors who, having seen this success, want to associate their own work with it. In a planned OA economy, would this happen? If not, why not?

Will a handful or several handfuls of experiments in OA monograph publishing answer these questions? Are they being set up to do so?


Hi Kent. Thanks for publicizing my book.

Your post appeared when I was traveling. Meantime, I see that a good number of friends, allies, and strangers have defended me against your criticism, both here and elsewhere [ ]. I thank all who have spoken up. Here are a few points I’d add.

1. Some of my defenders argue that it’s reasonable for an author of a book that will become OA to ask for an embargo period in order to earn some royalties. I agree. But there’s a simpler response in my case. I didn’t ask for the embargo. On the contrary, I asked for immediate or unembargoed OA, and failed to get it. The one-year embargo is a compromise with MIT Press.

If “money talks” (the title of your post), then I was listening to another voice. I might have been foolish to request an arrangement that would have put my royalties at risk. I’m ready to take shots on that one. But the request I actually made is contrary to the one you seem to think I made.

2. I didn’t ask for the advance either, and didn’t know I was going to receive one until I’d already written and submitted the manuscript.

Before you wrote your post, you asked me two questions by email: Did I receive an advance, and how did I square charging for the book with my OA principles. I don’t blame you for not knowing that I requested unembargoed OA and didn’t request an advance. You didn’t ask about them.

You acknowledge that the advance was small. But you see that as “a good indication that MIT Press didn’t overpay for the book, and knows its true market value.” You may be the only person anywhere to know the true market value of my book. I suspect that even MIT Press would call the decision to publish it an educated gamble. In any case, I’m confused by your argument here. Was the advance was so large that it supports your thesis that money talks, or so small that it shows MIT’s belief that the book has little value? You can’t have it both ways.

3. I could have refused to compromise. I could have looked for unembargoed OA from another publisher or I could have self-published. True. I believe this is what you think I would have done if I were consistent.

But there’s another way to be consistent. I also told you by email that I’ve consistently defended this kind of compromise when other people publish books on OA-related topics. I referred you to my 2007 blog post [ ] on Samir Chopra and Scott Dexter’s book, Decoding Liberation: The Promise of Free and Open Source Software (Routledge, 2007).

Perhaps I was wrong to defend book authors like Chopra and Dexter all these years. That’s a discussion worth having. But the compromise I accepted in my own case, after trying for my first choice, was not an opportunistic change of course motivated by the fact that this time around the author was me. It was not a change of course at all.

This consistency could be read two ways. It could mean that I, the uncompromising zealot, have been a hypocrite for at least five years. Or it could mean I’m not an uncompromising zealot.

4. One reason I compromised was to reach the audience of people who take a position more seriously when it’s published in a book, and even more seriously when published in a book from MIT Press. You anticipate this and reply, “Hmmm, where have we heard that argument before?” The suggestion is that conventional publishers have pressed this argument and OA proponents like me have rejected it. But as I wrote seven years ago [ ], and have often repeated since, “If you tuned in late, I acknowledge that [conventional publishers] add value. It’s a myth that OA wants to dispense with these valuable services…The true bone of contention is not whether these services are valuable but how to pay for the most essential services without creating access barriers for readers.”

5. However, the main reason I was willing to make this compromise was that all the analysis in my book was already OA. As I explained in my blog post announcing the book [ ], and again in my email to you, I felt free to accept this compromise because “everything I’ve said in the book I’ve said in some form or another in an OA article over the years [ ], probably more than once.”

My position here is actually closer to yours here than to that of some of my defenders (though it’s not identical with yours). I would not publish new analysis about OA in a TA-only form. But the analysis in my book is not TA-only, and you knew that.

6. When you paraphrased the sense in which the analysis is already OA, you said the book is a “repackaging of some of the material Suber has published via blog posts over the past decade.” I said “articles” and you said “blog posts” (actually you said it twice). This appears to be a deliberate alteration. When I said “articles”, I linked to the articles I had in mind [ ]. When you said “blog posts”, you linked to my personal home page, replacing the link to my articles.

Some of the articles on which I drew for the book were published in my newsletter, and some were published in journals and books. You may think my newsletter is just a glorified blog. That’s fine. But even if that’s your objection, it doesn’t explain why you think certain journals and books are glorified blogs, or why you replaced the accurate link to my articles with the less accurate one you put in its place. Moreover, I wrote a blog as well as a newsletter, and it’s untrue that the book draws on the blog the way it draws on the newsletter and my other publications.

7. “Luckily,” you note, I don’t live on book advances and have the support of several foundations. That’s true. In the preface to my book, I thank the foundations that have supported my OA work over the past decade, and you list some of them in your post. Again, the suggestion is that I work to advance OA because money talks. Perhaps I should explain. I was a tenured full professor of philosophy in 2003 when I quit in order to work full-time on OA. Since then I’ve lived on grants and fellowships, often precariously. I don’t regret my decision. But insofar as money talked, there was no mistaking its emphatic warning that I should hold on to my salary and tenure. But I don’t blame you for not knowing this background. You didn’t ask about it.


PS. I’ve posted a version of this reply to my G+ blog, [ ].


I think it’s disingenuous of you to claim that I didn’t know things about your advance or OA compromises because I didn’t ask about them. I asked if you received an advance. You had every opportunity to disclose in a short sentence or two at that point that the advance was non-traditional in some way (mainly from a timing standpoint, it seems, a minor point). I asked how you squared this with OA principles, and whether a free version was part of the plan. So, I did ask about your advance and your OA principles. You merely answered incompletely. And now you’re blaming me for not asking? That’s disingenuous. You could have been more forthcoming in your answers, as this comment makes clear. I’m sorry if I assumed when you replied that you told me what you thought mattered.

So, instead of “You didn’t ask about it,” you could have just as easily written, “I didn’t tell him about it.”

As for your academic past and choices, I know about those, but they weren’t germane.

My point about the advance was that it represented a small gamble from MIT Press, just as you stated in this comment, but potentially a larger gamble for your reputation. The other question knitted in was, Why accept it if it is so small? You could have donated it to a charity or retained perceptual purity by not taking it. So, it was small, but irresistible?

The basic fact remains that you had to “compromise” (your word) with a traditional publisher to get more exposure for your ideas — more than any free, OA online writings would garner, as your introduction outlines in some detail. This is a fundamental admission to me about why OA is relatively weak in the information marketplace — when people sell something, they invest in making people aware of it. When transactions are non-existent or pre-publication, there is little incentive to increase awareness upon publication. You know this, and accept it. That’s fine. But the publisher is accepting a lot of risk on your behalf, and that’s a main thing traditional publishers do. They not only add value, but they cultivate authors, markets, and content — and shelter authors from market and legal risk. You’re taking full advantage of this, which goes somewhat beyond just the branding and editorial support. Again, I approve, but there are implications to your “compromise” as far as what it means. It’s not any different from what any book author would have done 10-50 years ago.

I hope your small advance earns out. I’ll look for my share of the subsequent royalties based on the acknowledged promotional support I’ve provided. Ten percent should do!

I don’t know Kent, I don’t really have any problem with an advocate for a cause being pragmatic, and willing to compromise in order to move that cause forward, rather than demanding strict ideological purity. OA is still in something of a fledgling state, and you’re right that Suber is more likely to reach a wider (or at least a different) audience by going through traditional book publishing channels than he would simply putting the material up on a website. That seems a reasonable way of using the world as it exists, rather than the world one wants to exist.

The practical, pragmatic supporter of OA can get behind the NIH’s PubMed Central mandate, even though it comes with a 12 month embargo, the forward-thinking Finch Report, even though it doesn’t specifically call for CC licenses granting free commercial re-use of published papers. These are all compromises, but they move things forward. The goal is to broaden access to research literature, not to strictly enforce a moral code.

Imagine an advocate of a local food movement. After a decade of generally shaming non-local foods and promoting local foods, an advocate accepts money from a major food shipper to host a food event with all the food shipped in, yet the event promotes the local food movement. Then, that same advocate creates a loophole for herself by stating that “compromise” is always a legitimate approach, and points to a remote statement from years ago in an effort to show that she’s consistently supported compromise, even though most of the rhetoric and insistence has been at odds with compromise. Would you go to the event? Would this person’s advocacy for local food gain or lose credibility in your eyes?

Suber had many other options, including publishing an e-book and turning down the advance — in fact, his revelation that he received the advance after he’d written the book underscores that the money didn’t carve out work time for him but was just money. Sorry, but I think after a decade of OA, if OA itself can’t promote OA, we have a bit of a self-defeated situation.

I appreciated your analogy in light of this NPR piece about food at the London Olympics:

In my reading of that piece, there are certainly some food critics that seem to be itching to complain about prices and quality, but both interviewees that sell food to customers (especially Brown, whose food is locally-sourced) seem to think that the compromises are fair and reasonable given the size of the audience being served. I find this analogy – that compromise is acceptable given the scale of the audience that is potentially served, which speaks to Peter’s point #4 – at least plausibly applicable to the current discussion!

One other point about your “advance” — if you had already written and submitted the manuscript, then received the advance, you were extra-disingenuous when you told me that “[t]he advance didn’t cover the time I needed for writing, but it was something.” You’d apparently written the book already, and the advance wasn’t given to you to carve out time to write, but was really just an advance against royalties. To me, you then had even more latitude in what to do with it, including turning it down. After all, you’d already done the work.

Gentlefolk –

Points made. If we can move on now, from where are we moving, what are the likely practicable stages along the way, and where is it practicable that we will arrive for the various forms of publishing and scholarly communication?

Despite his deeply felt self-reliant back-to-nature advocacy, even Thoreau still had to compromise his principles in pursuing his Walden experiment. So if OA proponents are willing to come down off the soapbox to compromise, what can we ALL learn from the resulting experiments?

What have Peter, the team at MIT Press, and we onlookers learned so far from this particular experiment about OA-ish monograph publishing? And can we point to the areas of the experiment from which we are likely to learn something useful and sustainable for scholarly publishing and communication? Can we order up a future meal about this from the Kitchen?


Comments are closed.