Yesterday, the University of California Press announced two new open access (OA) publishing initiatives. One (Luminos) will publish scholarly monographs; the other (Collabra) is a mega journal created along lines somewhat similar to those of PLOS ONE, with a couple of important differences—notably, a business model that relies partly on library memberships and that provides payment to peer reviewers and editors, payment which they may opt to accept or to pass along, either to their local institutions’ OA subvention funds or back to Collabra to support its own APC waiver fund.
UC Press director Alison Mudditt graciously agreed to answer some questions about these new initiatives.
Tell us about the process that led up to the establishment of these two programs, Luminos and Collabra. Who participated in the planning, and how did you go about getting input from the communities involved?
Development of these two programs has been germinating for a couple of years here at UC Press. Our strategic planning identified OA as a core focus for our digital growth. There’s a range of drivers here, but most importantly, OA is a natural extension of the research publishing we already do and aligns well with our mission of adding visibility and impact to transformative scholarship. As a not-for-profit organization, we are in unique position to create partially subsidized models in which we can offset the high cost of entry and share revenues with the scholarly community in ways that allow more work to be published.
The planning process at UC Press has been led by myself (Luminos) and Neil Christensen, Director of Digital Business Development (Collabra), and has involved many other press staff. In addition to broad surveys of about 1,000 faculty for each program, Neil and I have spent significant amounts of time on numerous campuses in both individual and group conversations to road-test these concepts. Both models have been evaluated and refined through conversations with hundreds of scholars, researchers, librarians, university administrators and others. We also collaborated closely with our faculty Editorial Committee and Board of Directors, who have been both hugely supportive and wise advisors. This has truly been a community effort!
We are also putting together a formal Advisory Board for Luminos, comprised of scholars, librarians and others who are thinking creatively and expansively about these challenges and who we believe can help us continue to shape the future of the program. For Collabra, we’re in the process of building top-notch editorial teams to drive journal content development.
One of the truly double-edged swords of traditional monograph publishing is the influence of market forces: having to choose books based (at least in part) on what they think will sell has forced university presses to pass on books with very narrow audiences, even if the quality of the scholarship itself was high. By “sharing costs between all parties who benefit from publication” Luminos will change that dynamic: authors will have some financial skin in the game upfront, while publishers will be able to focus more tightly on quality while being exposed to less financial risk. Can you discuss that aspect of this model?
Everyone involved in the business of monograph publishing acknowledges that the traditional model has broken down as libraries have seen book budgets plunge and sales of the standard monograph have dropped from around 1,500 copies to under 400 copies. Presses are doing all they can to squeeze out cost, and libraries are now looking to new aggregated purchase models and Patron Driven Acquisition – both of which have only exacerbated the challenge for presses. Equally if not more importantly, the scholarship itself has been confined to the few hundred libraries that can afford each title, and new forms of digital and multimedia scholarship are ill-served by a print-first/only model.
As we sought to address these issues, we started from the premise that libraries and presses cannot resolve this problem alone, and that the dysfunction is a systemic one requiring a collaborative approach. Many of the university administrators I’ve spoken with – deans, vice chancellors for research etc – also accept that they have a role to play in funding going forward. At this point, we anticipate that there will be a variety of potential sources on campus to support the Title Publication Fee (deans’ funds, OA funds, research funds etc.). Over time, we anticipate a more structured approach to funding this transition as initiatives such as those from AAU/ARL and the Mellon Foundation become active.
Luminos provides a model in which costs and risks are shared, making it sustainable for all. And we have worked hard to keep costs as low as possible. At the same time, our number one priority has been to ensure that these titles are subject to the same level of review and scrutiny as every other book we publish. We have built a reputation on quality publishing and titles in the Luminos program will meet the same standards of quality as any other book bearing the University of California Press imprimatur.
For Luminos, you allow authors to select “the Creative Commons license of (their choice).” There are many in the OA community who will say that this disqualifies this program as OA. How will you respond to that?
We understand that there is a lot of debate about CC licenses and that many OA advocates would prefer CC BY only. While we share the ultimate goal of an open access, CC BY future we have taken a more pragmatic approach to establishing a workable OA model for monographs in the world in which we currently live. Understanding and acceptance of digital publishing – let alone OA – is not yet as established in the humanities and social sciences as it is in the sciences. Our research – backed by that of many others, including the Knowledge Unlatched pilot – unearthed significant concerns from authors about losing control of their material. We hope that attitudes will evolve over time and we will certainly encourage authors to select CC BY, but we believe that encouraging as many authors as possible to participate in this program is a higher priority at first.
Library membership in Luminos carries with it no direct benefits to the library; it’s kind of an NPR model, one that relies on libraries wanting to encourage the program and being able to justify doing so in the absence of a direct benefit to patrons. How much uptake do you anticipate, and do you think this aspect of the model might change over time?
Again, we have spoken to many librarians to shape this model. We have deliberately set the annual fee at a low level to encourage wide participation. It’s true that the exchange is not a direct one as with some other programs, but library membership funds still support exactly the same thing: free, global access to scholarship not only for their patrons but for all. It’s hard to say how many libraries will participate but the response we’ve received has been very positive, including commitments to sign up.
In addition to membership, libraries can support the Title Publication Fee using their OA funds when available. The UCLA Library, for example, has been a wonderfully enthusiastic partner and has already made a commitment to support to funding 10 titles per year for UCLA faculty. We, and they, hope that this will inspire other libraries (while recognizing that not all libraries have this kind of funding).
And yes, I do think that this and other aspects of our model will evolve as we learn more from our partners and as OA becomes more widespread in the humanities and social sciences. OA has been slower to take off for monographs due to the challenges of the model and the lack of funding in these fields, and so we are anxious to get started and learn what does and doesn’t work, and to help drive recognition and acceptance of open access publishing for monographs.
For Collabra, you require CC BY. As you probably know, many authors are uncomfortable with CC BY and want at least the option of restricting commercial re-use of their work. Will authors have any flexibility on that with Collabra, or is the CC BY requirement a walking point?
We selected CC BY because we believe it is the most clear standard for OA journals and does not needlessly limit future re-use and application of published journal research. And many journal authors are comfortable publishing with CC BY. In this way, Collabra follows the recommendations of OASPA, and it aligns with the policies of open access journals such as those from PLOS, eLife, PeerJ, and F1000 Research. Papers authored by one or more US government employees can be licensed under a CC0 public domain license. We realize that this approach differs from our approach in Luminos, but the dynamics of of the two programs are different.
The idea of paying peer reviewers is intriguing, one that has been discussed quite a bit but rarely attempted. (The Company of Biologists reportedly tried it once, but the reviewers themselves apparently asked them to stop.) Tell us about the thinking that led to the decision to incorporate that concept into this model.
The paying of peer reviewers underpins Collabra at a fundamental level. As publishers we generate value from journal publishing, while the research communities we serve are afforded scant recognition for their peer review work. We wanted to develop a framework that tangibly demonstrates the value of peer review and opens avenues to redistribute that value to the research communities. We believe the University of California Press is uniquely positioned to change this dynamic. As a nonprofit publisher we’re not about building profit for shareholders and so we are free to create an OA journal that rewards participation, and pays value forward so research becomes the focus.
Collabra aims to accelerate the shift towards OA. Payment to reviewers addresses the often-raised criticism within scholarly publishing that all value and revenue flows only to publishers. By assigning a certain percentage of APCs for reviewers and editors, we affirm the value of work that serves as the lynchpin of scholarly communications. Reviewers and editors decide what to do with this value. Collabra is not just about paying reviewers but also about directing some of the value generated back into the research community. This is a longer-term play that we hope will inspire further change to now established OA models.
Another innovative idea is the “pay it forward” concept. Can you tell us more about that and how it would work?
The pay-forward component of the model sets Collabra apart. Our goal here is to create a truly self-sustaining model that supports more OA publishing, especially in fields without the kind of research grants that have traditionally funded APCs. A portion of every APC goes into a central fund for editors and reviewers. At intervals throughout the year, editors and reviewers can elect to pay forward to the Collabra APC Waiver Fund, pay forward to an institutional/library OA fund, or receive a cash payment. Collabra provides the research community a meaningful choice about where to invest the value generated through peer review labor.
Can you tell us anything about the source(s) of your APC waiver fund? Will it be replenished entirely by reviewer pay-forwards, or are there other sources of ongoing support for it?
UC Press will seed the Collabra Waiver Fund at launch to ensure that funds are available before pay-forwards have been generated. Once these seed funds run out it will rely on pay forward, but we may also explore additional opportunities from outside funders to support the waiver fund.
We also have a waiver fund for Luminos. We have seeded this from our own investment fund for launch and will replenish it over time with both library membership dollars and external fundraising.