locked bookA range of open access (OA) monograph experiments and studies are upon us, or are about to be, and it’s worth taking a look at what we know now and what we can expect to know in the next year or so as a result. OA poses very different challenges and opportunities for journals and scholarly monographs. That point will be obvious to regular readers of the Scholarly Kitchen as well as to most within any orbit of planet Scholarly Communications. But it is worth repeating, because too often OA is presented and discussed as a unitary philosophy and practice. The basic issues are the same for OA journals and monographs, yet cost, use, licensing, distribution, and the varied significance of the form across disciplines and within fields play out very differently.

In January of this year, several OA monograph projects were announced or initiated. All have the goal of addressing both challenges in publishing scholarly monographs and of distributing that work more widely. The University of California Press, for example, announced their Luminos Project, which proposes a model of cost sharing among authors (or their institutions), publishers, and libraries. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) published their report on “Monographs and Open Access.”  The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been active in discussions about OA monographs, and has helped to fund a variety of studies that look at cost structures, including Ithaka S+R’s one year “Study of the Costs of Publishing Monographs,” which commenced in January. Also in January it was announced that Mellon has funded a three-year study at the University of North Carolina Press for scaling digital publishing capability for university presses. Led by press director John Sherer, the project will build on Longleaf Services, the press’s fulfillment company.

This fall another Mellon-funded study, this one at Indiana University and the University of Michigan, issued a report on “Direct Author Subvention for Publishing Humanities Books at Two Universities.”  Humanities disciplines such as my own, history, tend to be book disciplines. Books are now generally required for promotion and tenure, and books are widely understood to be a critical genre for developing a scholarly argument. Some ambivalent conclusions about the feasibility of subventions were predictable: where will the money come from? How much would be available, and to whom? Authors Carolyn Walters and James Hilton note that differences in cultures at their two research universities led to some slightly different conclusions at each, but also point to the importance of likely wider variation among other campuses.

Where the two campuses came together, however, was in finding clusters of support and concern about a system of subventions for monographs. The study was based on feedback from faculty and administrators, the former in salon settings, the latter in interviews. Although salon attendance was modest at both places, the authors draw some important conclusions. Among the most serious in my view is that “a good many faculty possess only a vague awareness of the on-the-ground conditions of academic publishing.” This might be a feature of faculty at these two research universities; one faculty member at the University of Michigan remarked that “our faculty don’t have a problem getting published.”

For Walters and Hilton those “on-the-ground conditions” are serious and the sustainability of academic presses is at stake, given that resources beyond revenues will be dependent on ever more constrained university administrations. When Alison Muddit of the University of California Press recently interviewed Geoffrey Crossick about the HEFCE report, however, she asked him about a claim similar to the impulse of the university faculty, that there is no particular crisis in monograph publishing. His response was pretty interesting: “There has been talk of a crisis of the monograph for the last 25 years and I couldn’t see that the problems that currently exist amounted to a significantly different crisis. This is important because by focusing on open access as the way to resolve a crisis we may end up neglecting the many positive reasons for wanting to move to open access.”

While it might be true that tenured and tenure-track faculty at Indiana and Michigan didn’t express a sense of urgency about the state of scholarly publishing, they and their non-tenure-track (NTT) colleagues shared a strong concern about how subventions might exacerbate inequities in universities. For example, if only tenured and tenure-track faculty were guaranteed subventions for their monographs, while NTT faculty and staff would compete for a separate pool of funds, wouldn’t that not only perpetuate these status inequities but also undermine a system of publishing the best scholarship regardless of rank (or status inside or outside the academy)? Faculty saw clearly that this move to make scholarship more accessible for readers could easily (perhaps inherently) make publication less accessible for researchers; said one, “open access is dear to our hearts, but it can’t lead to inequality among scholars.”

It is worth mentioning a longer historical context and two potentially contradictory trends: a broad requirement of book publication for tenure and promotion, and the increasing reliance on NTT faculty. When I was hired to my first tenure track position at a university with a medium-heavy teaching load, for example, most of my senior colleagues were not book authors. It wasn’t expected of them or required for tenure and promotion, though by the early 1990s it certainly was for my cohort. What we see now of course is a much larger pool of NTT faculty and attacks on the system of tenure. So tenure has come to require much greater research output even from faculty at universities not as well situated as Indiana and Michigan, while more faculty positions are not eligible for tenure. Adding another layer of differentiation through a subvention system such as that proposed in this study smarts not only because of the perceptions that it will exacerbate already intolerable inequities within universities, but also because university presses have been seen to stand outside that system. A strong monograph, though surely much harder to produce with a heavier teaching load and fewer resources, would be evaluated no matter the author’s status inside or outside the academy — certainly for first book authors.

So this is still the rub. How much does it now and will it cost in the future to support monographs, and who will pay? If we knew more about the costs, the interlinked questions about urgency (or even crisis), who pays and how might become clearer. Thus a key feature of the Indiana-Michigan report is the per-monograph cost analysis in Appendix E. Using comparable data from each press, researchers found that the cost before printing was $27,576 at Michigan and $26,714 at Indiana. These figures seemed to compare closely with inflation adjusted figures from a 1998 study of monographs published by Rutgers University Press, also between $26-28,000 for each. The authors of the Indiana-Michigan study also report that Ithaka shared early data from their study suggesting a $23,500 figure per monograph, leading them to conclude that “the majority of figures are converging around the $25,000 mark.”

There are other issues for OA monographs beyond financing. Two major challenges remain in delivering an electronic version of a book: 1) the desirability of the e-format for reading in the distinctive way that scholars tend to do and 2) the importance some scholars identify in preserving long form scholarship when it is so easily disaggregated into chapters (or smaller bits/bites/bytes). The first is critical. Scholars routinely mention the desirability of the material book. The technology for creating a reading experience that simulates the interactive, individualized advantages of paper simply isn’t yet there. As for the second, Crossick mentioned this issue as a potential benefit to fully OA monographs as opposed to making only smaller chunks available. In sum, it’s going to be an eventful and important year or so as we gather more information and get a clearer sightline on what OA may offer for monographs.

Karin Wulf

Karin Wulf

Karin Wulf is the Beatrice and Julio Mario Santo Domingo Director and Librarian at the John Carter Brown Library and Professor of History, Brown University. She is a historian with a research specialty in family, gender and politics in eighteenth-century British America and has experience in non-profit humanities publishing.


22 Thoughts on "Books, Glorious Books: Explorations in Open Access Monograph Publishing"

Just a small point. I’m always puzzled by the way that the comments in my report to HEFCE on the situation of the monograph in relation to the UK academic scene are criticised from the US by using US evidence. I was writing about the UK and drew on a variety of UK publishing and UK academic sources. My report actually makes it explicit that various factors in the US, including much more rigid tenure and promotion criteria, might make the perceptions different there. But, Karin, please note that my report, although it recognised very important international dimensions not least developments elsewhere in Europe, was about the situation in the UK.

I’m pleased, however, that your final paragraph identifies two major themes that are much more fully covered in my full report than in the interview with Alison Mudditt. It looks as though we agree on a lot!

Geoff Crossick

Thanks so much for your comment, Geoff. Yes, I could have been clearer that you said you were addressing the UK issue. If I wasn’t such a firm fan of sticking to the original version I’d add a clause now, but I’ll have to hope that people will read the comments (I always find them a great feature of the SK)! I think people are struck by that observation of yours though because there is such a sense of urgency about monographs on the one hand and yet, as I used your quote and another to illustrate, a disconnect with what many researchers perceive.

One other point–in my own field of early American and Atlantic history a great many of our researchers and authors are UK-based. So in the case of this and many other fields, the UK and US situations can’t be (as you point out elsewhere in your fine report) fully disaggregated.

Thanks for the quick response, Karin. I agree entirely that the US and UK academic worlds in the arts and humanities are woven together in all sorts of ways including research collaboration, career mobility and publishing in journals across the two countries. That is why I underlined in my report the need for some international collaboration on moves towards open access mandates, though this seems to be something that is currently far more of an issue in Europe.

I hope that one more thing on which we’ll agree, as fellow historians, is that we should always probe conceptions of crisis, something that as a historian I’m always wary of. Even if, in this case, there may well be one for monograph publishing in the US!

Indeed! And that not only is historical perspective always a good thing, but we need data! I’m incredibly keen to know the results of these studies and experiments.

It is worth noting that new Open Access publishing initiatives have FAR lower production costs than these. For example, a couple of weeks ago I posted a breakdown of revenue and costs at Open Book Publishers for the year Sept 14 – Aug 15 (http://blogs.openbookpublishers.com/introducing-data-to-the-open-access-debate-obps-business-model-part-three/). During that period OBP published 18 academic titles, and the costs before printing were between $6369 and $7840 per title (depending on how you wish to incorporate overheads). If nothing else, this shows that significant productivity improvements are clearly possible from the legacy academic publishing model considered in your post.

Our distribution costs are also far lower than in the legacy publishing framework (about 1/10th) but that’s not something considered in your post.

Full disclosure: I am a co-founder and director of Open Book Publishers.

Thanks for your comment. I’m all in favor as I think pretty much everyone is–and these studies I mention surely are–of more data. Something that confuses me in your discussion is on the pre-printing production side. What are you assuming for editorial there (acquisition, peer review management, substantive editing, and then manuscript editing)? This is something I hope will be more fully broken down in the bigger studies, especially Ithaka.

All of those things are included within the costs quoted. For clarity – the figures quoted take all the costs we incurred, from acquisition through to the publication and marketing of the titles – including peer reveiw management, image processing, proof-reading and (as required) substantive copyediting and indexing, and then divided by the number of titles published. They also include R&D expenditure on creation of innovative digital products.

Can you give us a breakdown of these figures for a typical monograph? I find them surprising because, for one thing, just the cost of copyediting alone would normally be about half of the cost cited. I really wonder what the overhead allocations are because they usually are over 60% of the total cost of publishing a monograph. There are many ways of not recognizing real costs because there are hidden subsidies involved.

We provide a breakdown of our costs for a “standard” monograph (totalling GBP £3,500) in Appendix III of our “Authors Guide” – available from our website
The “Final proofreading” costs includes a copy-editing component – but that figure assumes that the manuscript is in a pretty good shape, and includes an index. More intense copy-editing and indexing is costed seperately – also detailed in the Appendix.
The costs I presented in the Blog post INCLUDE the additional costs incurred for those volumes requiring heavier copy-editing and indexing. We have no hidden overheads, these are our total costs. We don’t do anything else except publish OA monographs – so there is no creative reallocation or implicit subsidy between different operating divisions possible. Certainly there could be discussion about what should be allocated as a title setup cost and what should be allocated as an overhead (R&D being an example) – but that is just a reallocation between the exisiting costing categories and has no impact on the total cost.

Do you have an explanation for why your costs are so much lower than those of other academic publishers like university presses in the US? For the two presses where I was employed (Princeton and Penn State) a major cost was acquisitions because much of it was done proactively by editors seeking out authors, not juts waiting for manuscripts to be submitted “over the transom.” Does your operation send editors to scholarly conferences, have them travel to meet faculty on their own campuses, etc.? If you are not doing that kind of active solicitation, of course your costs would be much lower–but your list would also likely be much lower in academic quality and much less coherent as a collection of books related to each other, which is what “listbuilding” is all about.

Well – clearly the figures suggest we do operate very differently – but none of us have worked for a legacy publisher so I don’t know why they spend so much, take so long, or charge as much as they do! I suspect it is because they maintain process developed before the age of digital and haven’t fully adapted yet – we have the advantage of being able to start from scratch in our processes. No – we don’t man stalls at conferences, or send reps to universities, if that is what you mean. But we make use of Skype to discuss projects with potential authors, who we have often made contact with through the social networks of existing authors. Strategically – we decided not to concentrate on subject specific list creation initially – but to develop these over time. There are pluses and minuses to “listbuilding” – with the primary cost being precisely the need to solicit manuscripts to maintain the list (which we suspected, and you seem to confirm, can be large) along with restricitve and distracting arguements about whether or not a high-quality, possibly cross-disciplinary, academic work “fits” a specific list or not. Does that mean that our titles are “of much lower in academic quality” as a consequence? Well I don’t believe so – and nor apparently do the academic reviewers of our titles – but as Open Access works they are all freely available online and just a mouse-click away, so anyone can just take a look and judge for themselves!

This discussion, of course, has strong parallels with journals also. This raises a number of interesting questions which go beyond what has happened in the past and seems to be considered as continuing forward. For example:

a) The net is the final, amortized cost over volumes paid for or “purchased” individually or in a “bundle” or standing order. As one comment notes, there is overhead that needs amortization and thus dependent on numbers “sold”. Thus there is pressure for “deal flow” (more from academics, NTT and TT and more “sales” from the publisher). Yes, prestige of faculty location and select presses seem able to transcend many of the issue and can adopt the paths of OA journals and OBP monographs but volume is and will continue to be an issue

b) It is not too early to consider the rise in sophistication and lowering of costs for semantic search. With the pressure from “a”, even today, scholars and other readers, particularly in STEM/STM area are turning to abstracting and analysis by AI means. The literature is too large to effectively track. There has been discussion of the changing role of archival institutions, libraries. Where might the tipping point be where “smart bots” become the dominant source and the journals and monograph industry is impacted?

c) Linking back to “a” and “b”, there is an inherent symbiotic relationship between academics’ need to publish as the publishing of materials have become the default endorsement of value. Even Nobel laureates have felt the need to get something into print for review. The pressure is increasingly global, even more so with the transformations projected regarding issues of increasing numbers of NTT’s and the projected closing of traditional post secondary institutions, in their current embodiment

d) While the discussion has focused on “academic” publishing, much research in all disciplines is also in non-academic journals, the “grey” literature, much not subject to the symbiotic academic/publisher relationship. Can the current “double blind” review/vetting retain its position?

The analysis here, SK, based on the studies cited, hold the current model of academic publishing and the world in which it is embedded hold as an immutable legacy system?

A very helpful summary of recent studies on open access publishing — thanks. I’m a bit confused, however: You begin by saying that in January “a number of OA monograph projects were announced or initiated,” but then discuss only one — Luminos — before going on to a summary of studies about the economics, potential impact, and faculty perceptions toward open access. I write this as the director of another such publishing initiative, and there are others — Knowledge Unlatched, the Open Library of the Humanities, the Open Humanities Press — that each take a different approach, largely shaped by ways in which they prioritize the problems in view.

It would be well, perhaps, to distinguish between *initiatives* in open access publishing and the emergence of *studies about* open access publishing — the Michigan/Indiana study, the HEFCE report, etc. Said differently, perhaps, there are initiatives trying to find the way forward by means of experimentation, and those trying to find it by way of study. Both are needed, but they are distinct.

Among the experimenters, there are important differences in approach and priorities. These aren’t necessarily in conflict, and there is space for all of them, but they do represent the problems the folks behind the initiatives see as most important to solve.

A last point: The cost of doing anything is shaped by the approach one takes to doing it. Part of the cost of monographs in traditional publishing arises from the assumptions that inhere in non-open-access (that is, copyright-created scarcity). For example, it’s taken as axiomatic in that system that the relationship between publisher and author should be based on a scheme of royalty payments. This, it is held, correctly calibrates the value of the author’s work by assuring her rents proportionate to the market performance of the book. But of course, maintaining the system to monitor those sales and account for the payments its itself a cost of doing business, and not an insignificant one. If the compensation of authors is shifted to a much simpler, one-time-only system (think honoraria instead of royalty), those costs are greatly reduced.

For readers who may not know Mark Edington, he is the director of Amherst College Press, which was set up as a project of the Amherst Library to do OA monograph publishing in the humanities, using a business model for which endowment income is a key element (for paying staff salaries). That is a model that deserves more attention than it has yet gotten in any of the studies mentioned. (Full disclosure: I was a member of the search committee that recommended hiring Mark for the job.)

Thanks so much for writing in, Mark. I do know of course about the several projects you mention including your own and KU etc.

I was probably just beguiled by the January coincidence with Luminos but of course you are very right that there are OA publishing ventures underway and there are various studies of monograph publishing in which OA is playing an important part. I think there is a clear conjunction though in that some studies–in particular the IU/UM one I highlight–are undertaken in the wake of the AAU-ARL prospectus (http://www.arl.org/publications-resources/3280-aau-arl-prospectus-for-an-institutionally-funded-first-book-subvention#.Vje5pNBK6fQ).

And I couldn’t agree more than costs are driven by priorities and presumptions (often tangled). One thing that’s very important to me to understand, for example, is the place of editorial practices / services in both.

Thank you, Karin, for shedding some much-needed light on OA and humanities monographs. I’m a few days late for the Halloween metaphors, but the only thing that scares me more than those ~$25k estimates is when I look at the future of cost-recovery in monographs. I’m not aware of anyone who believes the marketplace will improve, so a long-term solution will almost certainly include a front-end subsidy. But per/book amounts like $25k may obviate this line of inquiry. Or at best, create a system that is highly susceptible to some of the moral hazards you describe in your post because only a wealthy stakeholder will be able to come up with these types of fees.

So how do we get that subsidy down to something where there could be a diverse marketplace for funding humanities monographs?

The grant you mentioned that we’re working on at UNC Press/Longleaf is providing university presses with the scale that exists in much of the rest of the publishing world. This is definitely driving down costs and streamlining the set of activities that individual presses execute. And of course, there’s still the opportunity to do cost-recovery with enhanced editions even when some digital formats are OA. So we probably don’t need our full costs subsidized. But the most significant savings can only occur if the scholarly communications ecosystem in which we operate is prepared for digital-first publication models. After editorial and marketing (two UP activities I believe are still highly valued) our biggest costs are associated with creating and disseminating multiple formats.

Just to share some more data – our ‘APC’ for books worked out at 13,285€ for the original language edition and 10,500€ for subsequent languages (we usually publish in two languages). We offer funders the option of APC-funded OA or our standard freemium model, which costs funders nothing because we recoup costs on the ‘reader-side’ (freemium is where a free, read-only, version is released alongside premium, downloadable, digital editions as well as print). ~85% of our reader-side revenue comes from digital editions, ~15% from print. APC income is still less than 0.5% of our total income but we expect it to rise slowly over the coming two years to 1-2% by 2017.

Toby Green
OECD Publishing

In 2013, the OAPEN-NL project examined the costs of monograph publishing in the Netherlands. Based on the budgets of 50 books – published by nine different publishers – a model was created of the costs involved. On average, the total costs for creating a monograph in the Netherlands is slightly over € 12,000; approximately half of that amount is spent on creating a first digital copy. Printing and binding paper copies are responsible for about one-third of the total costs.

The report, with data, can be found here: http://oapen.org/download?type=export&export=oapen-nl-final-report

Besides the costs of doing e-monographs that are just replicas of print monographs, there is the further and much more complicated question of figuring out how to build a sustainable model for publishing e-books that really take full advantage of the electronic environment, such as those that were the focus of the ACLS Humanities E-Book and Gutenberg-e projects inspired by Robert Darnton when he was AHA president.

You may want to look at costs at Australian National University, that has been doing ebooks for a long while. http://press.anu.edu.au/ not sure how much they charge authors or what the net cost of putting out Open Access volumes is .

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