Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Christina Emery. Christina is senior marketing manager for Palgrave Macmillan’s and Springer’s open access books programs at Springer Nature. Christina is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the OAPEN Open Access Books Toolkit.

The conversation around open access books seems to have moved on from debating the benefits for readers and authors, to how open access book publishing can be better supported. This is particularly important in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) where a lack of funding is a challenge for many scholars when faced with increasing mandates for open access, especially for scholarly books, which prevails as a central publication format in HSS.

Whilst finding sustainable business models for open access books is still a hot topic, it isn’t something that will be solved quickly, and requires a concerted, collaborative effort across the community. Instead, this post focuses on what is needed to address the specific questions and challenges of authors with an immediate need or desire to publish their book open access. By setting out to understand what authors find most challenging — for example quality assurance, funding models, or copyright — and by providing answers where possible, we can enable more book authors to benefit from choosing open access. We explore here some of these frequent concerns; what support is already available for authors; and share how part of the open access books community came together to build a free independent resource that provides answers to many of the questions that authors (and others) have about open access books.

book merged into a laptop in a classroom

A complex ecosystem creates opportunities but causes confusion

Open access book publishing is a complicated landscape with different routes and models, as publishers, libraries and scholars themselves experiment to find the best way for authors to publish their academic and scholarly works open access. Indeed, according to Digital Science’s report The State of Open Access Monographs, “[Open access] sheds a harsh light onto how academic book publishing is faring in its transition to a networked digital world, and reveals dusty corners and dirty piles of laundry that we might rather have forgotten.”

No longer limited to the ‘green vs gold’ types of open access discussions, in addition to depositing accepted manuscripts in repositories (with or without embargo), books can be made free to read through a plethora of publishing models including self-publishing (e.g., Glasstree), crowdfunding or ‘subscribe to open’ models (e.g., Unglue.it, Knowledge Unlatched, CEU Press’ Opening the Future and MIT Press’ Direct to Open), institutional subsidies (e.g., TOME), scholar-led initiatives (e.g., Language Science Press and Open Book Publishers) and book processing charges covered by an author’s funder or institution.

Funders increasingly require that researchers make their books openly available in order to maximize the impact of the research they support. Open access policies vary considerably, and as a result, authors can spend valuable research and teaching time trying to navigate policies and requirements to find out what their publishing options are, or what they need to do to comply. Not all authors are fortunate enough to have the support of institutional knowledge and resources to help them along the way.

Of course, there are then those authors who are unaware of open access as a concept, or who may have found outdated or incorrect information about how open access works for books, leading to misconceptions, scepticism, and missed opportunities.

What challenges do book authors face? 

We know from research insights that for many authors, there are large gaps in knowledge when it comes to open access book publishing.

In a global survey, more than 2,500 academic book authors were asked about their attitudes toward, and awareness of, open access book publishing. The study showed low awareness, with 41% of authors who had not previously published an open access book responding that they were not very, or not at all, familiar with open access. To understand the main barriers, non-open access book authors were asked why they had not yet published an open access book. The top responses were: an inability to find open access funds (60%), perceptions of quality (i.e., that open access books are perceived to be of lesser quality than non-open access books — 46%), and a lack of willingness to pay an open access publication charge (37%).

Researchers gave similar feedback at a series of workshops held at the universities of Oxford, Glasgow, and Utrecht in late 2019 and early 2020 before the pandemic hit. Workshop attendees named funding, copyright, and licensing as the most common areas of uncertainty. Other concerns included: how to choose a publisher, quality assurance, which book types can be published open access, preservation, impact, and discoverability.

What support is available?

Researchers and authors who have the support of institutional resources may have access to experts on the above topics, and indeed libraries and research support will be able to advise on these important issues or indicate where to look for further information.

I investigated what resources already existed for authors as preparation for the aforementioned workshops. Apart from information provided by individual publishers on their websites, there were few resources that give a holistic and global overview of open access book publishing. Some of the publisher resources were very informative, but workshop attendees indicated a general mistrust of information provided directly by some publishers. In addition, attendees felt that lengthy PDF guidance documents were not such a useful format — and indeed it is difficult for them to be maintained and updated. From a long list of 30 resources, the most useful non-publisher guides, according to workshop attendees, were:

However, in the workshops, researchers expressed a desire for one centralized, independent and up-to-date resource. In particular, clear information on the different types of open access and business models, a list of available funding, and a checklist or decision tree for what authors need to consider at each stage including how to choose a publisher were deemed important.

To address these needs, late last year OAPEN, the University of Glasgow, and Springer Nature released the OAPEN Open Access Books Toolkit as a free resource for authors. This toolkit reflects feedback from the workshops, providing institutions and their authors with a collection of short informative articles.

The content was written collaboratively to be independent and stakeholder-agnostic, to help authors better understand and increase trust in open access book publishing. Writers of the toolkit included authors, publishers, research support staff, funders, and representatives of other key organizations.

Topics include information about open access, myth busting, how to choose a publisher, dissemination and discoverability, copyright and licensing, funding, the policy landscape, and peer review. The top three most popular articles so far are: business models for open access book publishing, a list of funding sources for open access books, and differences between an open access book and an open access journal.

The OAPEN Open Access Books Toolkit will be maintained and developed further by the OAPEN Foundation and its Editorial Advisory Board which represents different stakeholders from four continents. As a group, we are closely monitoring how the toolkit is being used, which content is proving valuable, and where there are likely gaps for further development (feedback can be sent to Lotte Kruijt at OAPEN.


Thank you to fellow founding members Niels Stern (Director, OAPEN), Valerie McCutcheon (Research Information Manager (Library Services), University of Glasgow) and Mithu Lucraft (Director, Content Marketing Strategy, Springer Nature) for contributing to this post.


Christina Emery

Christina Emery is senior marketing manager for Palgrave Macmillan’s and Springer’s open access books programmes at Springer Nature. She studied French with German at the University of Leeds and went on to work for the European Patent Office in Munich. Before her current role, she was Partnership Manager at Knowledge Unlatched. Christina is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the OAPEN Open Access Books Toolkit.


3 Thoughts on "Guest Post — Building an Easier Path Toward Open Access Book Publishing:  Support for Authors"

Grant money usually has nothing to do with publishing a book. It has to do with the research one is proposing. Peer review probably will not be carried if a book is not priced and sold. Someone has to be paid to administer the peer review, copyediting, cover design, typesetting, binding, etc. In short, most of the over 100 steps in publishing (see https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/02/06/focusing-value-102-things-journal-publishers-2018-update/)will not be carried out unless it is paid for. Now one can apply for a grant to pay for the publishing of the book. But, why would one give a grant to publish a book which cannot stand on its own – be sold? That is a major hurdle for OA books.
One out is to use Amazon and publish for free. In short, one gets a grant for the research has some colleagues review the resulting manuscript. The author performs all of the publishing activities (see above) and then provides a finished manuscript to Amazon and states that there is no price and no royalty and is covered by one of the myriad copyright options. Now if that is what a scholar wants to do with their time all the more to them!

Lever Press (http://leverpress.org) is an open access publisher of scholarly monographs that does not charge authors. We fund this through a co-op model, with over 40 libraries all contributing funds, and also labor for the oversight and editorial board.

We are expanding our membership this year. For those interested in joining our efforts, you can learn more about our accomplishments and our model by attending an upcoming webinar. Registration at https://www.leverpress.org/events/2021-02-18-lever-press-update-sessions/

My big worry about open access generally, but for books specifically, is that it gives publishers an incentive to encourage writers to write but does nothing to persuade readers to read. The scholarly exchange only works if we connect audiences with writers. From experience as a specialist publisher, a big part of the role is championing the reader during the writing process, then promoting the writer to their audience. I can’t see any incentive in APCs to invest time and effort in crafting the content to be readable, or organised in a way to meet reader needs, or to spend the big money it takes to let the audience know what it is about so they take the time to bother reading it.

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