Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by John Sherer. John is the Spangler Family Director of the University of North Carolina Press. He is the chair of the Association of University Presses Open Access Committee and is the Primary Investigator in the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded Sustainable History Monograph Pilot.

At the University of North Carolina Press, we recently completed a four-year initiative to support the publication of open access (OA) monographs by university presses in the discipline of history. Through the Sustainable History Monograph Pilot (SHMP)—generously funded by the Mellon Foundation — we published fifty-nine titles with nineteen different presses. SHMP was unique among OA initiatives in that it did more than simply provide offset funding. It required an intervention in publication workflows where university presses and their authors had to submit to a standardized process with templated outputs that aligned with the requirements of digital platforms. The pilot recorded successes and challenges indicative of ongoing and future needs, some of them general to all OA publishing and some specific to OA monograph publishing.

There were several areas of encouraging news. The titles we published are being accessed and used exponentially more than digital editions that are behind paywalls. And standardization significantly reduced the costs required to create a high-quality university press monograph. But there were also discouraging results. Authors and presses remain deeply cautious about OA as a legitimate, sustainable mode of publishing. They are even more skeptical about the trade-offs associated with standardization. And we learned that there are serious gaps in the infrastructure needed to disseminate open scholarship efficiently and measure its impact.

Ebook Reader in Library Catalog Card Drawer

The Obstacles Facing an OA Publisher

Our first area of setbacks and challenges were technical and knowledge based, ranging from the lack of availability of workflow tools to support the unique affordances of open digital publications, to the unique challenges of dissemination of OA metadata and digital files, to a dearth of best practices in how to measure usage of OA monographs.

We experienced significant challenges in managing metadata for our presses. The first issue was that OA metadata has unique needs, requiring the creation of new fields and rubrics that paywalled metadata doesn’t consider (for example, some content management systems cannot support a zero-priced product or store a DOI or ORCID). Additionally, commercial aggregators (like JSTOR, EBSCO, ProQuest) distribute book metadata for free because they will generate income on a sales commission. But if a press removes the sales commission possibility, what is the incentive for an aggregator to distribute the enriched metadata? This put us in the surprising scenario where metadata for OA editions could actually circulate less widely than metadata for paywalled e-titles. To overcome this, we had to create a supplemental metadata workflow connecting presses and OA platforms. After we began our project, an independent initiative (funded by Arcadia) developed a tool called Thoth to try and address this set of challenges around metadata.

Beyond the distribution of metadata, we also had to build a workflow to distribute eBook files to OA platforms. In a paywalled environment, a press can use a digital asset management system (like Ingram’s CoreSource or Chicago Distribution Center’s BiblioVault) as a one-stop tool for eBook dissemination. But these commercial vendors don’t have connectivity with OA-only platforms like the Internet Archive, OAPEN, or an author’s institutional repository. This became another example of how distribution of an OA eBook is actually more laborious than a paywalled title.

Once we had published books, of course we wanted to measure their usage in open environments. We were once again surprised to learn that there are no best practices for how to define and measure a moment of reader usage. We relied on our six OA platforms to supply us with what data they could, and then we had to manually normalize it. Since SHMP was initiated, another Mellon-funded initiative has begun (the OA eBook Data Trust) to develop standards and communities of practice around this issue.

Lastly, we noted that OA workflows are challenging for most university presses, filled with numerous one-off requirements. Even though our program helped presses significantly with metadata and final file distribution, each project felt like it was exceptional. If OA remains on the fringes as a tool for presses, it will have the added burden of being more time-consuming to execute.

Our second area of challenges were the cultural and institutional barriers of author/press concerns, and the lack of financial and administrative resources at academic institutions.

Many authors we tried to work with expressed skepticism about the project. This was reported to us second-hand through the originating press, so our feedback is anecdotal. But in a survey we commissioned, our presses ranked “author concerns” as their own biggest issue in participating in the pilot. When we drilled down on this question, templated interior and cover designs were cited the most, but close behind was an impression that an OA monograph would be viewed less favorably than a traditional print monograph would in the tenure and promotion review process. Almost one third of projects submitted to us by presses were ultimately withdrawn from consideration for these reasons. Presses also cited financial challenges as a fundamental reason why they could not publish more OA titles.

We learned that academic institutions appeared ill-prepared to support OA monographs. In a number of instances, authors were advised by colleagues or supervisors to avoid a pilot like this on the grounds that any program that could be perceived as unconventional might harm the career prospects of a historian. We also asked participating authors to seek matching subventions at their home institution to support the program. Authors frequently didn’t know who to ask, and in our final results, of the fifty-nine titles we published, only thirteen institutions had funds to support OA monographs of their faculty with the average subvention amount from them being $2,525.

The Rewards of Standardized OA Publishing

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that open digital editions get downloaded, read, and cited more than paywalled editions. Although it may be surprising just how much more they get used. Among university presses, sales are usually tracked in the low hundreds, and a highly successful monograph is one that sells more than 1,000 copies. As of this writing, our fifty-nine SHMP titles have had more than 195,000 unique user engagements. Almost every title we helped presses publish exceeded 1,000 usages within its first six months. After a year, it is usually more than double that and, in most cases, well over 3,000 usages. These numbers are understated since we are unable to track “re-shares” of downloaded eBooks or downloads that came from authors’ own web sites or institutional repositories. Many monographs take years to find readers and our books are still in their infancy. We received in-depth reporting from JSTOR, one of the platforms where we distributed our OA eBooks. They compared the usage of SHMP titles (all of which are in the history discipline) against the paywalled history books in their full collection and SHMP titles showed an 8-fold increase over paywalled titles. And while SHMP titles made up only 4% of the JSTOR title set, it accounted for 22% of the use.

One of the keys to our model was the introduction of standardization early on in the workflow. In addition to speeding the publishing timeline, we hypothesized that it could help reduce costs. Our testing proved that we were able to reduce costs in copyediting/typesetting/file prep on average by almost 60%. The savings were primarily in typesetting (because we used a templated design), cover design (again, a template), and in project management (which was less expensive because of our scale and use of an auto-composition tool).

As many presses have worked diligently to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, they have confronted the inherently elitist and exclusionary distribution model for university press monographs. Our pricing models severely limit readership, and thus our requirements to sell enough copies of books to recover costs means that our publishing programs have privileged authors and subject areas from the wealthiest institutions and countries. The lack of institutional financial resources to support the dissemination of monographs reinforces that inequity. This is even more dire since in addition to the dramatic increase in the volume of OA usage, we are seeing usage in nations that have been historically marginalized in our marketing and dissemination efforts.

Where do we go from here?

While the benefits of OA are becoming clearer (expanded usage, better measurements of impact, and alignment with DEI goals), most presses still see financial sustainability as the biggest obstacle to publishing more OA. Furthermore, presses and authors can be extremely reluctant to embrace a standardized workflow and output, despite the possibility of saving thousands of dollars per title. And while we’re beginning to close some gaps, there is still more infrastructure that needs to be built to make OA publishing more seamless and efficient.

Some university presses have displayed admirable leadership in opening their lists (Michigan and MIT) and there’s an exciting cohort of newer, born OA presses that have the benefit of not having to convert from a legacy model. And there are new models for spreading the sources of funding like the Open Book Collective.

For our next step at UNC Press, we have been helping to develop a new initiative that is essentially a compromise between the legacy model of university press publishing and a fully -funded OA model. Path to Open is a concept modeled on the NEH Fellowship Open Book Program which provides for a three-year embargo period during which presses can participate in conventional cost-recovery activities, including selling print and consumer (e.g., Kindle) eBooks. During this time, JSTOR will be offering the digital versions of these titles to academic libraries and institutions in an exclusive subscription collection. JSTOR will pay presses an estimated $5,000 for each title put into the program. The value proposition to presses is that they can continue to use their legacy models to produce and market books during the time window when most cost recovery usually happens while ultimately making them more accessible. For libraries, they can buy a modestly priced collection of university press monographs and provide them for their patrons for three years. And at the same, they are contributing to a sharing of risk that allows everyone in the ecosystem to thrive: authors, presses, libraries, institutions, and readers everywhere.

The landscape remains wide open. OA feels like the most desirable future, but there’s still no clear roadmap for how to get there. If the first generation of OA pilots proved that OA can increase impact exponentially, the next generation of pilots need to find sustainable funding models to achieve this.

John Sherer

John Sherer is the Spangler Family Director of the University of North Carolina Press. He is the chair of the Association of University Presses Open Access Committee and is the Primary Investigator in the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded, Sustainable History Monograph Pilot.


23 Thoughts on "Guest Post — Open Access for Monographs is Here. But Are we Ready for It?"

Thanks John. I learned a lot. Great to see a grant funded program provide a map that identifies the infrastructural gaps that have been discovered when exploring new terrain. One question: are you able parse the authors’ reasons for resistance any further — it isn’t clear whether the request for subvention from author/institution could have been much more significant than the cultural resistance. But maybe that was hard to determine?

Thanks for your interest and question, James. In rereading the post this morning, I wish I had emphasized a bit more the importance of some of the infrastructure that’s been built since we started (Thoth and OA eBOOK Data True (now known as the Book Analytics Dashboard).

I do have more specific feedback from authors, but when we solicited it, we committed to keeping it anonymized and that we’d only characterize it at a high level for public reporting. But if anything, I could have written more forcefully about the cultural obstacles from authors and their peers. We had numerous times where senior scholars advised junior career faculty to NOT do a program like this…essentially because it wasn’t they way they themselves had published.

Thanks, John. I greatly admire all of the work you are doing at UNC Press and Longleaf Services and appreciate you sharing your experiences. Concerning your point that SHMP titles were used 8x more than paywalled titles, can you please confirm that usage from DDA models where the library did not purchase the eBook due to failing to meet the “generous trigger policies” was included in your calculation? At 8x, it would be pretty impressive if that were the case. Also, with our university press partners, we see that usage of AHSS content is peaking one to one and a half years after publication. Did your usage assessment yield similar results? And if so, what does that mean if the book is not OA until three years after publication in the Path to Open model? Do you envision the 8x usage comparison to paywalled titles would still apply?

Thanks for your questions and kind words, Steve. Let me check with the JSTOR folks about the DDA question.

As for the timing about peak usage, it’s a really interesting question and SHMP didn’t do a sophisticated enough tracking of downloads to point to a conclusion. I’m actually in dialog now with the folks at the Book Analytics Dashboard to see if they can take our somewhat raw data and present it in a much more sophisticated way. And of course it’s also about trying to parse the distinctions between a purchase/download moment versus when the books is actually being read or cited. In the print world, we had realized that most sales happen in the first 3 years (thus the P2O model, which is designed more to protect print revenues than optimize digital impact). One of the interesting things to watch for in the P2O model is whether we’re “missing” that sweet spot you’re seeing, or if usage still spikes at the inflection point when the eBook becomes free.

I quite like the name Path to Open because not only does it describe the steps needed to open the books in that pilot, but I would argue the pilot itself is a stepping stone into making books open right away. Both culturally and financially, I don’t see that as being possible for most university presses (including UNC) at this moment. But a pilot like this could help us move toward that goal.

Thank you for talking to me this morning about the details of the usage data referenced in your article. I really appreciate you sharing the challenges and experiences you have faced as a publisher with OA over the years and how that has helped shape your thinking about new approaches today and in the future. At JSTOR, it was always important that we did in fact distribute OA ebooks with the same enriched metadata as licensed ebooks. This helps with discoverability and to ensure that OA ebooks can easily fit within the library workflows. I was really encouraged by the link that Peter shared with TOME’s early usage figures that displayed such a high overall usage on JSTOR that accounted for over 50% of the ebooks usage. It helps validate that publishing these books with that enriched metadata has helped with the discoverability and usage of OA ebooks.

I also wanted to answer your DDA question. I could see you were responding to a comment made about “generous trigger policies” and how that would have applied to the usage of the SHMP titles. Obviously, DDA/PDA models will vary, but at JSTOR, the purchase occurs after the ebook was used 7 times. This is based on cumulative chapter views or downloads of an ebook. There are usually more than 7 chapters of a book, so a trigger would occur before even a single user would have read a book. Usage of the titles of how you got to 8xs was based on usage of ebooks after a purchase took place. That would mean after a DDA trigger purchase, or a direct purchase of an ebook.

The DDA corpus usage, which is the total usage prior to a trigger event, only accounted for 7% of the overall usage during the 2020-2022 period that was used in your analysis. This only applies to titles that were purchased through DDA, which was 33% of actual ebook purchases during that period. Therefore, the 8xs figure you used would not change even if you were to calculate the DDA corpus usage for any DDA purchased ebooks in your data.

In addition, the post purchase usage of ebooks purchased in DDA continues to be much higher than the usage of a title that was purchased individually, or through packaged collections. This makes sense, as the purchase is driven by the user demand of an ebook and that demand will continue each semester and each year based on the disciplines an ebook is published in. 24 months after a purchase of an ebook occurs, usage increased another 57% from the prior year for an ebook purchased in DDA compared to only 18% for a title purchased individually, or part of a packaged collection. Therefore, your 8xs number would have been even higher if you removed DDA purchased title usage and only focused on titles purchased outside of DDA.

Thank you, John, and I appreciate your direct engagement with the issue. Additionally, I commend JSTOR’s Access to Prison Education Initiative for its efforts in providing educational resources to incarcerated individuals. It’s heartening to see, and I hope more aggregators follow suit.

If I may, a few comments and questions about your reply. First, it is great that JSTOR is enhancing metadata for OA titles. It would be even greater if JSTOR did that for free. Can we get JSTOR to host OA and not require not-for-profit publishers to pay a fee per book for the service? It seems to me that we cannot “move toward that goal” that John Sherer mentions if not-for-profit publishers need to (ironically) sell books to pay OA fees. I would not ask you to provide the free service if we didn’t already do that ourselves. Please consider.

With reference to the 8x usage (if I understand you correctly), it is a false equivalence to compare OA usage to the use of paid content in a DDA and firm order model only. To be more accurate, I ask that you include all the usage from these titles below the DDA trigger lines to accurately compare the use of OA to paywalled eBooks on the JSTOR platform. After all, there are no thresholds for OA, and publishers will want to know comparable usage at all institutions, not just the ones that have triggered a purchase.

Back to the P2O model, has JSTOR analyzed usage from AHSS eBooks on your platform, and have you determined any patterns? We analyzed global usage on degruyter.com from 2014-2020 (using Counter 4) and then 2021-2022 (using Counter 5) and were very surprised by the trend that since COVID, AHSS content has peaked 12-18 months after publication. Does JSTOR see the same direction? And if so, can you explain how commercial exclusivity in the academic library channel for three years after publication and before the book becomes OA is in the publisher’s or academic library’s best interest if peak usage occurs during this time?

I am not trying to be difficult, so please do not look unfavorably at my commentary. As aggregators of university press and other not-for-profit publishers, we steward this digital content to the academic community and, most importantly, on behalf of our partners that do not have a proprietary platform. We stewards owe it to our partners and the broader community of stakeholders to engage in these conversations in an open forum. I genuinely believe it is only then that we can “move toward that goal” of open access and, perhaps more importantly, sustainable academic publishing.

John was focusing on usage data of specific titles from publishers that were part of SHMP as OA compared to those that were licensed for sale in specific subject areas like history. The usage prior to a trigger event on JSTOR is only 7% of the usage of books. Including this usage would have had no impact on the 8x multiplier John referenced. If the study focused on just purchased ebooks from DDA, the 8x multiplier would have been lower, as the post purchase usage of DDA triggered ebooks is higher than direct ebook purchases. If the OA usage was only being compared to direct ebook purchases, the 8x multiplier would have been higher. This study was looking at the averages across both.

Usage of ebooks will obviously vary across platforms. We have been seeing an increase in overall usage of ebooks that are 36 months or longer past their publication date. In fact, the usage of backlist titles in our Evidenced Based Evaluation (EBA) program accounts for 45% of the overall usage on the platform of licensed ebooks. How ebooks are being discovered and incorporated into the how students are engaging with the ebook chapters has a large impact on the initial and long-term usage patterns.

When analyzing a set of 1,000 titles from 2016-2022 that were licensed and at some point, converted to OA during this period, the average increase of usage was 5,500%. This was looking at titles that had been live on the platform for 6 years and had been converted to OA after being licensed for 1-5 years.

Since there seems to be such a variance on how the discovery and usage of ebooks is occurring between JSTOR.com and degruyter.com, we should work together on a study to analyze why this may be occurring and help better educate the community on the variances. Since this conversation would be outside the scope of John’s article, please send me an email to discuss all your questions in more detail and we can work on putting the study together.

Thanks, John. To be honest, the variances are the same. When we flip open a title and it has access to the global community, the exponential increase in usage is the same as JSTOR. More to the point, I am curious how long after publication does a title peak in its usage? All titles peak and the question for AHSS publishers making business decisions is when does this occur? How long after publication? Is the timing of peak usage the same for paywalled AHSS content as OA AHSS content? If it is 12-18 months after publication, then the publisher, aggregator, and author need to consider the impact of peak access in all business models, not just P2O.

Thank you for the offer to reach out and share usage data. Will do. It would be great if aggregators could collaborate with the AUP community to report on various usage trends to support data-driven business decisions on behalf of publishers that do not own a proprietary platform.

John, can you expand on the costs involved? You mentioned, for example, that JSTOR would offer $5,000 per title. How is this money spent? The solution I’m driving at is that there are PLENTY of graphic designers looking for work (especially to build their portfolios) who can do custom, professional layouts and covers for half this cost. This approach might help allay author concerns about ending up with an amateurish-looking ebook instead of something more befitting their scholarship and vision. Note that these properly prepared digital files (with bleeds, crop marks, etc.) can also be sent to a book printer later on for short runs of trade paper or hardcover versions (for family, friends, or colleagues, using the university press or a commercial printer for about $5/copy). This approach also gives authors the peace of mind that the people they WANT to see their work will have a copy for posterity. I’m happy to talk more about this option offline if you’re interested—ghampson@nationalscience.org.

Hello Glenn. I wouldn’t know how a press might spend the $5k payment but my hunch is that it goes to support the significant expenses tied to all aspects of creating a high-quality monographs …including the design.

Hi John.
Thanks for this thoughtful retrospective piece, which I found especially insightful having just wrapped up another OA book pilot initiative, TOME. A lot of what you say rings true from what we experienced with TOME, especially regarding the challenges with metadata, workflows, and collecting usage/impact data. The latter issue is one that we all expect to get better over time with the development of the OA eBook data trust you mention. We also found TOME’s early usage figures to be super encouraging (e.g. see https://www.digital-science.com/blog/2023/02/tome-sheds-light-on-sustainable-open-access-book-publishing/).

On the question of author perceptions of OA, we didn’t find quite the same skepticism that you encountered. Of course, we don’t know who or how many authors decided not to participate in TOME because of concerns about OA, but late last year we surveyed authors who had participated in TOME. For those who responded to the survey (77 of 132 authors), 73% reported that their initial reaction to the idea of publishing an OA book was “very positive,” even “enthusiastic.” Another 26% reported that they were “willing to try but had some concerns.” Authors were also asked how likely they were to publish another OA monograph, “whether through TOME or another OA initiative,” and 77% answered “extremely likely” while the remaining 23% said “somewhat likely,” which is very encouraging. Another point that came out in the survey was that authors were reassured by how little impact the OA edition had (from their perspective) on the process of publishing a book with a university press. This is consistent with what you say about author concerns over standardization. I am sure that if TOME had required any sort of changes to the normal publishing process (e.g. standardization) that authors might interpret as setting their book apart from the press’s regular list, we would have seen more resistance.

Of course, this still leaves open the question of sustainability. There’s a big difference between the average subvention amount you cited of $2,525 and the baseline amount of $15,000 for TOME, which of course is less than what studies show it costs to publish monographs in the current paradigm. What we clearly need is more experimentation that enables us to get our heads around what we’re willing to accept as a reasonable cost for publishing monographs in the 21st century.

I have had several people point out to me that BiblioVault does have connectivity to OAPEN. While I think the issue of infrastructure gaps in the distribution of metadata and content files needs to be worked on, that particular problem has been addressed. I apologize for that error.

So much to digest in this update–thank you, John! It definitely gives me flashes from my UP days (metadata headaches, authors / tenure concerns, inconsistent functionality of CMSs…), so I appreciate the challenges the project overcame to get to this point. Well done to all involved!

As an independent historian (university trained, MA, MLib) over the past two decades or so I have used two platforms – lulu for print, and academia for digital. I can confirm that open access achieves wider distribution. Several of my books and essays hosted on the academia site are around the 5K views, and several of the bibliographies are in the 5-8K.

I just have two three comments, with the caveat that I think Path to Open is, finally, an OA books pilot that is really innovative:

(1) Mellon AGAIN? And again funding yet another pilot project steered by the same UP directors again and again and again? It’s called hoarding and favoritism and it’s deeply inequitable, not diverse, and not inclusive, which means these pilots fail the DEI test. Look at all of the highly varied pilot projects for OA funded by the Arcadia Fund. punctum books in collaboration with University of California, Santa Barbara Library was rejected by Mellon twice. Is that sour grapes? I could care less anymore, meaning, yes, I’ve harvested sour grapes, but I finally got over that. Especially because we have been partners with OA book publishers and open infrastructure builders overseas since about 2016, to the tune of about 9 million pounds in grant funds, and with partners crossing borders between the US, UK, Europe, South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Is that bragging? Probably, but it’s also to make the point that international collaborations around OA books is how we really move the needle forward on OA books.

(2) Please don’t say, as more than one UP director has claimed, or implied, over and over again, that OA books are “here. It’s been “here” for a long time. What took you so long? You’re “late.”

(3) Please stop saying that for OA book pilots “setbacks and challenges were technical and knowledge based, ranging from the lack of availability of workflow tools to support the unique affordances of open digital publications, to the unique challenges of dissemination of OA metadata and digital files, to a dearth of best practices in how to measure usage of OA monographs.” As the kidz say (and yes, that’s the correct spelling), I.Cant.Even. The expertise has been there for a long time, but no one ever asked born OA book publishers.

Oops: mistake above re: who is co-sponsoring and supporting Path to Open: it “was developed in partnership with the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), University of Michigan Press, and The University of North Carolina Press, JSTOR, and ACLS.” My comments above still stand, but I don’t want to say things that are incorrect. I think JSTOR is the primary partner, with libraries as the actual funders, and Path to Open, I think, doesn’t need grant funding to lift off the ground. But that isn’t clear in the press release, so it would be good to hear who the partners are funding the pilot. If there was no grant funding, I actually think it’s a good thing, because it’s press- and library-driven, with monetary assistance from JSTOR. But again, I would like to know, and my comments above still stand, with the caveat that Mellon funding was not required in this instance. It’s more like entrepreneurship, and I admire that a LOT.

Thanks for sharing these reactions, Eileen. I appreciate the thought you’ve put into this.

I can confirm that Path to Open does NOT assume foundation funding. John Lenehan from JSTOR can probably offer more details, but my understanding is that they’ve planned it as a market-based, sustainable initiative from the jump. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t risk if it fails and that it will probably lose money before it breaks even. JSTOR has essentially committed to payments to presses during the pilot regardless of their ability to secure library subscriptions. We are looking at finding some funds to build governance guidelines to ensure an equitable and inclusive program, but those would be one-time funds and not tied to the business model.

And I understand the concern about trying to make sure that foundation grants are distributed equitably. That, of course, is ultimately the responsibility of officers of those foundations and government entities. I am cognizant of the perception of privilege that UNC Press has when it comes to receiving grants, but I hope there is also an understanding of our track record of doing grants that are intrinsically inclusive. The last grant I co-PI’d (with Erich van Rijn from U of California Press) was from NEH to study the impact of PA digital on print for all university presses (https://aupresses.org/news/neh-grant-to-study-open-access-impact/). Neither UNCP or UCP received any funds directly–we’re both working on that pro bono. And the Mellon grant described above (SHMP, which is the only money UNC Press has received from Mellon since 2018) was for a program that was extended to the entire AUPresses community and ultimately taken up by 19 UPs. UNC Press only published 2 of the 59 titles and again, no overhead payments were made to UNC Press.

Hello, Eileen. I wanted to add a little more information to what John mentioned about Path to Open. Funding is assured to publishers by JSTOR for all titles published in the program. Over time, we are expecting that there will be enough library participation to support the continued funding to the presses for titles in Path to Open and that this funding will also allow for an increase in published titles over time. We currently have 33 UPs in the program, so we are excited about the ability to support a broad range of publishers who want to be supporting more ebooks becoming open access.

First, to *both* Johns, I want to offer apologies for my intemperance here; I just get very triggered sometimes when I do see, over and over again, that the same press directors are steering the different pilots for OA books, and as to the comment that this is partly due to the funder officers’ objectives and aims, I disagree a little bit. I think there is favoritism, but more than that, I think that those presses that have received grants for various OA books pilots, such as TOME, should simply think more about including born OA presses in their pilots that have a lot to offer in terms of knowledge, workflows, and skills. So, for example, when John S. says in the original post that “there are serious gaps in the infrastructure needed to disseminate open scholarship efficiently and measure its impact,” one of the outcomes of the COPIM project is Thoth (thoth.pub), which is one of the most incredible management systems for OA books you could even imagine, esp relative to the dissemination and discoverability of OA books, and any university press publishing OA books can use it. Libraries can also use it for downloading catalog records in 13 formats (!). So when John S. also writes in his post that one of the challenges facing OA books “were technical and knowledge based, ranging from the lack of availability of workflow tools to support the unique affordances of open digital publications, to the unique challenges of dissemination of OA metadata and digital files, to a dearth of best practices in how to measure usage of OA monographs,” it frustrates me to hear this over and over again (the TOME report also pointed out these “challenges”). Again, born OA presses have been working on this for years and our collective efforts led to the COPIM grant, one of the teams for which developed Thoth (with my co-director Vincent and Rupert Gatti of Open Book Publishers as team leaders). I’ve been asking for years why the pilot projects for OA books aren’t reaching out to other born OA presses who have a lot of expertise to share regarding technical workflows around OA books. You can see more about how Thoth works here, and I would not understand any UP press that wouldn’t want to use this metadata management, dissemination, and discovery platform (and some have resisted when we have presented this system at more than one conference):


The COPIM project has been tackling, in highly useful ways, the technical challenges around workflows for OA books. We also have a lot of knowledge to share regarding business models for OA books. It concerns me that we are never asked to be included in these projects, nor to bring our expertise to the table. I’m actually very much interested in the results of the NEH-funded study to look at the impact of open books on print and e-book sales, and again, born OA presses have a lot of knowledge in that area. We were talking about this study in the punctum offices and I was kind of complaining about it and Vincent said, no, I think the results will be useful to everyone, and I ultimately agreed. And after all, we didn’t start with a reliance on print and ebook sales, as many traditional university presses have, so that is a kind of different ballgame.

Regarding our expertise not being seen as vital to many of these OA book pilot projects, I would just also mention that our only born OA books colleague in the US is born OA Lever Press, jointly launched by Amherst College Press, University of Michigan Press, and University of Michigan Library, with over $1 million in library funding (sourced from the Oberlin Group) — and I was rooting for them big-time when I heard about them in 2016 — projected a total of 90 titles over 5 years, from 2015 to 2019. And to date, Lever has published a total of 23 titles. What happened? Since 2012, punctum has published close to 400 books, and the number of book submissions we receive every year has grown and grown, so we must be doing something right. But does anyone in the US-based university publishing care? It doesn’t feel like it. Speaking of which, US-based publishers really need to collaborate with international partners across the globe. The US-based publishing scene, especially around OA pilot projects, are just too insular.

Having said of all of this, Path to Open is the first pilot project for OA books that I think is truly entrepreneurial, and in a good way, and I don’t think libraries, or other academic units, whether single or combined, are being forced to take on highly inefficient cost structures for book production. And the 3-year embargo, where the books are paywalled behind JSTOR, which some people have said is not really open access, I disagree. I think it’s brilliant. I’m okay with the embargo because it helps presses recover their costs, and eventually, all of the books will be truly open. I’m okay with that. That would still raise questions of equity, because what happens when books are behind a paywall? They can only be accessed at those institutions where their patrons have login credentials. So you have to be a university student or a professor. I think this is more of a problem in the Sciences, though, where making research open immediately at the preprint stage literally saves lives. And to be honest, there is an online group, on Facebook and Twitter, called “Can I Haz PDF?” that many of us use. I have access to JSTOR and I will send article PDFs to those who have no library access, and I don’t think that really hurts JSTOR. Related to which, when I resigned my professorship in 2013 to run punctum full-time, it was not until about 2018, when University of California Library took punctum under its wing, that I got library login credentials. I am an active scholar and I was working on a book and for 5 years, I had no access to books or articles. Friends who were professors saved my scholarship. Nevertheless, I’m behind Path to Open. I want it to succeed, but I also wish it would have 2 tiers of participation: one for university presses that have higher costs that need to be recovered and 1 for born OA presses who have much more efficient productive costs (at punctum that is about $6,500, including direct and non-direct costs), and that could publish books more cheaply, without sacrificing any editorial quality. This would also help punctum with some external funding that could help us to publish more books for authors who have no institutional funding at all. And the stature of our press has grown to the point where many university faculty want to publish with this and in subject areas that address real gaps in any library’s holdings. So if, as John L. says, and I believe him, that “Funding is assured to publishers by JSTOR for all titles published in the program,” I just ask, if born OA presses are not really ideal for this pilot, how can JSTOR also support born OA book publishers already on their open books platform? I know JSTOR is actually open to this conversation, and it means a lot to me.

Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

Eileen, thank you for the additional comments. At JSTOR, we continue to value the relationship we have with you and as we have been discussing via email with Vincent, we look forward to expanding our relationship to include your backlist open access titles on JSTOR. I also will be continuing to collaborate with you to learn about your successes and challenges and continue to work together to help publish more open access ebooks.

Path to Open will be launching as a pilot and we plan to be working closely with publishers, libraries, authors, and users to learn what works best for all in supporting open access ebook publishing. We will be sharing the learnings and continuing to listen and obtain feedback throughout the duration of the pilot.

Ironically, JSTOR has convinced thirty-three university presses that the”path to open” is through paywalled exclusivity on their platform during peak demand from users at academic libraries. Of course funding is assured; it is the only place in the global digital ecosystem a library can buy the eBook. I’d be cautious about using words like “innovative” and “entrepreneurial” until it’s proven that the model is sustainable for presses and libraries and global readership is not severely restricted by a paywall and one platform when it matters the most.

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