The coronavirus pandemic has thrust the idea of open access to research into the forefront, bringing more focus to open access books as researchers and librarians look for ways to push their work forward amid lockdowns and restrictions.
From the end user perspective, a large cache of freely accessible research monographs would be ideal, but open access books are still the exception not the rule. Simba Information examined the pricing issue in its latest report Open Access Book Publishing 2020-2024.
In the U.K., the UKRI is considering an Open Access policy that would mandate all UKRI-funded research published in book or chapter form should be Open Access starting in 2024.
One of the biggest objections to the plan is that it will be too expensive to fund the OA publication of academic books. The upfront costs to publish such books and make them freely available are significant. So significant that some industry insiders have speculated that this policy might be the death knell for the monograph as a viable format for scholarly work.
Conversations about the financial viability of Open Access book publishing are often predicated on a single business model—that of the book publishing charge (BPC). Detailed information about how much it costs to publish an OA book, and the revenue streams that are available to meet these costs, is rarely made public. Commercial presses are reluctant to do so on the basis that it will put them at a competitive disadvantage.
Different studies and various publisher policies point to a range between $3,000 and $18,000 per book title as the revenue needed, or alternatively, the cost per title that needs to be covered. BPCs or chapter publishing charges (CPCs) are the most used source of revenue. These charges vary widely and are often linked to page counts and other services the author might choose.
In June 2020, Knowledge Unlatched and OpenAPC moved to collect and publish BPC pricing data. The first data set includes all payments made by KU to publishers for the KU Select programs, equaling almost 1,000 books published between 2017 and 2020. Table 1.1 (above) presents the publishers with at least 20 titles or more from which to derive the mean BPC. Overall, the study found that the mean BPC was $5,205.
Librarians who face tightening budgets continue to express frustration with commercial publishers pricing and policies.
“I think that academic publishing needs to be broken up,” said Johanna Anderson, an academic librarian for natural and social sciences in the United Kingdom. “There are a couple key players which are too big so I’d like them to be disbanded in some way. Open Access should be truly Open Access, rather than charging authors an awful lot of money to publish their content.”
Their frustration and researcher demand could create opportunities for more deals like the one De Gruyter and consortium led by the Göttingen State University Library signed in October 2019 to transform humanities titles into open access books by providing consortial financing for selected De Gruyter frontlist titles. Instead of acquiring print copies or licensing access to e-books, the libraries participating in the project finance open access monographs and book series. The goal was to publish more than 50 new open access titles in 2020.
Knowledge Unlatched continues to grow using crowd funding for OA books, but it is unclear if the model can be scaled to support the type of growth across the industry open access book proponents would like to see.
Other publishers have focused on partnerships to increase the visibility and discoverability of the open access books and chapters. In March 2019, IntechOpen partnered with MyScienceWork—a multidisciplinary platform with 70 million scholarly articles and 12 million patents that aims to connect people working in different fields. Since 2010, the group has been committed to the open dissemination of research outputs to increase scholarly visibility. The addition of IntechOpen’s content to this database means it has broader reach, benefitting authors and readers alike. The open access books come from multiple fields; from physical sciences and engineering to technology, life sciences, social sciences and humanities.