Open Access book publishing in a challenging funding landscape

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Open Access book publishing in a challenging funding landscape

Author: Angharad Roberts

As part of some consultancy work commissioned by UCL Press, Research Consulting undertook a survey of ARMA members about the current landscape and policy environment relating to open access monograph publication. The recent implementation of the UKRI mandate for open access monograph publication of outputs from UKRI-funded projects, announcements about the funding available to support this policy, and the consultation about open access requirements for REF 2029, launched last month, make this a highly relevant topic of interest for many institutions.

As part of our work, we developed a small-scale survey in Microsoft Forms and committed to share the results publicly. The survey was circulated to members of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA) special interest group mailing lists focussing on Open Research and on the Research Excellence Framework (REF) on 4 March, with a deadline for responses of 22 March 2024. The results provide valuable insights into the perspectives of institutional research managers or administrators (typically based within the research office) and librarians on the transition to open access books within the UK higher education sector.

20 responses were received and, whilst not fully representative of the sector or of major arts, humanities and social science (AHSS) centres of research in the UK, these do indicate that institutions anticipate significant growth in OA book publication, including growth in BPC-funded publication. However, there is an expectation that other (non-BPC) publication routes will account for a larger proportion of total growth. In particular, it appears that universities expect to focus on repository routes to compliance with policy and funder requirements. There also appears to be a preference for collaborative publishing services or financial contributions to collective funding models, instead of establishing new in-house publishing services or funding individual BPCs.

1. There is a general expectation of growth in OA books

“Open Access monographs are going to be complex for us as we have little budget we can dedicate to them.”

In the survey, we asked about the extent to which a range of approaches to open access publication for books are currently being used (ranging from “not at all” to experimental / operational / systematic). The approaches to open access monograph publication which the survey specifically asked about were:

  • in-house provision of publishing services (e.g. university press);
  • funding of Book Publication Charges (BPCs) for publication by external publishers;
  • collaborative provision of publishing services (e.g. cross-institutional university press);
  • author accepted manuscripts in a repository; and
  • financial contribution to collective publishing model (e.g. MIT Direct to Open).

We also asked about levels of use anticipated for these publication routes in 2029. Responses indicated a general expectation of increased use across all routes to OA book publication in 2029 (although largely at experimental level).

Figure 1: Levels of use across all OA book publication routes, currently and anticipated in 2029

Figure 1: Levels of use across all OA book publication routes, currently and anticipated in 2029

Free text comments about other approaches to OA book publication envisaged to become more important by 2029 identified:

  • contributions to wider OA infrastructure projects;
  • rights retention and wider repository use (whether for single chapters or whole books);
  • different forms of content (creative / multimedia works, supplementary / enhanced content, textbooks, print on demand; and
  • alternative publishing models (open book schemes, collective publishing, funder publishing platforms).

Three of the twelve free text comments indicated limited scope for additional institutional funding of longform OA; one anticipated potential for increased institutional funding and one referred to securing external funding.

The survey also asked about numbers of books supported to open access publication via BPCs or other routes, now and predicted for 2029. Responses anticipate greater engagement with BPC funding models, with a growing number of operational and systematic institutional users of this route to OA publication, and a reduction in institutions not using this route at all (or only using BPCs experimentally). However, only two respondents envisage ‘systematic’ funding of BPCs being in place by 2029.

Figure 2: Anticipated growth in OA book publication via BPCs

Figure 2: Anticipated growth in OA book publication via BPCs

Responses indicate potential for significant growth in OA book publication via BPCs, with anticipated collective total growth across the 20 responding institutions from a range of 21-130 OA books funded via BPCs currently to 167-330 a year in 2029.

Figure 3: Anticipated growth in numbers of books published per year, via BPCs

Figure 3: Anticipated growth in numbers of books published per year, via BPCs

However, it appears that survey respondents anticipate that other approaches (not via BPCs) to OA will lead to a larger increase in the number of OA monographs published, with anticipated collective total growth from a range of 10-100 OA books published currently via other approaches to 207-360 in 2029.

Figure 4: Anticipated growth in numbers of books published per year, via other approaches (non-BPC funding)

Figure 4: Anticipated growth in numbers of books published per year, via other approaches (non-BPC funding)

2. There is a preference for repository-based compliance

“We have very limited funding available. We will have to take a green open access route.”

The REF 2029 OA policy consultation was launched at the end of March. In its approach it appears to support the view that repository-based Green route OA may be the most affordable route to compliance. As expected, the draft REF OA policy is less stringent than UKRI policy and does not propose new funding, although it may catalyse investment from individual institutions. Archiving of author accepted manuscripts in repositories appears to be the route to OA most likely to be systematically implemented in the next five years, supporting the potential of Green OA as a preferred mechanism for compliance for REF 2029.

Figure 5: Anticipated growth in OA book publication via repository archiving of author accepted manuscripts

Figure 5: Anticipated growth in OA book publication via repository archiving of author accepted manuscripts

3. Collaborative approaches are favoured over new in-house publishing services

“I think finding collaborative approaches is important to us, rather than setting up an isolated University Press.”

Survey responses indicated more institutions anticipate making a potential contribution to collaborative provision of publishing services than are likely to have their own in-house publishing services (such as a new university press).

Just under half the institutions represented in the survey responses anticipate offering any level of in-house publishing services by 2029 (and for most of those, the offer would be experimental) (Figure 6). Free-text comments emphasised the funding constraints institutions are experiencing and the impact this has on scope to fund OA publication. In-house publishing options require high levels of investment and resource which may be difficult to justify at a time many UK universities are warning of course cuts and staff redundancies.

Figure 6: Survey responses: current and anticipated use of in-house or collaborative publishing

Figure 6: Survey responses: current and anticipated use of in-house or collaborative publishing

More respondents anticipate that there will be at least experimental use of collaborative publishing services (such as cross-institutional university presses) by 2029, despite this being an area in which most institutions currently claim no experience.

Figure 7: Survey responses: current and anticipated use of collaborative publishing

Figure 7: Survey responses: current and anticipated use of collaborative publishing

Financial contributions to collective publishing models (such as Knowledge Unlatched or MIT Direct to Open) are already reportedly used at least experimentally by around half of the institutions represented in the survey responses. This is the approach to publication for which the second highest levels of adoption (after the repository route) are anticipated by 2029.

Figure 8: Survey responses: current and anticipated contributions to collective publishing models

Figure 8: Survey responses: current and anticipated contributions to collective publishing models

4. Finding pathways to sustainable OA growth

From this small sample of responses, it is clear there is a growth trajectory for OA books, including for books funded by BPCs, and that policy and funding initiatives from UKRI and as part of REF 2029 are supporting and driving this.

In the short term, BPCs offer a route to further growth in OA book publishing. However, institutions face challenges in funding publications through this route, while BPCs raise concerns over equity of access to publication for authors, as well as financial sustainability for publishers. There are also substantial concerns – based on experiences of OA journal publishing – that large commercial companies will dominate the BPC market, threatening bibliodiversity and smaller scholarly publishers.

Given these reservations, the longer-term landscape of publication and funding models remains unclear. Preferences from our survey respondents appear to be for a mixture of repository-based routes and collaborative or collective routes to publication, with a smaller number anticipating provision of in-house publishing services in their institution. There is work underway towards the development of an open infrastructure to support wider collaborative publishing, with initiatives led by COPIM, whilst the DIAMAS project in Europe is working to establish a Diamond capacity centre to help Diamond OA publishers to meet the challenges they face. However, there is not yet evidence of sufficiently large-scale repurposing of library budgets to support collective funding of OA books. Some collective, subscription-based models such as MIT’s Direct to Open and the University of Michigan’s Fund to Mission programme have successfully leveraged publisher backlist content to open up OA publication of the frontlist. However, these projects remain relatively small-scale and experimental, and many are still underpinned by substantial institutional subsidies. These are also not practical models for publishers without extensive backlists and there are particular challenges for presses with a strong focus on high production values, including sustaining sales of quality printed copies of born-OA books.

Ultimately, the funding of OA books at scale remains a wicked problem that the UK higher education sector cannot solve on its own. As Crossick observed in his 2015 report on Monographs and Open Access, ‘The situation facing the monograph publishing ecology is in any case clearly more nuanced than might be thought by examining UK library purchasing trends alone, with personal purchases and global markets playing a significant role.’ Nearly a decade later, this complexity has only intensified, with the shared desire of UK institutions and funders for more open access books accompanied by continuing uncertainty about the most effective means to achieve this goal.

This blog post was made possible through the support of UCL Press. However, the views expressed herein are solely those of the authors, Angharad Roberts and Rob Johnson of Research Consulting, and do not reflect the views of UCL Press or any other organisation.

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