Guest post: Overcoming the challenges of open access books – part 1/2

We are pleased to share this guest post (published in two parts) by our latest DOAB Gold Sponsor, written by Leila Moore Open Access Book Lead at Taylor & Francis.

Overcoming the challenges of open access books – part 1/2

Leila Moore is Open Access Books Lead at Taylor & Francis. After graduating from the University of Reading with a BA honours in English Leila went on to a career in publishing, working across a variety of disciplines and publishing formats. A keen interest in the emergence of the open access model encouraged Leila to take the leap into open access publishing. Leila now specialises in open access books.

Benefits versus challenges

When I first started thinking about this article my aim was to focus on the benefits of open access (OA) books, but as I had more conversations with book authors and editors, the focus began to shift. One thing became clear to me; the benefits of OA publishing are obvious, but the challenges are more complex and varied and need to be tackled before any real progress can be made.

In part one of this two-part series, we’ll explore some of the challenges around policies and funding for OA books that were highlighted by authors and editors who were kind enough to participate in interviews about their experiences with OA publishing.

Each of the authors and editors I interviewed named wider dissemination and a more equitable research ecosystem as the main benefits of OA publishing. But they also highlighted a number of challenges which we will delve into below.

‘Dealing with different academic institutions, what are their requirements for books/book chapters/journal articles. Everybody is trying to understand the policy at their own academic institution, can they get funding or not. I think that was very complicated.’

Many of the researchers that I spoke with noted that it was not always easy to understand their own academic institution’s OA policy. It was not clear where enquiries to find out this information should be directed, or if it was at all likely that they would be able to get funding, particularly when it came to OA funding for book projects. For edited collections or multi-authored projects this is even more complex to navigate. There are differing rules for what constitutes lead author status, payments may need to be split between different academic institutions, and there may be different rules and processes to follow. For those authors who did manage to secure funding from their academic institutions the processes varied dramatically; some even varied for different book projects within the same academic institution.

‘Because authors would be expected to pay a certain amount of money for the ability to publish OA it does limit who could potentially serve as an author.’

Equitability for published authors was highlighted as an issue in OA publishing. Are the opportunities to publish OA limited to the chosen few? If an author is at a well-funded academic institution with a clear and robust OA policy, they are far more likely to apply for OA funding.  How do we ensure that authors without grants or funding still have the option to publish OA? Authors and editors did note that there are policies in place to try to combat this inequality, for example, book publishing charge (BPC) waivers for authors in low and lower middle-income economies are available, but there is still a clear inequality in OA outputs from authors in these regions that needs to be addressed. Who can afford to pay the OA fee is not something that authors or editors want to consider when making their publishing decisions.

‘The money. For most arts and humanities scholars, it is much too expensive to publish a new volume OA from the start. Our programme, which is the world’s largest of its kind, only had the option because of COVID. Our funders would probably not agree to the amounts spent under normal circumstances.’

All of the authors and editors that I spoke to mentioned funding as a major obstacle for OA books. Many of the authors received funding as a one off or acquired funding due to exceptional circumstances. For example, because of COVID authors were able to divert funds that may have been spent on conference attendance. Some authors resorted to crowd funding or donations from corporations to cover the cost of OA. Innovative and new approaches are underway that seek to address, in part, the issue of funding for OA books such as the COPIM project, and publishers such as Taylor & Francis are actively engaging with innovative new approaches such the Knowledge Unlatched initiative to enable more authors to publish OA books. However, there is still work to be done to address a funding ecosystem for OA books that is not yet fully fit for purpose. Much of the additional work that is taken on by authors/editors relates to funding; trying to find funding and trying to navigate complex and diverse processes and requirements. Some of the authors that I spoke to talked about article publishing charges (APCs) and how, particularly in the Science, Technology and Mathematics subjects, it is becoming the norm for researchers to request OA funding as part of their initial research grant application, making it much easier to manage when they do eventually get an article accepted in a journal. When we talk about Humanities and Social Sciences subjects and monograph publishing, it is not that simple. A large proportion of this research isn’t funded, so who picks up the book processing charge (BPC) bill? If it is the author’s academic institution, then we need to see a more robust approach to OA policies and for OA funding for books to be more widely available.

Coming up in part two we will explore how we can better support researchers during the OA books publication process and how the wider OA books community are collaborating to tackle the wider issues.

 


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