‘Scaling small: the story behind ScholarLed’ – Part 1

This Roundtable Conversation with ScholarLed will be published in two parts, we hope you enjoy  part 1 of 2:

ScholarLed is a consortium of five scholar-led, not-for-profit, open access book publishers that was formed in 2018, consisting of Mattering Press, meson press, Open Book Publishers, Open Humanities Press, and punctum books. OAPEN recently added ScholarLed as a new collection of the OAPEN Library. Together, these 5 presses have already published 517 OA books, which makes it our second largest multi-publisher collection (Knowledge Unlatched being the largest). We invited the members of ScholarLed to join us for an online discussion about their collaboration.

 

Eelco: What prompts/prompted academics to start their own press?

Vincent (Punctum Books): I started my first press in grad school, and is rooted in the DIY culture in which I grew up. There were so many friends and colleagues whose work I admired but who couldn’t get their work published, so I thought, why not do this ourselves?

Andreas (meson press): With me it was quite similar to Vincent. I started my first press together with fellow students in a shared flat. The press still exists and I still support it with matters relating to OA. With meson press, the story was quite different: It grew out of the Hybrid Publishing Lab at Leuphana University of Lüneburg that looked into the effects of digitization on academic communication and publishing. However, research and practice are two fundamentally different things! At meson press we dedicate ourselves to the research areas that interest us most – digital cultures and networked media. It is also an experimental attempt to rethink and revive the format of the scholarly book in a digital environment.

Julien (Mattering Press): Mattering Press is run by a collective of seven editors. We set up Mattering Press because there was no dedicated Open Access press in our field of science and technology studies. As science and technology scholars, we also felt that it was strange, that despite all the critical studies of knowledge infrastructures and practices that shaped our field, there was very little critical engagement and experimentation with scholarly publishing infrastructures and politics. We still understand Mattering Press as both an experiment in publishing and as political intervention in publishing practices, which leads us to ScholarLed.

Alessandra (Open Book Publishers): Open Book Publishers was founded in part out of frustration with the legacy publisher of my first book – the process was expensive, slow, restrictive, exclusive and completely cut off audiences outside exclusive western institutions.

Janneke (Open Humanities Press): It’s also worth reading some of the responses to the interviews I did for a 2017 landscape study of academic-led presses (ALPs) and new university presses (NUPs), which discuss this question in some detail. All our presses are represented there, along with several other ALPs and NUPs.

 

Eelco: How did ScholarLed happen?

Vincent: ScholarLed developed out of the Radical Open Access Collective, a much broader coalition of Open Access initiatives. We came together because we share many of the same challenges and opportunities, and pooling our knowledge and expertise was a productive way forward.

Lucy (Open Book Publishers): The presses all came together to work on an OpenAire project in 2017, looking for ways to fund OA books without the Book Processing Charge (BPC).

Julien: That’s right. My colleague Joe and I spearheaded the funding application for the OpenAire project that later led to ScholarLed. For us, as a relatively small and new press, it was so exciting to finally collaborate directly with many of the people and publishers we had thus far mainly followed from a distance. The drive and collective spirit of the first meetings were terrific. Meeting all these people, who shared many of the same commitments and practices, opened a new world to us.

Lucy: From that experience, we realised we could work together effectively. We also realised that we all saw Open Access as something that should be value-driven, and we shared some common ideas about what it would take to develop OA book publishing in a way that embodied those values: disseminating scholarship in a way that serves authors and readers, dismantling global barriers to access, and enabling smaller publishers to thrive independently, rather than having to grow bigger or to rely on unaccountable, commercially-owned platforms and systems.

Janneke: We formally formed at a meeting after the 2nd Radical Open Access Conference in June 2018, during which we first trialled the ScholarLed bookstand.

Eelco: What kind of collaboration is it? Is there a structure in place?

Vincent: The collaboration started out informally, but we are currently investigating our incorporation as an association in the Netherlands. This should allow us to formalize some basic relations and lay out the blueprint for further collaboration.

Julien: There is a strong commitment to this collaboration and to non-hierarchical, non-competitive ways of relating. As we continue more formalisation will probably become necessary but for the moment this way of working is, to me at least, incredibly valuable.

Lucy: We’ve achieved a lot for such a young group. We have established some collaborative tools, like the ScholarLed bookstand, which allows us to represent the collective when any of us is at an event. But the biggest thing we have done together is to drive the formation of COPIM, in which we are key partners

Eelco: What are the common elements?

Vincent: We are all fully Open Access, without any mandatory author-facing fees. We are all led by scholars, operational both inside and outside the academy.
Lucy: We are all non-profit, too – any money we make goes back into the presses, and helps to fund the publication of more books.

Andreas: We’re also open to experimentation in all areas of publishing – from trying out new financing models and collective writing/reviewing/editing to the development of new formats and distribution channels.

Julien: We share an understanding of publishing as a profoundly political enterprise, and there is a strong sense of mutual support and learning that is respectful of our differences. This provides a different mode of working to frameworks of competition or even best practice. Janneke captured this very well in the notion of ‘scaling small.’

End of part 1.

The 2nd part of this Roundtable Conversation can be found here


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