OAPEN-Springer Nature Interview on the occasion of reaching 1000 OA books: Part 2

This is the second part of this interview, to read the first part please click here .

Eelco Ferwerda, Ros Pyne, May 2020

Looking back over the last ten years or so, what have been the important developments for books to become OA?

I expect the answer to this could take up a whole interview in itself!

To name just a few – the early experiments coordinated by OAPEN in the Netherlands, the UK, and Switzerland were important in encouraging publishers to experiment with OA for books, and in providing early insights into OA book models. OAPEN and the DOAB continue to play a crucial role both as a central point of discovery for open access books, and, through their peer review requirement, in helping to maintain standards and provide reassurance as to the quality of OA books.

The Wellcome Trust was one of the first big funders to explicitly support and fund OA for books, and their policy and related advocacy has, I’m sure, been influential in persuading many publishers to offer OA book options. The TOME initiative to fund OA monographs in the US has also been important in raising awareness in a region in which authors tend to be more cautious about OA.

I think we at Springer Nature have also played a part here, through our sustained commitment to OA books over the last nine years and our growing programme, and through our research into the benefits of OA for books.

So, now let’s try to look into the future…

First of all, do you think academic books will remain an important part of scholarly output in certain disciplines? Do you think our perception of academic books are changing, or likely to change in the next few years? Why is open access for books important?

I’m convinced that scholarly books will continue to be the pre-eminent mode of communicating research and thought for many disciplines. The world is multifaceted and interconnected, and increasingly globalised. Books allow complexity and depth for solutions: a monograph allows the space to fully explore and contextualize a topic that short-form outputs can’t provide, and that won’t change. Opening up access to monographs allows many more readers worldwide to access the important research published in them.

Looking at the portfolio of Springer Nature, can you give us an idea of the relative importance of books? Is it changing?

At Springer Nature, we are strongly committed to books: they have always been the backbone of the company, and this will not change. What has already changed, though, is our interpretation of what is essential about a book and how we can develop it further to benefit authors and readers. We use our innovation and expertise to help shape the future of books.

What is the current growth rate of OA books, how does that compare to articles, do you see books catching up? Where do you see the growth coming from, in terms of types of books, funding sources?

We’re certainly seeing strong growth in OA books – we published 30% more OA books in 2019 compared with 2018. It’s difficult to meaningfully compare growth rates, given that books start from a much lower base than journals and that, as your question suggests, we see very different trends and growth by region and by country.

Funder policies influence the trends: we’ve seen a big increase in the number of OA books we published by authors based in Switzerland since the SNSF introduced their funding programme, for example. Authors from countries whose national funders already have OA books policies and a strong history of leading in the OA arena, such as the Netherlands and Austria, also feature prominently in our OA books programme. In the last couple of years there’s also been increasing interest from China and India.

The majority of our OA books are monographs and edited collections. This makes sense, as historically OA movements have focused on access to primary research. However, one of our aims is to offer an OA option for all types of scholarly book, and we continue to expand the options we offer our authors: earlier this year we started offering OA for major reference works for the first time.

In your opinion, what are the things that need to change, or happen, for OA books to become the mainstream model?

We know from our 2019 survey that authors are positive about an OA future for books. That’s a good start. We can still do more, though, to increase awareness and understanding of OA, especially amongst groups that are currently more sceptical, such as senior scholars and those based in North America. We also need to keep combatting misconceptions about quality and peer review; organisations like DOAB and OAPEN that set standards for acceptance play an important role here.

Research funders’ policies can be hugely influential in changing behaviours, so it’s good to see more of them turning their attention to OA for books: I’m sure the UKRI consultation and policy will have an impact. Alongside this, we know funding is a barrier, so from funders we will need not just mandates, but also the financial support to enable OA.

Finally, as OA for books becomes more mainstream, we will need better solutions for enabling authors based in low-income and lower-middle-income countries to publish open access.

We’ve seen for journals that making OA mainstream has required cooperation between publishers, institutions, funding bodies, and governments. I think ultimately the same will prove true for books.

What do you think the effect will be of the current pandemic? In terms of reading habits and the transition to OA?

The pandemic demonstrates the importance and benefits of open access to the research literature. Along with many other publishers, we have made all our research on SARS-CoV2, Covid-19, and related topics, including work in the humanities and social sciences, books as well as journals, freely available via our own website and the PubMed portal.

It will also be interesting to see if reading habits start to change as a result of scholars and students not having access to physical libraries for a long period of time. While journals have almost completely moved online, print books are still widely used and purchased alongside ebooks. But of course, right now few people can access those print books, and that could continue for months. In order to support learning for students who are away from libraries, we also made a set of Springer Nature textbooks freely available for several months, and we’ve seen great engagement. But all our OA books are already freely available to download and re-use in perpetuity. It seems likely there will be a faster transition to use of ebooks as a result of the current situation. Given that OA is inherently a digital concept, that move to e might also help with the move to OA.

Is it fun to work in this area?

I love it! It’s a good feeling to know that, in whatever small way, I’m contributing to making the world’s knowledge more accessible. I have a humanities background and I began my career in humanities and social sciences publishing; enabling open access for books supports those disciplines most of all, and that’s also important to me. Finally, there is a very special community of people working on open access books and that makes it an even more enjoyable area to work in.

OAPEN-Springer Nature Interview on the occasion of reaching 1000 OA books – Part 1

This interview will be published in two parts, we hope you enjoy reading the first part of this interview part 2 of this interview can be found here

Eelco Ferwerda, Ros Pyne, May 2020

Let’s start with taking a look at these first 1000 OA books. When did Springer Nature publish its first OA book?

Our first OA book was the conference proceedings Future Internet Assembly, published in 2011. At the same time Palgrave Macmillan participated in OAPEN-UK’s Matched Pairs Pilot, an early attempt to understand the impact of OA for books, in which we made some backlist titles available OA.

Both publishers – at that time still two separate companies – rolled out OA options across their monograph programmes in the following two years. In 2013, Fungal Disease in Britain and the United States 1850-2000, Palgrave’s first official OA book, was also the first OA book to be funded by the Wellcome Trust under their expanded OA policy.

What were the early challenges in setting up the OA books programme?

We had to look at every part of the book publishing process and consider how open access might affect it – and it did affect most of them! In the early days this meant publishing OA books required a lot of manual intervention.

To give a couple of examples of specific issues… Many authors early on had concerns that the APC/BPC model was tantamount to pay-to-publish; this misconception was particularly resonant amongst book authors because of the associations with ‘vanity publishing’. We had to demonstrate to authors that we were applying the same high standards and rigorous peer review to our OA books as we did for the rest of our books programme. We wanted to ensure that authors’ interest in OA would not prejudice reviewers’ expectations, so we put in place a guideline (which exists to this day) that external reviewers should not be informed if a book was to publish OA.

It’s always been fundamental to our approach to make our OA books as open and accessible as possible. One way in which we do this for our OA books is that we make every format of ebook that we offer (HTML, ePub, PDF, and MOBI for Kindle) available OA under a CC licence, in order to increase the opportunities for those books to be downloaded, shared, and re-used. I remember it being particularly complex to arrange free download of Amazon Kindle versions. We also realized we would have to mention open access in the blurb of the book, as Amazon and many other third-party providers did not have a place for us to indicate if a book was available OA.

Can you tell us something about your expectations when you started publishing OA books?

As a leading academic publisher, we always strive to be an innovative partner for our partners and authors. We launched our OA book programmes very much in the spirit of experimentation. We wanted to understand and learn from the reaction amongst the scholarly community, and start to seed interest in this new way of publishing.

Did you develop a long term plan for OA books?

We first started to seriously plan for the future of our OA books programme back in 2016. OA was starting to take off in the journals world in response to OA policies from major funders, Springer Nature had already signed its first transformative deals, and it was clear that academic publishing was on a trajectory towards open access. We wanted to play a part in ensuring that scholarly book authors could also benefit from this innovative publishing model and be part of the OA movement. We encouraged our commissioning editors to actively focus on signing more OA books, we invested in automating our internal OA books workflows so that we could scale up, and we started to think about how we could contribute to the policy discussions about OA books.

Over the years, Springer Nature has put a lot of effort in the OA books programme, doing research around usage, holding surveys among authors, introducing book metrics and retroactively adding DOIs to references. Can you tell us a bit about your motivations and goals?

Some of these developments, like our providing usage and citation stats for books and our inclusion of DOIs in references, are offered across our books programme and are not specific to our OA books. At Springer Nature we are firm advocates for the scholarly book and are always looking to improve our service to authors and readers and add value in the publication process.

We have run a number of research projects on OA books. These include our 2017 report The OA Effect, which found that our OA books achieve 7x more downloads, 50% more citations, and 10x more online mentions than our non OA books, and our 2019 survey, The Future of OA Books, which was the first to focus on the views of scholarly book authors on open access. We found that the majority of book authors think all scholarly books should be available OA, and that gold OA is their preferred model. We also have some exciting new research coming out later this year, developed with the COARD team at Curtin University, exploring the geographic usage of OA books.

Our core motivation in running these projects has been to increase the take-up of OA for books. When talking with researchers and policymakers about OA, it’s hugely powerful to be able to point to the download and citation benefits. Having a better understanding of researchers’ views about OA in the context of books helps us to shape our conversations with potential authors and also helps us understand what changes in the publishing and policy landscape might be needed to encourage more book authors to choose OA.

In keeping with the spirit of OA, it’s also been important to us that we’ve made our research freely available under a CC BY licence so that others in the OA books community can also benefit from it.

Which OA books are best represented in the list of 1000, and can you explain why? Can you see emerging trends in the OA books programme?

We publish OA books across a wide range of subject areas in both the humanities and social sciences (HSS) and science, technology and medicine (STM). We do see differences in the OA books portfolio: social sciences disciplines, as well as education, energy, environment and economics are particularly prominent there. Delving a bit deeper, we find topics and sub-disciplines aligned with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – development economics, sustainable development, climate change, renewable and green energy, migration and demography – are strongly represented in our OA books portfolio. Our 1000th OA book, which explores climate change as a public health emergency, is a great example.

Several of the OA books we’ve published on SDG topics have been very high-profile. Some recent highlights include The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, which defines nine mountain priorities with a particular focus on climate change; Achieving the Paris Climate Agreement Goals, which was published in association with the Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation and explores the critical question of how we can achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050; and Climate-Smart Food, which follows an average day’s worth of food and drink to see where it comes from, how far it travels, and the carbon price we all pay for it, to help us make better decisions about the food we eat.

Can you see a change in authors’ attitudes towards OA books?

Absolutely. It’s often said that open access humanities and social science researchers, and therefore scholarly book authors, don’t understand or engage much with open access. But I’m not convinced this still holds. Our 2019 Future of OA Books survey found that the majority of book authors agreed that all future scholarly books (monographs or edited collections) should be made available via OA. I don’t think that would have been the case five years ago.

In our survey we also found that junior researchers, researchers based in Europe and Asia, and previous OA authors had a more positive attitude towards OA. This might point to generational change, and to the positive impact of funders’ OA policies (which have so far been concentrated in Europe).

Authors do still have concerns. One interesting finding was that authors were concerned about the perception of quality of OA books – that is, even if authors are themselves convinced that OA books can be of high quality, they are concerned that OA books might be perceived more negatively by others, and that it might affect promotion and tenure.

Overall, though, I’m very encouraged by the shift in attitudes that we’ve seen over the years. I think all of us in the scholarly communications community can play a role in helping to normalize OA for books and changing perceptions. At Springer Nature, we’ve tried to put out clear advice to authors – a recent blog explaining the basics of CC licences was a big hit – and of course our commissioning editors worldwide play a hugely important role in talking to book authors of the benefits of OA.

End of part 1, to continue reading part 2 please click here

‘Scaling small: the story behind ScholarLed’ – Part 2

Roundtable Conversation with ScholarLed – Part 2 of 2.
To read part 1 of this interview please click here

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 are you after as a collective?

Gary (Open Humanities Press): For me this question raises a larger issue. What would success be for us? What would it look like?

The fields in which many of us work (critical theory, digital culture, networked media, STS etc.) have their roots in the humanities and social sciences (HSS). And while it’s certainly true we operate in different countries, one thing many of us have in common is that our respective political systems do not especially value work in HSS, much preferring STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) research, seeing it as being more in line with society’s requirements.

Let’s take as one of the many possible UK examples we can use to illustrate this, the infamous ‘Weirdos and Misfits’ blog/recruitment ad of Boris Johnson’s chief adviser and humanities graduate, Dominic Cummings. Here we find an explicit rejection of ‘English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties’ – a phrase we can read as being shorthand for those who are interested in abstract ideas to do with language, interpretation and critique. Instead, Cummings prioritizes supposedly more concrete subjects such as the kind of computer modeling and super-forecasting that is made possible by big data and artificial intelligence. Or, if a further example is needed, there’s this from Philip Augar (of the Theresa-May-commissioned Augar report fame). It’s taken from a piece published in the May-June 2020 issue of the Times Higher Education titled ‘It is Time to Face Up to the Reality of the Market’:

The Exchequer loses money on a third of all subjects studied by women and a quarter by men. The state writes off more on social studies subjects than on maths, computer science or engineering; more on communications and media studies than on agriculture and veterinary science; and more on creative arts than on any other subject…. Without challenging the intrinsic worth of any subject… there is a misalignment between the state subsidy and the economy’s needs.

Given this kind of political context – which is by no means untypical – we could say that one measure of success for us in ScholarLed is to be (still) doing what we’re doing. (At a time when Covid-19 is having a disproportionate impact on BAME communities, with black people four times more likely to die in England and Wales than white people according to the Office of National Statistics, and when there are protests across the world over the death in US police custody of George Floyd, and what all THAT says about reality and the economy’s needs, God forbid more people should have access to critical humanities and social science subjects.) But I’m aware that at Open Humanities Press we’ve long thought success would also be to get to a stage where, actually, we don’t need to do what we’re doing anymore. It would be to arrive at a point where enough other people are publishing open access books and journals of critical theory on a non-profit, scholar-led basis for us to be able to turn our attention elsewhere. That’s what we’re after as a collective: our own redundancy or obsolescence. (Just so long as it comes after that of Cummings and Augar.)

Vincent (Punctum Books): I think we are very much still discovering what we are after, but I think some contours are already becoming clear. We have no intention to grow or merge in any usual sense of the word. We are interested in finding ways in which we can share resources, knowledges, and infrastructures in such a way that everyone can keep doing their thing at their own pace.

Lucy (Open Book Publishers): Yes – the idea behind the collective isn’t to homogenise; it’s to preserve our different ways of working but finding ways to support each other in what we do. I think we also share the goal of making academic-led, non-profit publishers a more powerful voice within the academic and para-academic communities. It’s very frustrating to see many researchers look at the legacy presses and assume that is the only way to publish OA books, when we do it differently (and, we think, better!)

Julien (Mattering Press): Again, I think Janneke’s notion of scaling small encapsulates our aim beautifully. There is this idea in publishing and publicly-funded infrastructure projects that scale is crucial. Emphasising scale justifies homogenisation and in many cases, monopolisation. The latter is especially evident in attempts to establish one-stop platforms. Drawing on an ecological metaphor, we advocate for the diverse publishing landscapes that we believe are necessary to develop desirable knowledge infrastructures in response to radically uncertain futures. From a technological perspective, this requires a shift from platforms, that homogenise, to open infrastructures that enable small initiatives to operate effectively.


Eelco: Do you share a business model?

Vincent: Because we operate from different countries, the legal structures of the different presses are different. However, we all are public benefit corporations in a broad sense of the word: for each of us, making profit is subordinated to providing a public good.

Lucy: I think I’m right in saying that we all have a mixed funding model – for example, OBP’s primary sources of revenue are sales (of print and ebook editions), grants and donations, and our Library Membership programme.

Andreas (meson press): During our time at the Hybrid Publishing Lab, we researched various business models for the monograph publishing area. And although we gained some significant insights from this, at some point it was more important for us to get started and remain flexible. In a way, the decision to establish meson press as a cooperative was more important than a perfectly elaborated business model. With its principles such as democratic membership control, autonomy, independence, and the concern for community, the co-op perfectly fits our approach of building a network of scholars around the press(es).

Julien: Of course, we all strive to sustain ourselves. Still, there is also space for the question if business models are necessarily the right, never mind the only way to model infrastructure futures that primarily provide public goods. All academic publishers, after all, exploit the labour provided by public institutions such as libraries and universities. And the seemingly common-sense idea that we can model business at all is a relatively new notion that implies politics we might well choose to interrogate.

Eelco: What is the relationship with COPIM and OPERAS?

Lucy: So we are key partners in the COPIM project, with several of us leading different work packages. We will also be adopting the infrastructures COPIM will build, and so we’ll act as test cases or guinea pigs for COPIM builds. As part of COPIM, there is a formal link between us and OPERAS-P, since Agata Morka is the liaison between the two projects. And we’re open to working with organisations like OPERAS, Invest in Open Infrastructure, etc – any organisation that shares our goals and broad ethos, really – if opportunities present themselves.

Eelco: Will you expand? Are you open for new members?

Vincent: Actually, the idea to incorporate was partially spurred on by several requests from other presses to become ScholarLed members. This made us think about how we can define ourselves and how we can facilitate our expansion without sacrificing our idea of “scaling small.”

Lucy: Yes exactly as Vincent says, those conversations are ongoing amongst ourselves at the moment. We’re working out what the next phase of ScholarLed will look like, while still maintaining our publishing activities and our work on COPIM – and amid the convulsions the world is currently experiencing, which are affecting us all in different ways.

Eelco: Will you provide services to other presses?

Vincent: We will for now concentrate on providing services to member presses. There is always a risk, when providing services to third parties, that the profit motive and concerns for “customers” take over the core mission of the organization. We want to be very cautious about replicating economical models that may prove detrimental to our goals in the long term.

Rupert (Open Book Publishers): Having said that, we are committed to being open and transparent in our operations, and ensuring that the software we create is open source and is available for others to download and utilise (e.g. https://github.com/scholarled). So we hope that other publishers and presses will be able to directly benefit from our activities, even if they are not formal members of ScholarLed.

Eelco: I presume you didn’t expect ScholarLed to take off as it has, or did you?

Vincent: To be honest, it does not come as a surprise. We are 5 presses, all led by scholars with an active career in the humanities, social sciences, or the arts. We all chose publishing as one of our main creative and intellectual outlets. So when the synergy is right, of course it takes off.

Julien: Uhhh, I still gain hope from the experience that working this way can generate such momentum. The collaboration is dynamic, productive and inventive, more so indeed, than most of the many commercial or institutionalised projects I have worked on.

Eelco: So where are you heading?

Vincent: We have no intention to become “the model” for scholarly publishing. It is our modest goal to provide a viable, long-term alternative to the predatory publishing models that currently dominate the market. We have no illusions that these will always exist, but scholars should at least have a fair choice.

‘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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