The Holy Grail does not exist: OPERAS-P and OASPA’s workshops for publishers on innovative business models for books

The Holy Grail does not exist: OPERAS-P and OASPA’s workshops for publishers on innovative business models for books

workshop 1 business models

By Agata Morka & Tom Mosterd

In May 2021, together with the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association (OASPA), OPERAS hosted a series of three European workshops on business models for open access books targeted specifically at small and medium-sized academic book publishers1. As part of the OPERAS-P project work package 6 (Innovation) OPERAS was looking into innovative, non-BPC business models. The feedback gathered in the course of these three workshops informed a report The Future of scholarly communications, published at the end of June 2021 as an OPERAS-P project deliverable.

We have heard you

The first workshop in the mini-series was informative in nature, not only for the audience, but also for us, as organizers. Participants had a chance to familiarize themselves with six different models for OA books, ranging from these based on BPCs, national subsidies, to those relying on collaborative funding from libraries (see a short report on the first session here). From the organizers perspective, the event gave us a chance to understand which of the presented models were of particular interest for the gathered participants. The following two workshops were therefore shaped by what we heard in this first one. It became clear that the community sought to explore non-BPC approaches, these based on collaborative funding in particular, in more depth.

Following this desire, we invited Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, from Punctum books (see his presentation here) and Rupert Gatti from Open Book Publishers to talk about mixed collaborative funding models for the first session. Martin Paul Eve and Tom Grady graced the second one (see their presentation here) discussing their Opening the Future idea (now nominated for the ALPSP Award for Innovation in Publishing). In these focused workshops thirty small and medium-sized academic book publishers came together to ask questions, express their doubts, and discuss challenges they encounter when it comes to OA books.

The Holy Grail of OA book publishing

Recent studies on OA book business models has shown that there is no one model that will suit all cases. Both the OPERAS white paper from 2018, and the 2020 COPIM report came to this conclusion and our workshops further proved it. Publishers in both workshops stressed the importance of circumstances in which every single one of them operates: different approaches might apply for OA born publishers than to those seeking a full or partial transition to OA. Regional context, with existing publishing traditions, also comes into play as a factor affecting the choice of the pursued model: while publishers from Germany were less reluctant about applying BPC-based models given the fact that their researchers are used to paying for publication under traditional models, others found OBP and Punctum’s approaches more appealing.

University presses looking into transitioning towards OA expressed interest in applying the Opening the Future model, although some doubts about its scalability were also voiced. The discussion showed that while the Holy Grail of OA book publishing does not exist, what does exist however, is a strong will to experiment with various approaches, spearheaded by small and medium sized academic book publishers.

Do you speak digital?

Among challenges raised by the workshop participants two stood out as the most common: these of production and distribution processes. Some publishers expressed a certain anxiety when it comes to dealing with “all things digital”, starting from offering formats other than PDF, to assigning DOIs and creating high quality metadata. A certain lack of technical expertise was found troubling and, in some cases, resulted in production and distribution parts of the publishing process being outsourced or simply neglected. Distribution of digital copies proved to be somewhat of a terra incognita, and navigating between the DOAB, Google Books and Amazon proved to be no trivial endeavor, especially for non-OA born publishers. Some participants found learning digital intimidating and saw it as a substantial hurdle to overcome. It became clear that strong support is needed in this area. In this context COPIM-originated Thoth, an open bibliographic metadata management and dissemination system, gained a lot of interest among the participants. Discussion about its features dominated the second workshop with Rupert Gatti and Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, both engaged in the development of this project.

Let’s collaborate on collaboration

One of the most important takeaways of the two workshops was perhaps the realization that events of this type are found truly helpful by the community. We received several emails following the workshops stressing their relevance and usefulness. The opportunity to discuss a particular model with colleagues who are practicing it, in the spirit of openness and sharing, might be a powerful tool to encourage a larger uptake in OA book publishing initiatives. We would like to continue this best practice exchange to enable interested publishers to pick and choose from existing models and create their own, tailored solutions that would be most suitable for their needs. As the first step in this direction, we will be launching a publishers’ database with case studies of different models, open to everyone to use and contribute their own cases. We are looking forward to officially launch the project in the autumn 2021. For now, mark the database link and stay tuned for further developments.

  1. While these three workshops focus on innovative business models and approaches used within Europe, we would like to emphasise similar innovative business models have been implemented outside of Europe too. []