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How Long is a Tangled Web of String?

In this post, we set out some of the preliminary considerations for embedding Opening the Future into third party workflows further down the line.

Published onApr 30, 2024
How Long is a Tangled Web of String?

At Opening the Future (OtF), we are now comfortably into the back half of the Copim Open Book Futures project which began in 2020 with its first phase, and is due to end in April 2026. The question now arises - what happens then? 

This is a question that itself splits into two, although with a lot of overlap between them: 

  1. What will happen at the presses that are currently working with us and have implemented OtF as part of their own funding plans? This currently concerns two publishers, CEU Press and Liverpool University Press, although this will have expanded to five by 2026. 

  2. What will happen to OtF, as separate from it being embedded into these presses? 

This blog post tackles the latter question primarily (with other posts to follow that deal with the former) and must, itself, begin with yet another question that fundamentally underpins it and informs the answer: what actually is OtF now, and what will it be after April 2026? 

What IS Opening the Future?

There are many ways of currently defining OtF. It is the name of Work Package 3 of Copim Open Book Futures. It is the team of two FTE employees who currently work on it. On its own website, it is headlined as ‘A Funding Model for Open Access Books’. Elsewhere on the same site it is ‘a monograph subscription model’ and a ‘collective membership scheme’. It works closely with, and is influenced by, its partner publishers (for now a list of two, but this will grow by April 2026) as well as other external partners whose advice has been invaluable and deeply informative over the years. 

But to take what may seem like the most tangible and lasting of these, ‘A [Subscription] Funding Model for Open Access Books’, this itself is far from simple. Defining a funding model is relatively straightforward, for example as: ‘a methodical and institutionalised approach to building a reliable revenue base that will support an organisation's core programs and services’, to pick one option. But describing one, and how it functions, is harder, and we should not expect otherwise. After all, the phrase ‘book sales’ from closed publishing does not fully explain that funding model and what it involves in practice. ‘Sales’ encompasses, silently and elegantly, a large and tangled web of roles, activities, risks, skills, ideologies, relationships, reputations, lessons, and more. This is no less true of subscription funding models. The same holds for ‘collective membership scheme’, the alternative definition on the OtF site. 

Does this matter more than semantically? We would argue that it does. The question posed above is not objective and lacks a single ‘correct’ answer. This is not surprising given that OtF began in 2020 as an idea and experiment and has grown in every sense since then. Nor has it been an issue thus far, as the project has been far more focussed on the practices of developing, implementing, and refining the model, its community, and the day to day activities supporting it. However, with the end of the project on the (distant) horizon, it is appropriate to define and consider not just what OtF is, or what it will be in 2026 - but to ask what should it be? 

What should Opening the Future BE after April 2026?

There are some obvious and straightforward logistical considerations. One main example being our websites, which currently act as sources of information and points of contact, on the front end, and as a CRM on the back end. They need to be maintained, or have their functions moved onto another system as necessary. These and other technical considerations are dependent on OtF’s eventual home (a topic we will come to later). We are also in the process of creating an Information Hub which will house, among other things, extensive documentation on OtF to enable its adoption by small, scholarly presses past April 2026, independent of Copim staff input or guidance. But will this be enough? 

Developments in longform OA publishing operate on multiple different timescales at once, much like the stakeholders in this field. Since 2021 a host of publishers have followed the example of OtF and similar initiatives like MIT’s Direct to Open, and begun to experiment with a great variety of their own collective funding schemes, while libraries have responded to this sudden barrage by speedily beginning to refine their own processes, e.g. through evaluation rubrics. But change in other aspects, such as funder mandates, is comparably glacial. For example, REF is considering a longform OA component in their next iteration, but this is not until 2029 (theoretically applying to publications since early 2026), following UKRI’s own 2024 policy. This is not a criticism; after all, ‘moving fast’ often comes with ‘breaking things’ and one of the groups most vulnerable to this are small, scholarly publishers, including university presses, society publishers, and small, commercial publishers, who are only just starting to navigate their transition to OA. The negative impact on the publishing landscape and its bibliodiversity if they are not supported through the coming years, and the changes to monograph publishing finances that these years will see, could be severe. 

While some of these types of publishers are supported by external organisations, such as AUP or more recently OIPA and the OABN, there are not currently funding-specific structures and groups to support small, scholarly publishers through this transition - particularly through a transition to diamond funding which we see as inherently necessary due to the lack of long-term viability of the BPC, especially as more work is published OA. As the funding landscape for OA monographs continues to change dramatically - but not immediately - and as OA becomes an increasingly significant factor in monograph publishing, is an Information Hub sufficient support for these publishers? Perhaps it will be - but there are reasons to believe that the model represented by OtF will need to continue being updated, refined, and tailored to those who take it up. 

Where should Opening the Future live after April 2026?

Although the question of what OtF is has not really been answered, this is an appropriate place to return to the question of what will happen to OtF, or specifically where it will reside after April 2026. There are numerous options, which are informed by, and inform, the more existential question laid out previously. One option is to become an arm of our sister Work Package at Copim, the Open Book Collective; a group which is closely aligned with our own goals of supporting diamond OA monograph publishing via subscriptions, and which would be well-placed to continue development and outreach of the OtF model. This option would entail some conversations around the OBC’s entry criteria for taking publishers onto their platform, and would require buy-in from their member- and community-led governance bodies. We are starting those conversations now.

However, we are also considering other options, including partnering with a well-known, well-respected third party platform aligned with our ethos, of which there are a few.  OtF may benefit from being sited with a respected, third-party vendor of this type in order to maintain trust in it from a funder perspective, to maintain its commitment to being community-led and community-focussed in fact as well as in name, and to make it an accessible and visible tool for publishers. Partnering with an existing, established platform might also give OtF some much-needed scale to allow the library membership base to grow and interact with multiple OtF presses in one place: as these collective OA models proliferate, libraries will increasingly not have the capacity or inclination to pick through multiple press websites each with their own slightly different schemes. We are currently in discussion with several established platforms to assess what would work best. In either case, OtF must end up situated in a place and manner where it is best able to fulfil its original, and ongoing, aims to help small, scholarly presses to make the transition to diamond OA monograph publishing in a sustainable and equitable way. 

The last c. 1200 words have not really answered any of the questions posed - but they were not intended to. As we continue on with the work of OtF over the next two years and continue our discussions on what the future should hold, we will keep these questions, and all possible solutions, in mind, and welcome feedback and perspectives on all of the above. 

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