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How can I persuade my institution to support collective funding for open access books? (Part One)

The first of a two-part blog post in which we lay out the problems with BPCs (Book Processing Charges) and disentangle the various alternatives; in Part Two we’ll give practical steps to convince budget holders to invest in collective models instead.

Published onJan 11, 2023
How can I persuade my institution to support collective funding for open access books? (Part One)

As part of our work at COPIM, we speak to a lot of librarians. Many are personally convinced of the need to support collective funding models for open access (OA) books because these serve as equitable alternatives to the Book Processing Charge model,[NO_PRINTED_FORM] but many librarians find themselves in the position of needing to convince their management team or budget holders to invest in Open Access initiatives.

For librarians who find themselves in this position, we have compiled a list of resources and arguments to help inform decisions to invest in OA monograph initiatives. This will be a two part blog post: in the first we’ll give some background by laying out the problems with Book Processing Charges (BPCs) and disentangling the various alternative models; in Part Two we’ll go into more detail, with practical steps on how colleagues might convince their budget holders to invest in collective funding models.

So, why should a library or institution invest in collective funding for open access books?

There is a clear trend towards OA for books

In the UK and Europe, national funder mandates are beginning to include OA books, for example:

The number of presses that publish OA books has also been increasing over the last decade, and there are a range of different financial models that are being developed to fund OA publication – many of these do not rely on Book Processing Charges. Academic institutions are going to receive increasing numbers of requests from researchers to help them publish an OA book.

There is an opportunity now to entrench a model that is different from (and more affordable than) BPCs or Transformative Agreements

In open access journal publishing, APCs and so-called Transformative Agreements (TAs) have been entrenched as the primary way to pay for open access, notwithstanding the existence of a committed group of diamond OA journals.[NO_PRINTED_FORM] The BPC can be thought of as the monograph equivalent of an APC. Libraries or their institutions are under great pressure to pay these fees, which are often extremely high, ranging from £450 (€500/$580 USD) to £16,000 (€18,500/$21,600 USD), and can increase almost at the whim of the publisher. 

Academic book publishing, however, has yet to coalesce around this ‘author-pays’ model to anything like the same extent as in the journal world. In fact, there are a number of collective funding models that are currently being developed by small and large publishers alike, as an alternative to BPCs or TAs. We’ll talk about their benefits and how you might persuade your institution to support them in Part Two, but first a little background information is needed to categorise them.

Some background on OA book funding: two primary models 

Over the last two years or so, COPIM has heard more than one librarian voice the concern that ‘there are too many models out there’ or ‘it’s all a bit confusing’.[NO_PRINTED_FORM] Well worry no more – we have drawn together the most straightforward explanations for you below.

The background

Sharla Lair, Senior Strategist of Open Access and Scholarly Communication Initiatives at LYRASIS, has articulated the emerging two main ways of funding OA books very succinctly. If you group all the different initiatives together, Sharla says, “two predominant models emerge: one-time spend or ongoing spend.”[NO_PRINTED_FORM] She goes on to outline the following definitions:

One-Time Spend

  • Libraries pay the full cost of publishing an OA book out of library funds. On the ground, this looks like a one-time spend from the library, and unless a library commits to making this commitment on an annual basis, it can be treated as such.

  • Example business models: Publication Fees, BPCs or Subvention Grants

  • Example program: TOME

Ongoing Spend

  • Most emerging OA books programs presented to libraries fit under this category. Libraries pay an ongoing fee, usually tiered based on the type, size, and geographic location of an institution. Libraries can participate annually or with multi-year commitments.

  • Example business models: Library Membership, Subscribe to Open, Collective Funding, Diamond OA

  • Example OA program: Opening the Future

We recommend you read Sharla’s full post on all this where she outlines lots more practical advice for libraries in OA Book Programs: Answering Libraries’ Questions

Before you can make a decision, you need to know which publishers are running what models and how their output fits with your institution’s needs, but in the interests of brevity we won’t list them all here – others have already done this very comprehensively. Check out the following links for lists of which presses are running OA funding programmes, be they based on BPCs, collective funding, or a mixture of the two:

Now you are familiar with the main models, let’s talk about the problems with relying on the BPC.

Benefits of collective funding models for OA vs funding via BPC

As Professor Martin Eve has pointed out “the biggest blocker to OA … seems to be economic. Book processing charges at the £11,000 mark will not scale in disciplines where an entire department’s book purchasing budget is just £7,000.”[NO_PRINTED_FORM]

Put simply: given the current global library environment and existing budget pressures that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, BPCs are unsustainable. In comparison, a consortial model of funding promises a cost-effective solution for enhancing library collections with relevant research – because the costs of paying for OA book publication are shared among multiple institutions. Collective funding offers much better value for money for libraries, and a subscription/membership funding stream is much more reliable and resilient for the presses that supply valuable services to your authors and readers: an income stream that includes smaller, ongoing contributions from many institutions is much more robust than one that relies on large, one-off irregular payments. 

Consider the alternative to collective funding schemes: libraries paying one-off BPCs over and over again to fund single OA books, one at a time (if they can afford it). As one commentator wryly put it: “If you think about the alternative that the commercial publishers have tried to convince the academic community to live with, it’s fundamentally a choice between excluding lots of people from reading, or excluding lots of people from publishing.” Breaking down the cost per book of a BPC versus investment in a collective funding model can be instructive!

A report from MIT Press in February 2022 pointed out that BPCs are “inequitable in terms of author access, as well as being expensive and administratively cumbersome”. Our COPIM colleague Dr. Judith Fathallah has more to say on the first point:

Book Processing Charges may have their place in the publishing landscape, and no doubt will be used across a range of models for the foreseeable future. But they are not particularly sustainable – or reliable, or indeed equitable. They privilege funded researchers, wealthy institutions, and established academics on permanent contracts (Nature et al., 2019, p. 14; Speicher et al., 2018). In other words, they penalise those researchers and institutions least able to bear the burden. Moore (2021) argues that expensive BPCs […] ‘remove risk for commercial organisations wanting to publish open access while allowing them to monetise books as they have always done’ and fears that a poorly-regulated block grant ‘will cement the BPC as the primary business model for open access books’. This in turn ‘will create a two-tiered system whereby researchers with funding can publish open access books, while those without cannot’ (Moore, 2021). Academics from less wealthy institutions and nations, as well as those at the start of their career, are likely to be penalised should this come to pass. The effect on researchers will be unfair, and the effect on scholarly fields will be stultifying.[NO_PRINTED_FORM]

BPCs tend to concentrate costs on specific research projects and, as highlighted in a recent Jisc blog post, from an economic point of view they are not good value for money. Jisc cites an example in the UK that libraries around the world may well note with interest: “while UKRI have pledged to provide a dedicated OA fund for monographs, book chapters and edited collections from January 2024, this ring-fenced fund of £3.5 million will only cover between 280 and 350 monographs per year”.[NO_PRINTED_FORM] This amount would likely be insufficient to pay BPCs for the number of books and chapters that include UKRI-funded research each year. Dr Rupert Gatti, an OA publisher and Fellow in Economics at the University of Cambridge, painted an equally dire picture of BPC-based publishing at a November 2022 webinar for the UK National Acquisitions Group. 

Any way you slice it, there is not enough money to do this by BPCs alone. Colleagues at the University of Manchester library have noted they are “witnessing demand for a range of sustainable alternative models”. When not beholden to paying huge BPC fees which – like global energy prices – seemingly have no cap and can spiral upwards to satisfy shareholders, libraries can choose instead to support models that match their collection development policies and researcher and author needs.

Read the second half of this post for practical steps that you can take at your library to marshal support for collective funding models.

Header image: Rope team at ridge near summit of Groß-Venediger, by Cactus26, CC BY-SA,

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