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Copim response to UKRI funding mechanism for Diamond open access book models

Published onJan 25, 2024
Copim response to UKRI funding mechanism for Diamond open access book models

The Copim community welcomes the update on UKRI open access policy and fund for books. We are a group of librarians, publishers, publishing service providers, and academics committed to collectively reimagining and reconfiguring the funding and circulation of open access (OA) books.

We particularly welcome that the update confirms that ‘Diamond’ OA schemes are eligible funding recipients. Diamond OA publishing models are those that do not require fees from either authors or readers. The Copim community includes many Diamond OA publishers, alongside colleagues and organisations working to increase funding for Diamond OA publishing through more collective funding approaches.

The explicit recognition and institutionalisation of the importance of Diamond OA publishing to the future of the scholarly ecosystem marks an important moment in the history of open research in the UK. It will aid various parts of the Copim community, including participants in the Open Book Futures (OBF) project, helping them to adapt their workflows to accommodate the policy, which now includes funding to make diverse long-form outputs (including books, chapters, and edited collections) openly available.

The update has prompted significant discussion in various on- and offline spaces within UK higher education. Given we are highly invested in such issues, we thought it would be helpful to make some of our own discussions public. We hope this can feed into conversations within the open research community, as well as potentially into the further refinement of funder policies.

In this response we provide three distinct contributions. The first includes a collectively authored reflection from members of Copim’s ongoing OBF project and examines the general implications of the policy for Diamond OA book publishing. This is followed by two more sector-specific analyses from OBF project partners: from Lancaster University Library, which is playing a key role in the OBF project, and from Open Book Publishers, a leading UK-based Diamond OA book publisher.

In the spirit of openness and transparency, we would also like to make clear that the OBF project is part-funded by the Research England Development Fund, and is hence a recipient of UKRI funds. We are also funded by Arcadia.

  1. The OBF perspective on UKRI’s approach to funding OA books

  2. The Lancaster University Library perspective on UKRI’s approach to funding OA books

  3. Open Book Publishers’ perspective on UKRI’s approach to funding OA books

1. The OBF perspective on UKRI’s approach to funding OA books

Janneke Adema (Coventry University), Lucy Barnes (Open Book Publishers), Joe Deville (Lancaster University/Open Book Collective/Thoth Open Metadata), Tom Grady (Birkbeck, University of London/Opening the Future), Judith Fathallah (Coventry University/Lancaster University/Open Book Collective), Kira Hopkins (Birkbeck, University of London/Opening the Future), Rebekka Kiesewetter (Coventry University), Kevin Sanders (Open Book Collective), Toby Steiner (Thoth Open Metadata)

From our perspective, as contributors to the OBF project, the confirmation that Diamond OA book models are eligible for UKRI funding to support compliance with the policy was particularly welcome and as such we echo many of the sentiments expressed above. However, we are keen to examine some of the details of the new funding arrangement. These details are vitally important. However, in some significant ways, they remain unclear.

There are some particular questions concerning how the policy applies to the collectively funded OA models launched by the Copim community. These include the Open Book Collective (OBC) and the Opening the Future (OtF) revenue programme, both of which involve collaborations with publishers on membership schemes to support Diamond OA publishing. Such schemes are in principle eligible for UKRI funding, where a researcher publishes with an OBC or OtF publisher member. This would appear to enable libraries to maximise the value of their membership(s) by recouping costs associated with making a UKRI publication openly available. However, the current update is not clear about the mechanics of recouping costs for Diamond models that do not rely on granular publishing charges. We are keen to avoid situations in which it is more financially prudent for a Diamond press publishing a book with contributions from UKRI-funded authors to charge a book processing charge (BPC) or chapter level charge, rather than access funding via the Diamond OA route (we will explain this further underneath). The very reason we created the collectively funded models we have is because we see the continuing dominance of BPCs as the primary model for funding OA books as inequitable and financially inefficient.

Nonetheless, we welcome UKRI’s £10,000 upper limit for BPCs, as it ensures that authors, library services, and other institutions know what funding is available from the funder to support compliance with the policy. As the BPCs charged by large and commercial publishers commonly exceed £10,000 we believe that many of our experienced and often born-OA publisher members can offer better value for money, without trying to compete on price in a competitive market.

Both the OBC and OtF ultimately support publishers to move away from a reliance on BPCs. Our models are so-called ‘consortial’ funding models, in which publishers spread the costs of OA book production across multiple supporting members, usually academic libraries. Specifically, they have been designed to provide an alternative to the dominant per-book focus in OA funding models. Consortial models support the operations of participating publishers as a whole, helping with their financial sustainability and ability to potentially publish books from any author, whether or not they have access to BPC funding, thus enhancing the broader equity of the publishing sector.

One of the areas where we have concerns is in relation to the potential disparities evident in the financial support that UKRI are offering. In particular, an incentive distortion appears to have emerged. The policy states that the maximum amounts that can be claimed are as follows:

up to £10,000 for a monograph or edited collection, where open access is supported by a book processing charge (BPC) [...] up to £6,000 contribution towards a diamond or non-BPC open access scheme, where one eligible UKRI monograph or edited collection is being published under a scheme, or up to £9,000 if two or more eligible UKRI publications are published under a scheme

For policy-compliant books, Diamond and collectively funded OA models therefore can claim a much lower amount per title (at best only 60% of the amount that can be claimed for a BPC). We would welcome further information on how these figures have been determined and the assumptions behind them. We also have further questions with respect to the provision for Diamond/non-BPC schemes that it would be helpful to have clarity on. These include: given consortial models depend on support from institutions that potentially renew annually, could libraries use these funds to reclaim support for multi-year subscriptions? We would argue this would be important for ensuring the ongoing sustainability of Diamond OA models, which distribute the cost of publication across institutions and over time. And, similarly, how does the £6,000 available to Diamond OA schemes work in practice? At present, the cost of supporting all the initiatives on the OBC for a larger university is just over £10,000 per year. This is the combined cost of supporting each of the initiatives (9, at the time of writing) involved in the collective. If one of the OBC publishers includes an eligible output in the relevant claim period, can a university reclaim the full £6,000 to support its total OBC subscription? Or only the amount for the one publisher?1

We would also note that such disparities risk inadvertently reinforcing the prestige economy in long-form scholarly publishing, in which Diamond OA publishers are sometimes still wrongly seen as a ‘budget’ option. Given UKRI’s open research agenda, we would advocate for an approach that avoids intensifying such inequalities. The Diamond book publishers we work with have developed workflows and business models that enable them to produce peer-reviewed scholarly books that are of the highest quality, using approaches that are financially sustainable, and that are being increasingly widely distributed with the help of community-led platforms such as Thoth Open Metadata (another of our initiatives). Any inequities in access to OA funding may disinhibit research organisations from investing in Diamond OA publishers and open infrastructures. We would therefore advocate for structuring funding to unequivocally ensure support for OA publication options that do not rely on the charging of high BPCs, to further contribute towards addressing the persistent inequalities in academia and academic publishing.

2. The Lancaster University Library perspective on UKRI’s approach to funding OA books

Elaine Sykes (Head of Open Research, Lancaster University)

First and foremost, we would like to reiterate how welcome it was to see UKRI include Diamond OA models within their funding remit in their OA policy for longform publications. The OBF project is led by Lancaster University and one of the reasons the library was keen to be involved was that we believe that the cost of Book Processing Charges (BPCs) means that BPC-based OA publishing models are unsustainable, unscalable and inequitable. The inclusion of Diamond OA Models is a welcome, ground-breaking development and means that we can continue to encourage alternative funding models to Book Processing Charges with all of our authors and reinforces the status of these funding models, and the publishers that primarily offer them as of equal stature to the traditional, BPC-dependent publishers.

Whilst we applaud UKRI’s ambition in this area and principled stance, we do however recognise some challenges that their approach has given birth to. Essentially the challenge comes down to the incompatibility of Diamond models being volume-independent and UKRI’s need to reimburse on an individual title/chapter basis. Some of the resulting challenges include:

  • Potential gaming of authorship: organisations with greater financial means may subscribe to more Diamond OA initiatives. This may influence lead authorship status towards those from institutions with a Diamond OA subscription to enable them to claim their investments back.

  • Potential disparity between institutional capacity to reclaim: for models such as the Open Book Collective (OBC), this may introduce a disparity between what different institutions can claim for, even if publishing with the same publisher. This is probably best demonstrated with an example:

Institution A subscribes to the entire OBC portfolio for (say) £12,000 per annum. Should an author from Institution A publish with an OBC publisher, their library would be able to reclaim £6,000 for their book. On the other hand, if Institution B only subscribes to a subset of OBC publishers for (say) £1,000 per annum and one of their authors publishes with a relevant publisher they would only be able to claim £1,000 back, even if both authors publish with the same publisher.

  • Incentivisation of financially risky behaviours: conversely, the ability to reclaim some of these costs may lead some institutions to speculatively subscribe to some Diamond models in anticipation of being able to reclaim a portion (or indeed all) of their investment. Should an eligible author not publish as anticipated, this may lead to unanticipated additional expense being charged to the library. Again, this will most benefit organisations with the most financial means meaning other institutions may instead prefer their authors engage in BPC models as there is greater certainty.

We at Lancaster Library are keen for the support for Diamond OA publishing initiatives to remain in the UKRI OA Monographs policy but would welcome further information and discussion regarding its application.

3. Open Book Publishers’ perspective on UKRI’s approach to funding OA books

Rupert Gatti (Trinity College, Cambridge University/Open Book Publishers/Thoth Open Metadata)

We congratulate UKRI on explicitly recognising the need to provide non-BPC (Diamond) funding routes for OA book publishing in their policy; this is an important development which we hope will facilitate further innovative funding routes for Diamond publishing models. However, the policy as it stands creates conflicting incentives for Diamond OA publishers as well as libraries. As noted above, this is driven by the fundamental incompatibility between the volume-independent publishing models adopted by Diamond publishing models and the volume-dependent funding model at the heart of the UKRI policy.

OBP is a non-profit academic publisher that does not require any author-side payment for publication – however, we don’t turn author-side funding down when it is available either! Our funding model has three main sources – all presently generating about the same amount of revenue: a) Sales revenue from the sale of printed works; b) Library membership programme – where around 260 universities worldwide pay us £300 to £700 per annum (depending on size) to support the publication of titles without author-side funding, and; c) Title grant funding – where authors have successfully applied for grant funding to offset all or part of the publication costs for their title. Our title grant funding charges are not mandatory – if authors come to us with a manuscript that passes peer review and no funding whatsoever, we will publish their book – but if an author is able to apply for funding to defray the costs of publication, this helps to support our work. (See our website for more information about this mixed income model.)

In our last financial year (ending 30 September 2023) we published 49 titles (35 monographs, 15 edited volumes and 2 textbooks) of which:

  • 35 (27 monographs, 7 edited volumes and 1 textbook) were published without any grant funding from authors;

  • 10 (2 monographs, 7 edited works and 1 textbook) attracted 'full' funding to completely cover the costs of production;

  • and the remaining 4 (3 monographs and 1 edited volume) attracted partial funding.

To note, the authors of only 5 of the 27 monographs we published last year had grant funding of any size available to them for the publication of their titles – and only 2 had ‘full cost’ funding. Financing the publication of works that do not have full funding available is provided by (and motivates) our library membership programme, together with income from sales and any other funding we can attract. We are growing our library membership programme, and our goal is to arrive at a point where title grant funding is not necessary at all – but we are not there yet.

OBP reluctantly intends to respond to the UKRI policy by asking authors to apply for full funding for their work (usually around £5,000 to £6,000) to be paid directly to OBP on publication. If, instead, library members reclaim their OBP library membership payment (£300 to £700) via the UKRI Diamond funding route then we will have a situation where UKRI is prepared to pay up to £10,000 to support the publication of the volume via a BPC route (and £6,000 for a Diamond subscription) but ends up only contributing around £500 – way below our publication cost. This would mean that OBP will need to cover the publication costs for the UKRI volume from other sources in the same way as our non-funded works, necessarily reducing the number of other unfunded works we would be able to publish. Implemented this way, the UKRI policy will be a drain on the emerging Diamond model, rather than supporting it! Thus, to ensure the UKRI policy does not actually undermine our ability to publish unfunded authors, we are forced into applying for direct publication funding from UKRI – reinforcing the title-specific funding channel we are trying to move away from.

We are also concerned that this will pit our interests against those of our library members who may want to reclaim the cost of membership from UKRI instead – when the ultimate success of the library membership programme relies on us being in partnership, with the common goal of publishing OA books without charges to authors.

Many small scholar-led Diamond OA publishers, such as those that are members of the OBC and those running an OtF programme, have a similar funding policy to ours – accepting grant funding when available and offering low membership fees – and thus will be facing a similar predicament. A solution might be for UKRI to use any funding ‘saved’ when a publisher does not charge a title-specific fee to support Diamond publishing models at the same level. One possibility might be to apportion the remaining money from the £6,000 available back to the Diamond publisher?

What next? What now?

We welcome any further responses from the open research community on the perspectives we have shared, including any and all feedback from librarians, universities, researchers, and funders.

In the interim, there is much that can be done to support the work of the Copim community and the initiatives we are working with:

  • If you are a library and would like to financially support the presses and service providers that are part of Open Book Collective, then you can either explore the OBC platform or arrange a meeting by sending an email to [email protected]. Similarly, get in touch if you are a publisher interested in joining the Open Book Collective.

  • If you are a library and would like to know more about the backlist membership subscriptions at the presses running an Opening the Future programme, then you can find out more at

  • And if you want to know more about the work of the Copim Open Book Futures project, you can visit our website, or find us on X, Mastodon and LinkedIn, or you can get in touch with us at [email protected].

Header image by Elisa Calvet B. on Unsplash

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