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Next steps for the Open Book Collective

Published onOct 18, 2021
Next steps for the Open Book Collective

Over the course of the COPIM project, Work Package 2 has been in the process of developing a new online infrastructural intermediary that can sit between scholarly libraries and OA publishers and other initiatives, to deliver new and more sustainable sources of revenue. As mentioned in our last report, the organisation that will support this intermediary now has a name: Open Book Collective (OBC).

The OBC will respond to the need for new forms of collaborative interaction between publishers, researchers, universities, and scholarly libraries by offering a contextual platform that supports the promotion of open access publishing activities and facilitates collective funding support. OBC will be a non-profit incorporated entity legally founded in the UK and we expect soon to be able to confirm its precise organisational form.

OBC will act as a collector of revenues accrued for new membership packages from institutions – primarily academic libraries – with this revenue then passed on to OA book publishers and infrastructure providers. A portion of the revenue will be retained to cover the platform’s administrative overhead costs.

This report marks a new and exciting phase for the Work Package. We have now moved from a research phase into a development phase. We expect to have a fully functioning Beta site available for internal testing by the end of January next year, ahead of a public launch in the spring.

We have just published the specifications for this design work, which gives an overview of how precisely its development will be implemented. We thought it might be helpful for us to also provide a more accessible overview of how the OBC platform will work, how we arrived at these specifications, as well as challenges we are still wrestling with.

Overview of the OBC platform

The key objectives of the OBC platform have been shaped through the interviews, workshop discussions, planning meetings, and surveys held with publishers and librarians in the past year and following the principles of transparency, accessibility, and inclusiveness that underlie the whole COPIM project.

In cooperation with our colleagues in Work Package 3 (Opening the Future) and Work Package 4 (Community Governance), we see the main benefits that the platform will offer as follows:

  • Providing centralised engagement and payment facilitation for libraries and other supporters, with significantly reduced administrative workload

  • Supporting the easier integration of OA book collections with library catalogues, in part via new and more consistent metadata standards for participating initiatives

  • Delivering new revenue sources for OA book publishers and infrastructure providers

  • Making savings for OA initiatives by making it possible to outsource their library outreach and membership operations to the platform

  • Promoting participating initiatives and supporting them with branding and outreach 

  • Offering new networking opportunities for librarians and publishers

  • Practically and symbolically demonstrating the benefits of values of collaboration over competition in OA publishing

Translating this proposal into concrete outcomes has required a communal effort to combine the organisational processes and technical infrastructures with financial management procedures and legal framework to allow the collective to be fully functional and sustainable long term.

One of the most challenging aspects we encountered in the platform design process relates to the necessity to accommodate the diverse types of users’ needs in terms of pricing structures, business models, and design requirements. The OBC platform is designed to meet the needs of different user groups by creating a mutually beneficial environment and allowing for modularity, scalability, and usability in a framework that can be customized for maximum flexibility.

While consisting of multiple web pages, the overall platform structure has two key frameworks. The first framework is focused on the initiatives. The platform offers each publisher and infrastructure provider the possibility to present the catalogue of their publications and also showcase their mission, aims, values, and support options. We aim to combine consistent functionality with a customizable layout to display initiatives’ activities in a personalized way within the same platform.

The second framework deals with library users. The platform has a modular architecture that allows libraries to select among various offers and memberships programmes creating portfolios of membership schemes rather than individual titles they want to support. We have explored multiple models for pricing structures to ensure that the platform reflects the capacities of a range of libraries varying in type and size as well as the needs of publishers relying on diverse revenue streams maintaining fully transparent participants’ pricing. We are still modelling various possibilities, with issues still under discussion including overall membership fees, what banding system we should use, what discount options should be offered, and how to allocate revenue both between initiatives and to OBC itself. 

There is still much to do, but after some delays it feels exciting that things are getting so much more concrete. We look forward to sharing further updates as we have them and, of course, to receiving feedback from all our supporters and stakeholders.

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