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Responding to Open Access Needs: The OBC Position

Published onMay 31, 2022
Responding to Open Access Needs: The OBC Position
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We created the Open Book Collective (OBC) (described in more detailed here) as part of the COPIM project, which is all about researching, establishing, and meeting the needs of a more sustainable, equitable OA book landscape. COPIM is an international partnership of OA publishers, academic librarians and researchers committed to a sustainable, equitable and diverse future for OA books. All of our research outputs related to the development of the OBC, including details of the methods we used to reach our findings, can be found via the tags on this Pubpub site and at our Zenodo page.

In what follows, we provide a short distillation on our work, presenting some of the reasons why we believe that the OBC is needed, as well as looking at some of the ways it will address those needs.

Inequities in OA book publishing

"File:Johnny-automatic-scales-of-justice.svg" by johnny_automatic is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Book Processing Charges (BPCs) are currently the dominant financial model in the open access book publishing landscape. In this model, a fee is paid to a publisher to publish a book open access. Sometimes this fee can be covered by grant funding or institutional funding, but BPCs can also be charged directly to the author.

Although the cost of BPCs vary widely, often they are prohibitively expensive. For example, at the time of writing, the charge for a monograph of up to 400 pages published by Springer Nature, Palgrave MacMillan or Apress is £11,000/E1300/$15000.1

Leaving aside for now that this model has the effect of consolidating the dominance large publishers within the OA space, a major issue is that it tends to favour and promote already-established academics, already-established ideas, and already-entrenched academic hierarchies and inequalities. Often those best placed to pay BPCs are academics in secure research posts, with relatively established careers, in receipt of research funding, and/or positioned at wealthy institutions in the Global North. The model therefore both entrenches many of the extant inequities in academic employment, as well as having a potentially stultifying effect on academic fields.

A key aim of the OBC is to provide a different route for institutions and libraries to financially support OA book publishing, to help small-to-medium publishers move away from a reliance on book processing charges. This, we very much hope, will ultimately make OA publishing accessible to a wider range of authors and institutions.

Scaling Small and a Diversity of Models

"Diversity quilt" by OregonDOT is licensed under CC0 1.0

Another key aim of the OBC is enable publishing initiatives to retain their diverse and individual character, whilst at the same time benefiting from forms of mutual support, economies of scale and labour-sharing provided by a network. This is the promise of what we call ‘scaling small’. 

We believe that academic research is best served by providing strong, structural support to diversity — whether that be diversity of content, linguistic diversity, or diversity of publication models. We support a variety of approaches to OA publication and actively welcome innovative models, which are assessed by our membership criteria at the time of application for adherence to our fundamental values. Crucially, we require commitment to the reduction and replacement of BPC, and details of the publisher’s plan in moving away from these, including the assistance the OBC itself offers. We offer assistance to publishers in establishing collectives for mutual benefit, and publishers may join the OBC as either individuals or collectives.

 Transparent Options: Open Metadata

OA  books can be difficult and time-consuming for librarians to find and assess.  In our report on a recent workshop, we focused specifically on how the OBC can meet the needs of UK librarians and their institutions, and will shortly be repeating the initiative with colleagues from the US and Canada, and of course we are always seeking input from librarians colleagues throughout the world.

The OBC offers easy contracting and subscription management services and makes it easy to see a range of offerings in one place, side-by-side. Librarians can see which offers are most relevant to the needs of their institutions, at a range of prices, and assess the publishers’ and service-providers’ values and ways of working.

Moreover, OA books often lack consistent readable metadata, making them harder to find. The lack of a price point creates a barrier to accessing monographs. It is impossible to register books that are free of charge in many metadata systems, including Amazon and ONIX feeds, as these systems require a price. While the OBC alone cannot solve all these issues, it hopes to play a major role in contributing to better, more consisent OA book metadata. To do so, its platform utilises another key COPIM output: Thoth. Thoth is a metadata management system, which ingests and standardises metadata from OA publishers and synthesises it into a searchable catalogue of metadata that is maximally readable. On the OBC platform itself, we make use of Thoth by creating a shared, fully open catalogue featuring the works of all those publishers that use Thoth. Librarians and other users will also be able to download individual book metadata, in a variety of different formats, easily and directly from individual book pages.

Follow our work, get in touch

Above all, the OBC is a collective. What individual members do varies, but all of us share a commitment to an equitable, sustainable and supportive future for OA books that favours diverse forms of collaboration over competition and monopolies. If you are a publisher or infrastructure service provider interested in exploring how to offer a membership package on the OBC platform, or a librarian or other supporter interested in knowing more about the membership packages we will be hosting on the OBC, please reach out to the appropriate contact for your geographical area:

  • UK/Ireland: Judith Fathallah, j.fathallah@lancaster.ac.uk

  • EU: Francesca Corazza, francesca@punctumbooks.com

  • US/CA: Livy Snyder, livy@punctumbooks.com

You can also sign up for the OBC mailing list here:

You can also directly visit the Mailing List signup form here.

 

By signing up, you consent to the storage of the data provided in OBC databases. We will not sell or share your information with third parties unless required by law. To stop receiving emails from OBC, please send us an email to wp2@copim.ac.uk with the subject line “Unsubscribe”. Your data will then be deleted.

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