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Engaging with New Presses: Growing the Opening the Future Programme and Community

Opening the Future is expanding its list of participating publishers, using our funding infrastructure to support more smaller, scholarly presses in their move towards equitable and sustainable open access publishing.

Published onApr 26, 2024
Engaging with New Presses: Growing the Opening the Future Programme and Community

Opening the Future (OtF) launched in 2021, with the aim of providing a new funding model for open access (OA) monograph publication. At the time, it was a highly experimental project, in partnership with two university presses, CEU Press and Liverpool University Press. They were willing to participate in a programme that had to lay a lot of groundwork; building new working relationships between themselves and OtF, and with other external partners, who had to explain the model to libraries and convince them to participate too - during a pandemic, no less. We are extremely grateful for their involvement from the start. 

The model they helped us to launch works like this: Opening the Future is a membership or subscription programme that funds a press to publish new OA monographs. Subscribing member libraries benefit from access to closed content, and no single institution bears a disproportionate burden. For a modest annual fee the member libraries get unlimited access to a closed selection of a publisher's backlist, with perpetual access after three years. The membership revenue is used by the publisher solely to produce new OA monographs, moving towards an affordable, sustainable model for academic publishing and creating a collection of OA books that are open for the world. It is an incremental OA model: there is no high threshold to meet before books can go OA, they are instead funded one-at-a-time, as soon as enough money accrues to publish the next book in the pipeline. In this way, OtF represents a low-risk approach to OA for publishers: books can be published non-OA as before, until the pot has grown sufficiently to cover the costs of publishing the next one openly. But with more library members, more books can go OA: the programme grows as the library membership community grows. It’s a neat model because the publisher benefits from the OA funding, but the member libraries also benefit in enhancing their collections with the backlist access. And the global library collection benefits from the OA publications.

Three years have now passed since we launched; and OtF is no longer an experimental leap of faith. It is a functioning membership programme. Through OtF, our two partner presses have already published 25+ OA monographs between them, and have accumulated enough funding to publish 45+ more books in the coming years, with plans to continue scaling up their programmes in the future. 

It is, therefore, now also time for the programme itself to expand, and we are in the process of finding and partnering with three new publishers to work with for the remaining duration of Copim Open Book Futures (Copim OBF), to support them in launching an OtF programme of their own. Copim Open Book Futures, of which OtF is a work package, is a research project supported by the Research England Development (RED) Fund, and Arcadia—a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. Copim OBF has the specific aim of building infrastructure to support small, community-led, scholarly publishers, of which sustainable, equitable and viable funding models are a large component. There are several reasons for expansion that follow from this. 

Firstly, as the model has been implemented successfully at both CEU Press and Liverpool University Press, and both are entering, or have already entered, a phase of renewal, we feel that the time is right to expand to more small, scholarly publishers. Open access for monographs is gaining momentum: in 2024 we have OA book policies from funders in the Netherlands, Austria, Norway, Ireland, and Portugal. The Council of the EU has said that for publicly funded research, open access should be the norm for monographs as well as articles; in America the Nelson memo perhaps indicated direction of travel there; and in the UK a new UKRI policy went live 3 months ago mandating open access for books funded by them. Also in the UK the next HEI research assessment exercise (REF) may have an OA component for monographs too - and that’s particularly relevant to our work because the REF does not come with any money to support researchers to publish OA in the way, for example, that the UKRI policy does. So a funding mechanism like ours will be needed.

So the time is right: we feel that working with us would be beneficial to many, in particular the ‘traditional’ scholarly publishers, because OtF was developed specifically with them in mind, as a way to transition from closed to open access by leveraging the value of their backlist, without being forced to commit their entire backlist or frontlist at once. In this way, while also being an equitable, sustainable model from the perspective of authors and funders, it remains viable for small publishers who operate on tight margins and who don’t have subsidies to support a transition to OA. While Book Processing Charges (often-large, one-off author-facing fees to cover the cost of publication), are one route to OA compliance, we do not see them as the only, or even the primary, OA funding solution due to their inbuilt inequalities, and their onerous, unsustainable financial burden on libraries, which has been a topic of discussion in the wake of the UK REF OA consultation, e.g. here and here.

Scaling up the programme to include more publishers also makes the ‘offer’ to current and potential subscribing library members more attractive: at present our two presses offer extensive scholarship on the politics, history, economics and countries of the Central European region (CEU Press), and also the language, history, cultural studies and politics of Latin America (Liverpool UP). With more subjects offered by more presses we can increase the breadth of topics that libraries might want to add to their collections through an OtF subscription. Since there is an acquisition component to OtF, libraries can use acquisition budgets to pay for their membership (ie: not just through a specialist OA fund, which many libraries do not have). With more presses and more subjects available we hope to make it easier for libraries to take out memberships, perhaps even across multiple OtF presses. 

More reflexively, we feel that it is right to expand our participant list in order to continue refining and building this aspect of Copim’s infrastructure. This will allow us to put it into practice with a greater number of publishers, and work with them to gain their input and perspectives, and to shape it to their own particular needs. Therefore, the OtF model will be as usable, and as flexible, by the end of the project, in April 2026, as it can be, and as it needs to be in order to serve a broad range of small, scholarly publishers. 

We are currently in talks with some university presses, but are keen to speak to a range of small, scholarly publishers as we begin to move forward with our expansion plans. If you are interested in discussing this with us, or if you know of a publisher you feel would be a good fit, please contact us on [email protected]

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