Open access looks set to shake up the humanities and social sciences book landscape for the better, reports Rebecca Pool
A little over three years ago, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Library set out to explore what the ‘Academic Book of the Future’ might look like, in the context of open access publishing and the digital revolution. A project team including researchers from King’s College London and University College London collaborated with academics, libraries, publishers and book-sellers to understand perspectives and pinpoint key developments.
Recently-published findings were mixed. Perhaps not surprisingly, the researchers discovered that many welcome open access, but confusion exists around its benefits for books, with few ready to move to Gold open access anytime soon.
But anxieties aside, research also indicated that the academic monograph is still highly valued in scholarly circles and can look forward to a bright future in a mixed print-electronic, network-enhanced format. Talk to some of the key HSS publishers of today, and these positive findings are supported.
Harmen van Paradijs, vice president of human sciences publishing at Springer Nature, for one, is very excited about the future of the HSS monograph within his company. Following the merger of Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education, Nature Publishing Group and Springer Science+Business Media, Springer Nature is one of the industry’s leading HSS publishers, publishing around 4,000 books in the fields of humanities and social sciences.
According to van Paradijs, journals are clearly ahead of books when it comes to open access publishing, partly thanks to promotion from the likes of Springer Nature and BioMed Central. But for him, right now, the real action lies in books.
‘In total, last year we published just over 100 books as open access out of our 4,000-strong collection, which is a very small percentage,’ he says.
‘But the growth rate is absolutely staggering, and I am seeing a momentum in this market now; it is really taking off. I would expect the number of HSS books that are open access to double over the next two to three years.’
As van Paradijs points out, Palgrave Macmillan, just one of Springer Nature’s HSS imprints, currently offer authors and their funders the option to publish open access research across all publication formats via Palgrave Open. The imprint is claimed to be one of the first to offer an open access option from humanities and social sciences and aims to develop sustainable business models for these disciplines.
Paradijs (above) reckons the appetite for the open access monograph has been helped by cash, now coming from a host of national funding agencies across Europe as well as Canada and the US. Austria’s national research council, for example, was one of the first to provide funds for open access HSS monographs via its Austrian Science Fund.
Meanwhile, myriad organisations from the European Research Council and Humanities in the European Research Area, to Canada’s Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the UK Department for International Development have built funds to cover costs associated with open access book publications.
‘We have seen broad acceptance of open access with all the national science funds and funding agencies, especially in Europe,’ highlights van Paradijs.
But it isn’t just national funding agencies that have made a difference. As the Springer Nature vice president highlights, non-governmental organisations have also been instrumental in taking open access to the humanities and social sciences.
Many NGOs aim to distribute information either through their own operations or long-term local partnerships, and marrying traditional book publications with open access has been beneficial. Indeed, as van Paradijs asserts: ‘I’d be hard-pressed to name a major NGO that is not pushing open access to the humanities and social sciences.’
Thanks to the rise in funds, Palgrave Macmillan now publishes entire monographs and individual chapters, as open access. ‘This depends on the funding and the funder, but if the funds are available, it is our duty to ensure both are technically possible,’ says van Paradijs, adding open access tends to be particularly strong in what he calls the ‘hard side’ of HSS, with sectors such as educational and economic development leading the way.
‘We work with the International Labour Organisation – an UN agency – and they fund an entire series of open access books on human geography,’ he adds. ‘So I definitely see more momentum here than in, say literature or history.’
Like van Paradijs, David Ross, executive director of open access at Sage Publishing, has also spotted rising interest in the open access HSS monograph. Pointing to activities from Springer Nature, as well as UCL Press and The Wellcome Trust, he says: ‘We’ve seen a lot more noise around open access monographs recently, and we’re going to be launching an open access monograph programme as part of Sage Open later this year.’
Ross reckons the interest partly stems from funding but also the drop in library purchases of the printed HSS monograph. ‘Recently there has been no real vehicle for these types of publications, so I do see open access monographs helping to rescue this monograph field,’ he says.
‘This will require funding,’ he adds. ‘But there is quite an appetite to address this and other issues, following the collapse of the printed monograph market.’
As Sage eyes the HSS monograph market, it has, without a doubt, already made huge waves in the world of open access HSS journals. All of the publisher’s subscriptions journals offer a hybrid option, of which 60 per cent are social science publications. What’s more, the publisher has around 150 Gold open access journals, including 16 humanities and social sciences publications.
Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University
Crucially, amongst its pure Gold HSS open access journals is the mega-journal SAGE Open, which launched in 2010 at a time when the humanities and social sciences were still getting to grips with the idea of open access.
Most of Sage’s pure gold open access journals are supported by the payment of an article processing charge (APC) from the author, institution or research funder of the accepted manuscript. According to Ross, the publisher launched SAGE Open with an article process charge of only $99, which has now risen to $395.
As he asserts: ‘This figure of $395 is not economically viable but we’re happy to support SAGE Open as the open access market develops.’
Still, SAGE Open now has almost 2000 articles published, and is one of the publisher’s most widely-used journals. Ross reckons that although the rapid growth of the early days has slowed down, the journal is on track to publish around 400 articles this year alone.
Growth aside, Ross also sees similar variations to van Paradijs, in open access adoption amongst different HSS disciplines. SAGE Open, for example, is dominated by education-related articles while other titles, such as ‘Research and Politics’ and ‘Social Media and Society’ tend to lean towards the more practical side of HSS.
‘Open access will take more and more of a role in social science publishing, and as a publisher we believe we should introduce as few barriers as possible to allow researchers to share work,’ he says.
‘It’s fairly safe to say in ten years’ time the vast majority of biomedical literature will be published in an open access format,’ he adds. ‘But I am not sure it will ever dominate HSS scholarly publishing to the same extent, and nor do I think an open access model will necessarily replace the subscription journal in all disciplines, simply because of the differences in the funding landscape.’
Open access with a difference
In 2012, entrepreneur and publisher Frances Pinter set up Knowledge Unlatched, an initiative that aimed to create an international library consortium via a crowd-funding platform, that would support open access publications.
Like many in the industry, Pinter had watched print monograph sales plummet, prices soar and university libraries struggle to assemble adequate collections. As a result, she felt open access was going to be crucial to ensure future access to knowledge, and devised a new way to fund the necessary upfront publishing costs of HSS monographs (see ‘A novel model’, below.)
Five years later, the initiative has ‘unlatched’ nearly 500 humanities and social sciences titles via the OAPEN and HathiTrust platforms. These titles can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, free of charge. What’s more, the initiative is currently releasing its fourth batch of publications with nearly 450 books and journals on offer, will launch STEM titles from 2018 and in line with industry predictions, will also provide titles in EPUB, XML as well as pdf formats.
As Knowledge Unlatched managing director, Sven Fund, says: ‘We first focused on books as for HSS this is the most critical format but in our latest round of pledging we’ve included HSS journals. We’re a few weeks into our next pledging round and we’ve already seen significant uptake for journals.’
Given Knowledge Unlatched’s blisteringly fast rate of progress to date, Fund is convinced that HSS open access has now entered what he describes as a ‘completely different phase’. He believes librarians and publishers are now ‘very professional’ about open access, pointing out: ‘The budget for open access spending no longer comes from a pot put aside by the library director for ‘nice little’ projects, but instead is being taken from the acquisition budget.’
Fund says he and colleagues have not encountered any author resistance, but rather, have had authors approaching them directly wanting to publish with Knowledge Unlatched. And he is confident that the initiative can replicate its HSS success within the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
‘We’ve seen strong support from libraries and publishers in HSS, and this is the ideal time to expand into STEM as publishers are also seeking solutions for books in areas other than HSS,’ he says.
But the progress doesn’t stop here. The initiative has already joined forces with open access linguistics book provider, Language Science Press, and is in discussions with the Open Library of Humanities, the University of California Press’s open access monograph publishing program, Luminos, and many more to create a larger publishing marketplace.
For his part, Fund is convinced that Knowledge Unlatched has taken a very pragmatic approach to HSS open access and has served as an inspiration for others working in this field. As he puts it: ‘We’ve helped to move publishers and libraries from a traditional world of publishing where you buy content “just in case”, into a world where you support open access at large, with your funding.’
And he has high hopes for the future of HSS open access publishing. ‘My dream is that an organisation such as the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative or the Gates Foundation would say to us, “listen, we want to unlatch 10,000 titles”,’ he says. ‘That would be a real breakthrough, and would push publishers more towards open access and show that there is a future here.’
A novel model
So how does Knowledge Unlatched (KU) work? Publishers first submit titles that they would like to include in a KU Collection. The initiative’s group of acquisition librarians then reviews the submission, recommending which titles are relevant, of interest and meet quality standards.
Curated packages are then assembled via themes and, critically, libraries are then invited to select packages and titles, and pledge support. If enough pledges are received, the titles will be ‘unlatched’ and made open access, becoming downloadable via OAPEN and HathiTrust.
More than 450 libraries worldwide are currently onboard with 70 publishers submitting titles. In the latest round, Knowledge Unlatched introduced differential pricing, so smaller libraries pay less than larger libraries, to broaden participation, and the initiative recently joined forces with BiblioLabs to improve mobile and browser-based access.
In a move that can only help those in HSS circles, the Humetrics HSS initiative has just won $300k from the Andrew W Mellon to further develop value-based research metrics, including altmetrics.
By creating a more ‘humane’ metrics framework, the initiative seeks to diminish what it describes as a broad reliance on metrics that presuppose value as reflected in ‘neutral’ indicators, such as citations. Instead, HuMetricsHSS aims to advance a practices-based approach that is ‘holistic, reflective, and transparent’.
The initiative comprises a group of individuals and organisations from the academic, commercial, and non-profit sectors, including Altmetric, Michigan State University and K|N Consultants. The team will, for example, create a prototype app that will scan syllabi and extract information, such as the age of texts, author demographics, links to open educational resources and open textbooks.
‘In the wide-ranging conversations I’ve had with faculty and administrators, there is clear recognition that we need a different way to measure and reward work done in the humanities and social sciences,’ points out Rebecca Kennison, executive director and principal of K|N Consultants and a Principal Investigator of the HuMetricsHSS grant.
‘The common theme is a desire for approaches that demonstrate the importance of HSS scholarship,’ she adds.