Sara Uhac reveals the motivations and challenges involved with being an open-access book publisher
In October 2016, Simba Information reported that open access (OA) books are estimated to grow 30 per cent a year, and that there are nearly 10,000 scholarly and academic open access books available on the internet today.
With 2,850 STM books published since 2005, and another 490 to be published in 2017, InTechOpen alone represents one third of the worldwide market and is the world’s largest science, technology and medicine open access book publisher.
The InTechOpen story begins in 2004 at the University of Technology in Vienna, where two roboticists had one problem: accessing the latest research due to high costs. Their solution? To launch a journal in their field of research – one without the subscription fees they themselves could not afford. Without even knowing that giving free access to scientific content had a name, by 2011 their flagship publication would become the first open access journal in robotics with an impact factor.
Seeing a need to develop a project that differs from traditional publishing options, in 2005, they published Cutting Edge Robotics – InTechOpen’s first OA book. By allowing the content to be accessed for free, it increased the capacity to spread knowledge within the scientific community.
Our portfolio of open access peer reviewed journals grew over the years, and in spring 2016 we announced their sale – a strategic decision to further support and accelerate growth, focus and our company’s evolution. Today, the InTechOpen book is the main product of our company.
Our books take the form of edited volumes and enable academics from all over the world to contribute their original works in the form of book chapters. The chapter format provides researchers with a medium in which they can share their latest findings in a longer form than journal papers, giving them the opportunity to offer a more comprehensive analysis.
Given our roots in robotics, it is no surprise that physical sciences, engineering and technology represent 51 per cent of the portfolio, followed by health sciences (33 per cent) and life sciences (14 per cent). Our social sciences and humanities portfolio (two per cent) continues to expand, with 42 titles currently in various stages of pre-publication and 66 in the portfolio already.
The scientific chapters are all published online under the open access model and are licensed under a Creative Commons license. Upon publication, the content is immediately made available online to be searched, shared and downloaded for free – no registration required.
Milestones – rising impact
This product development direction shaped our company’s future, and by 2009 two key milestones were achieved – 100 OA books published and one million downloads reached.
As natural demand for print copies of open access books rose, in 2011 free hard copies for authors and print-on-demand services were introduced. The year 2011 also brought us two incredible scientific minds: Harold Kroto, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Yoshinori Ohsumi, who would go on to win the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. A year later, we celebrated the publication of our 1,000th book and having reached 10 million downloads. Our growth was significant and fast, but was not met without any challenges. After a rapid increase in production, where we more than doubled in size, we decided to slow down, re-focus, and begin working on a number of key improvements.
In 2015, the Book Citation Index (BKCI) in the Web of Science began indexing our books. This was crucial in increasing the visibility, connectivity and overall exposure of the published content. Today, InTechOpen titles represent 43 per cent of all OA books indexed by the BKCI. With more than 44,000 Web of Science citations, InTechOpen proves that STM book chapters do in fact generate citations. The 42,000 scientific chapters published thus far have been downloaded more than 91 million times, moving at a rate of 55,000 downloads per day.
With the upcoming publication of the 3,000th book, InTechOpen is continuously strengthening its focus on innovation and customer service, to further increase the impact of our books.
The revenue model
As a gold OA publisher, to allow permanently unrestricted online access to the published works and keep the business sustainable, publishing a chapter in an edited volume requires the payment of a processing charge (APC) of 690 euros. Authors’ institutions cover 73 per cent of all paid APCs, while 27 per cent of APCs are covered by authors themselves.
However, we support those authors who cannot afford covering APCs, and in the last three years 14 per cent of chapters published were fully waived and six per cent were partially waived. We are working, among other things, on offering more affordable publishing options and increasing author awareness of governmental, institutional and research funders’ policies mandating research publications to be freely and publicly accessible. An important goal was achieved in 2016 when The European Commission confirmed that InTechOpen’s publishing standards meet eligibility for funding under the FP7 Pilot.
The role of technology
A key resource for our company is represented by the approach in understanding the role technology plays in our operations. As a company founded by roboticists, we always felt that technology ‘is the business’.
In order to support our publishing model and a product that we pioneered, in an industry that was moving slowly and failing to adjust to customers needs, in 2008 we developed our own content workflow processes and a manuscript tracking system for OA book publishing – a tool that provides agility and supports all operations from the commissioning of content, editorial production, review, online publication, file preparation, print, logistics and distribution. However, besides being software that helps with managing internal operations, this platform was conceived by scientists for scientists, primarily as a tool for authors, to make their publishing process easy, streamlined and – above all – personalised.
As a native OA book publisher we wanted to offer something new on all levels – and technology has helped us achieve that.
The publishing process
We developed technology that enabled us to design a publishing process that lasts from nine to 12 months, and consists of two key components: chapter proposal submission and review, and (contingent upon acceptance) full chapter submission and review. Book editors review all the submitted chapters and have the overall responsibility for the content of the publication. They pay particular attention to originality, research methods and key results, accepting only chapter proposals and manuscripts that meet all scientific requirements. Full chapters are screened for plagiarism and their scientific merit is evaluated. Once a manuscript meets a book editor’s requirements, it is accepted for publication. A publishing process manager helps to facilitate every aspect of this process and is there to guide authors at each step.
Customer approach – the character
of the company
Employing a very strong author-centric approach adds value to our company, as it enables us to differentiate ourselves from competitors. Our current network of authors and editors is global and distributed evenly within the Americas, EMEA, Japan and Asia Pacific regions. We have published more than 97,500 international scientists, and 11,400 authors are currently working on their upcoming OA books.
But we do more than say we put our authors first; we are open, inclusive, we communicate with our collaborators, and we make it a priority to provide a valuable experience during and after the publishing process is complete. Together with meeting the challenges of making critical knowledge freely available to the worldwide community, maintaining the highest standards in our dealings with authors, and offering our collaborators the opportunity to work with international scholars on a single project – we have organised a program of activities to keep them engaged and happy.
For InTechOpen, value is both created and captured when we put our authors and editors at the centre of our activities, and our overall mission is to support these very people – the researchers, scientists and academics – in making a greater impact by giving readers free access to all their published work.
While InTechOpen’s first projects were launched in Austria, the company was founded in Rijeka, Croatia (below). Such strategic decisions bring both strengths and weaknesses. For example, the cost perspective is efficient, while on the other side recruiting talent is arduous in a country with no legacy in the business. Entering the scholarly publishing industry – a closed and competitive market with a long tradition – while being based in a country not belonging to the ‘big four’ has proven to be challenging but InTechOpen’s growth to become a world leader in the OA segment shows that this can be achieved, irrespective of where a company is physically based.