Julia Mortimer, Assistant Director of Policy Press/University of Bristol Press, explores the benefits, opportunities and challenges of open access (OA), one of the most significant publishing developments since the invention of the printing press.
There have been extraordinary benefits from OA in furthering scientific endeavour, innovation, business development and public knowledge. Lives have been saved because medical research and datasets have been openly available. Digital access has made this all possible and has enabled research outputs to reach a broader audience beyond a paywall.
For Policy Press, and the newly created University of Bristol Press, as a not-for-profit publisher with a social mission, OA is crucial in helping the work we publish have a greater impact on society and for public good.
Just some of the benefits to authors are:
Visibility & impact: OA makes research more widely and easily visible to researchers, practitioners and policy makers.
Usage: A number of studies and reports have shown that OA journal articles are viewed more often than articles available only to subscribers (See this article in the BMJ for example).
Collaboration: OA publication fosters greater dialogue across disciplinary and geographical boundaries.
Social Justice: OA reduces inequalities in access to knowledge due to lack of institutional funding.
OA has created radical change in the publishing industry and has turned the supply chain on its head. The target audience shifts from reader to author and publishing infrastructures all geared towards selling to libraries and bookshops have needed drastically reassessing.
Introducing OA means publishers have to implement new processes and invest in new systems – this is much more challenging for traditional publishers who are managing OA alongside their existing processes than for OA start-up publishers.
It is also certainly not a case of ‘make everything open and people will find it’. Marketing OA content is arguably more important than marketing other types of content, since it may conversely be harder to find due to problems with integrating OA into discovery tools.
Emerging from journals publishing, OA is starting to gain far more importance for books now too. Monographic and book submissions for the next REF (sometime in the late 2020s) will have to be available in an OA form. This represents a sea change for humanities and social science book publishers (to set it in context, currently only around 5% of history books are published in some kind of OA form).
Why isn’t OA free?
It’s important to note that OA isn’t the same as free (a common misconception). Free content is made available at the discretion of the publisher, is free to access (often temporarily), but not free to reproduce, sell or modify. OA content is both forever free to access and reuse, and sometimes sell or modify (depending on the conditions of the specific Creative Commons licence that is applied).
The costs of publishing OA are hidden from the reader so the perception is often that there is no cost. In many discussions of OA and the backlash against the large corporate publishers the important role publishers play in production and dissemination is often overlooked.
It’s true to say that as much work goes into publishing an OA article or book as one in a traditional format. Read 96 things publishers do on The Scholarly Kitchen for an insight. In fact, digital means we now do more than we ever have done – not less.
In brief publish OA with us and we will:
• Provide support and guidance during the commissioning stage of a product, substantially helping to shape the final product and continuing help throughout the publishing process;
• Manage peer review and feedback and offer further guidance;
• Carry out copyediting, proof-reading, typesetting and production services, all by UK-based staff;
• Provide systems and platforms to support your work eg online submission systems for journals, hosting platforms, services to help maximise and measure the impact of your work;
• Ensure your work is covered in abstracting and indexing systems and OA resource discovery databases;
• Market your book or article to our extensive networks.
Just as we do for all our traditional publishing formats! In additional OA involves extra work in meeting the requirements of funding bodies.
Who pays for OA then?
All of the above has to be paid for, of course, even with a not-for-profit publisher. There are many different financial models for OA which currently include:
• Gold – fully funded by an Article Processing Charge (APC) for journals often paid for from a grant or by an institution. This works in much the same way for journals and books;
• Platinum – fully funded by donations from institutions or funders without APCs or by voluntary work – eg Wellcome Open Research, postgraduate journals run by volunteers, predominantly library-funded models like Knowledge Unlatched and the Open Library of the Humanities;
• Mixed models where the costs are shared between funder types eg The University of California Press’ journal and book OA initiatives (Collabra for journals and Luminos for books) which are part funded by the institution, libraries and authors and Liverpool University Press’ Modern Languages Online from Liverpool – start up funded with help from the library but also charging APCs;
• Green OA policies (ie self-archiving) mean no one has to pay but there are risks to publishers‘ business models especially as the archived versions becomes more discoverable and where embargoes are short.
So what does the future look like?
Whilst OA can bring huge benefits it is not always the right publishing model for all types of content and traditional publishing methods still have a significant role to play.
Many current projects have been set up with generous short-term funding and are nowhere near breaking even. What happens if/when this money runs out?
At Policy Press and University of Bristol Press we want to continue to expand our OA offerings and experiment with new models, but in a way which is sustainable and ensures a long term future. As a University Press we want to support the research community in the best ways possible and are still committed to publishing in traditional models where we think they are necessary. For example we are launching two new subscription-based journals this year (International Journal of Care and Caring and the Journal of Gender-Based Violence) in subject areas where OA funding is just not extensive enough.
It is very difficult to predict the future with such a rapidly evolving landscape (not to mention the political earthquakes taking place) but whatever happens, a mixed model of OA and traditional publishing seem likely to coexist for the foreseeable future.
For information on Policy Press’ OA publishing see here.
To discuss potential OA projects contact Julia Mortimer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We offer a range of discounts on our standard APCs. Find out more here.