Scholarly Publishing: crossing the Rubicon – BookMachine, Oxford 7 September 2017

The BookMachine panel discussion on disruption in scholarly publishing took place on the 7th of September in Oxford, sponsored by Ingenta. It was a great event, with lots of food for thought, and I share my notes here. The discussion was chaired by Byron Russell (Ingenta) and focussed on how publishers can stay relevant and useful in the face of new technologies, new ways of information sharing, and changing research models and needs. The speakers were Charlie Rapple (Kudos), Phill Jones (Digital Science), and Duncan Campbell (Wiley).

What is the most disruptive thing in scholarly publishing at the moment?

The panel agreed that actually the publishing industry has not been disrupted. The large companies have not lost market share. There has been consolidation, not disruption, and consolidation might be considered the opposite of disruption. So, to ask a different question: what has been the most innovative thing? One answer is the effects of Open Access. OA has created an “author pays” model. Power has shifted towards the author and away from the library. In response to this, publishers are now focussing on services to authors (data sharing etc).

You can draw a path from evolution to revolution to disruption, and many commentators label things as disruptive which are really only evolutionary or revolutionary. The transition to digital has changed a lot of things, but not disruptively. Scholarly societies are wondering how they can continue to add value, and perhaps technological change has been more disruptive for societies than for publishers?

Why hasn’t scholarly publishing been more disrupted? We are still here. The single most disruptive thing hasn’t happened yet. Publishers rely on the scholarly importance of the version of record. This, by the way, is just as true for OA publishers as it is for traditional publishers. What happens when other versions become valid? We are seeing the rise of pre-prints, and data in multiple formats, both a move away from “the final article”.

Are publishers responding to change?

There is a huge amount going on inside publishing. Publishers need to keep listening to their users (including libraries and societies) and to their changing needs. At the moment, it’s apparent that we are still providing a useful service. We are turning richer article inputs into richer article outputs. Publishers need to listen, and innovate based on needs.

It is very difficult as an incumbent to be innovative. However, it should be said that publishers are fantastic at infrastructure. It was publishers who were behind the development of Cross Ref and DOI for example. Plumbing is not sexy, but it is important. Infrastructure can be innovative. It’s also worth saying that publishers are generally supportive of innovation elsewhere, outside of their organizations. For example, big publishers paid it forward by supporting Kudos in its early days, and were crucial for the company’s development.

Infrastructure is important now, and will become even more so in the future. A current model seems to be that an academic has an idea for something that needs to be fixed, a big company supports them, and then down the line buys them. The risk is that the learned societies and smaller publishers are not getting involved fast enough. The result is that big companies are pulling ahead. Smaller publishers should try and get involved earlier.

Smaller publishers might think that they don’t have the cash to put into investment. However, smaller publishers can be creative, perhaps getting involved in providing feedback in return for discounts for example. It is easier for big publishers, but it is possible for smaller publishers. As an example, Ingenta works with a lot of small publishers, some with only 2 or 3 staff, and introduces smaller publishers to new developments. Collaboration between smaller publishers might be the key (the IPG does a great job with this).

What is the effect of the demise of consortia deals? Are we seeing the end of the Big Deal?

There are pressures, but deals on the whole are hanging on. The slew of cancellations has still not materialised.

Access and discoverability

Library discovery systems are very expensive, but there are alternatives. Google Scholar is becoming more disruptive, and more widely used by scholars who may not even be aware of the library’s own discovery systems.

One large Dutch university killed off their discovery system, and put up a one-page document telling people how to use Google Scholar. Everything was fine. (Although a year later the library signed up to EBSCO’s discovery system, so perhaps there was more to this than meets the eye.)

New technology does not always succeed in its original form, although it can go on to evolve into something different. ReadCube is a good example. This was a kind of PDA system for journal articles, and was well received by libraries. It was like a Netflix for articles, and enabled control of what people could do (print, share). It did not succeed in the end, because publishers were not prepared to investigate the new model. But, the tech behind it has gone on to support a system for content sharing developed by another publisher.

For access to articles, forget Sci Hub, forget Patron Driven Acquisition. Even without access to a university library simply Googling an article title never fails. Green OA works well.

Copyright, sharing and piracy

Where do we draw the line on issues of copyright? In relation to the sharing of articles, there is a difference between individuals sharing stuff (sharing between academics), and a more large-scale attempt to share everything (Sci Hub). The line not to be crossed can be judged by asking who is sharing it and for what reason.

Sharing is fine, but the systemization of sharing is a problem. Sci Hub has forced publishers to face up to the fact that academics already share articles among colleagues. Sci Hub has pushed the agenda, but it is not the answer. Unpaywall is really neat, and legal.

Publishers feel a bit beleaguered when people think that piracy is bad but publishers are worse! What can publishers do? The key thing is that everything we create needs to serve the customer’s needs. The relationship between academics and publishers has been maintained by senior academics, serving on editorial boards for example. But are senior people really in touch with the needs of post-docs and junior researchers? There is a current shift in the research funding agenda, away from disciplinary funding, towards big, multidisciplinary projects (a cure for Alzheimer’s, the exploration of Mars). If people are working in multidisciplinary projects, which journal should they publish in? Will the channels change?

As well as the increasing thematic nature of funding, let’s hope there is a change in how research is evaluated too. The idea that it’s based on where you are published is so wrong headed. There are other outlets. We’ve got to use technology to start looking differently at impact, influence, and reputation.

In the old days, as publishers you never used to encounter a user; you dealt with the bookshop, the library. Things are changing and we need to get on board with the changes. In the rise of the machines (AI) in the sharing and discovery of information, what happens to publishers?

How do external parties view academic publishing?

Interest from outside investors is in scientific information, not in scientific publishing. Publishing is dead, long live scholarly information. Technology, information tools, open science, open data. You can put anything into Figshare and give it a DOI.

How can publishers move forward in ways that their customers might not think they need or want? Publishers might not be thanked for driving things forward, but you can get around that by creating a new brand, trying things out and moving forward but without the reputational risk.

Should publishers get involved with driving tech development in information sharing? The Belmont Forum was flagged as an interesting case. The Belmont Forum’s vision is:

“International transdisciplinary research providing knowledge for understanding, mitigating and adapting to global environmental change.”

Forum members and partner organizations work collaboratively to meet this Challenge by issuing international calls for proposals, committing to best practices for open data access, and providing transdisciplinary training.  To that end, the Belmont Forum is also working to enhance the broader capacity to conduct transnational environmental change research through its e-Infrastructure and Data Management initiative.

This is transdisciplinary research and information sharing, but not “publishing” as we would traditionally recognise it. But publishers should take heart from the fact that there are many things that publishers know how to do that others in the research ecosystem just don’t know. Many people think publishing is easy until they try to do it. The Belmont Forum recently asked publishers for input and advice, which is encouraging. Knowing whether and how to get involved comes back to listening to your community, that’s the way publishers can contribute.

The Academic Book of the Future Report launch event, 20 June 2017

The end of project reports from The Academic Book of the Future project have now been made available, and were formally launched in London on 20 June 2017. These are my notes from the event, with apologies for any errors or significant omissions (my handwriting is not always fast enough!). The Twitter hashtag was #AcBookReports.

The project reports are available online: https://academicbookfuture.org/end-of-project-reports-2/

Welcome and introduction:

Caroline Brazier, Chief Librarian, British Library – The project started three years ago, to address what the ongoing rapid changes in the publishing industry would mean for the Arts and Humanities. Marilyn Deegan’s report provides a synthesis of the project and what it has achieved so far. Michael Jubb’s report gives details of the state of affairs in the academic publishing ecosystem.

Andrew Thompson, CEO of the Arts and Humanities Research Council – Having just signed a book contract with OUP, quite pleased to read the report’s finding that the book has a future! The report is conceived not as the end of a project, but the beginning of a discussion. How can our high quality research be more widely shared?

Samantha Rayner, UCL, Principal Investigator, Academic Book of the Future – So, here we are, finished after three years of work. This evening we start to collect the responses. Thank you to Melissa Terras who coordinated the team from behind the scenes. The team gelled quickly because they found they had common ground, and felt a responsibility to respect lots of different views. Fellowship has been essential part of the project. A journalist who read the report thought it painted a bleak picture. Sam rejects this entirely. There are lots of challenges, but this is NOT a bleak picture, and there are talented, practical, and visionary people out there who want to be involved. The project has shone a light on the things that need discussing. Research is becoming ever more politicised, so it is good that policymakers were involved in the discussions. The team managed to speak with a huge range of people. One of the best things proved to be having a pool of money unallocated at the start, which could be made available for mini projects which suggested themselves as the project progressed. This provided useful agility. In putting together the two reports, Marilyn and Michael are both heroes of the history of the academic book.

Academic Book of the Future Reports:

Marilyn Deegan, KCL, Co-investigator, Academic Book of the Future –

Thought this day would never come! The project has been a community building project, with a small project team, but a very large coalition of contributors. Want to mention advisory panel chair Kathryn Sutherland who never let us forget that good scholarship is central. Sam Rayner deserves credit for the decision to cast the net very wide, with events, etc. She was the one who came up with the idea of Academic Book Week, which has been an astonishing success. There was also the first ever UK university press conference, and many other conferences, seminars, workshops, focus groups, talks, interviews.

The BOOC is going live on Thursday 22nd June.

See http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/academic-book-of-the-future.

Conclusions:

  • The academic book/monograph is still greatly valued in the academy and beyond
  • Print is not dead, and many scholars at all stages show a preference for print for sustained reading
  • The future is likely to be a mixed economy of print, e-versions of print and network enhanced monographs of greater or lesser complexity
  • There are many new exciting forms and formats of academic book…
  • …and new publishers and publishing partnerships emerging
  • Publisher brand still matters
  • Most scholars would be happier producing one or two ground breaking books in their careers rather than five or six which are produced quickly and have less impact
  • There is still confusion and anxiety over the Open Access agenda

Not bleak at all! But there are challenges, including increasing teaching loads and assessment.

A quote to end with:

“The substantial work of serious scholarship with a wider reach than that of the immediate academic sub-field is a precious thing, at the core of our cultural life and intellectual discourse” – Jonathan Bate

Michael Jubb, Lead Researcher, Academic Book of the Future –

Books are important, and they are part of the infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities. But, books now have more than just print formats. The academic book is part of an ecology with complex interactions. The number of titles is increasing, but overall sales are not increasing and sales per title are going down. Are too many books being published? Or is not enough effort being put in to get people to buy and read the books? There are tensions over rights. There is a need for innovation from publishers (which involves tech costs). The supply chain is almost comically complicated. There is a huge range of intermediaries. There has been no wholesale shift from print to e and the reader preference is still for print (across all age ranges). We will see digital alongside print for the foreseeable future. The publishers’ economic model is still based on print, but this is unsustainable. There has been lots of experimentation with OA, but we still haven’t got to grips with a sustainable economic model. Challenges include: costs and funding, author behaviour, rights regimes, international ecology, scalability. Can we get some quick wins? There is obvious potential with OA books for wider dissemination.

“Discoverability is the process by which a book appears in front of you at a point where you were not looking for that specific title” – Thad McIlroy

Discoverability is a disaster area. Metadata quality is poor. Onix, used by publishers, is completely different to MARC, used by librarians. We need discovery services better suited to academic books and behaviours of potential readers.

Conclusions:

  • Quality must be sustained (not every book an academic wants to publish should be published)
  • Need to address issues of supply and demand
  • Need to maximise reach
  • Need to improve systems and processes and stimulate innovation
  • There should be more bespoke publishing services (not every book needs every publishing process, and there is room for cheaper, more pared down publishing for some books)
  • Need to address the economic implications of print plus e
  • Support development of OA

Above all:

  • Build communities and relationships
  • Develop a new structure to support dialogue amongst all the stakeholders
  • Need new policies to stimulate change, built on a deep understanding of the ecology

A motto to live by, to quote Ben Goldacre “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”

Panel responses to the project conclusions and recommendations:

Geoffrey Crossick, Distinguished Professor of Humanities, School of Advanced Study, University of London –

Very pleased to have been invited to comment. Learned a great deal, especially from Michael Jubb’s report. When Crossick wrote his own report on OA, he now realises that he structured it like a book, and it was a long form argument developed through the different sections (he wanted to shout to people “don’t just dip in and out!”) needing to be read in the order it was written.

The value of the monograph lies in the process of writing and reading it, not in the physical object. We know people value the physical book, and e-books currently can’t get near the experience of a print book. It’s different for articles. The availability of digital books became possible at the same time as OA, and this perhaps muddied the water.

Why write books at all? The answer is that long, structured argument is fundamental to humanities research. A monograph is not the same as a group of articles. Crossick is not sure that there is a crisis of oversupply, because the terms of “crisis” are not defined. He voices caution about technical determinism. Just because certain things are possible technically, does not mean they are valuable. What readers want should drive change. The reports make clear the many challenges of OA. Restraints lie in author ownership issues. There is a serious problem of third party rights (images etc). But the biggest problem with OA is finding the right business model. The book processing charge will not prevail.

Frances Pinter, Founder of Knowledge Unlatched –

Books sit inside the knowledge structure of each discipline, and there is a different ecology for every discipline. These reports look at the academic book from an Arts and Humanities point of view. KU’s research has shown that there is enough money in the academic system to support OA. It is not in one place, but it is there. Pinter agrees that not every monograph needs the full publishing treatment, and this is significant because it means there is scope for reducing publishing costs significantly before the stage of having a finished digital file. KU has looked at publishing costs around Europe, and many publishers offer a pick and mix menu of publishing services, which goes a long way to explaining the differing costs of OA in different places in Europe.

The writing of a monograph is part of the research process itself, so Frances is not convinced by the argument that there are too many books published. You need the whole of the milk before the cream can rise to the top, and there are no publishers who can reliably spot the cream. “Find me a publisher who’s always been right … there isn’t one”.

The Jubb report has an excellent chapter on intermediaries and their services. Amongst other things, it provides the startling fact that vendors typically take 50% of the amount the library pays for the book.

KU have been looking at geo-stats for the monographs they have unlatched. Monograph usage is 7x higher than what is going through the libraries in the same area. This suggests that there is a larger audience than we thought. HEFCE is looking to mandate OA, but is trying to get funding together in a very unstable environment. It would be easy for them to shelve their plans, but Pinter thinks this would be a mistake.

Chris Banks, Director of Library Service, Imperial College –

For a librarian, collecting, discovery and OA are important topics. It is worth thinking about the different types of academic output. At the moment we still have an academe that is very cautious. Reward mechanisms are based around publishing a book, and scholars need to write a good book and publish with a good publisher.

Collecting – Increasing amounts are being published, and there are more students. Despite things being available online, there is an increased usage of libraries, and so libraries have a space problem. In the old days, with print books, you never knew when a book might go OP and become unavailable, so libraries used to purchase “just in case”. There are more choices now, and libraries can purchase “just in time”, as the need arises, and in whichever format is the most appropriate. Libraries still buy print books, but there is more sharing amongst institutions. We are moving away from the number of books on shelves being a measure of value for the institution towards looking at the number of books a library can make available.

Cataloguing adds value for the library, and Chris thinks libraries would be willing to pay publishers to add good metadata to make sure books are discoverable. Libraries have trained, skilled people who could help with this! This would be valuable for both libraries and publishers. Libraries are looking for new and smart ways to use their budgets to make more books open, and Chris supports initiatives such as Knowledge Unlatched.

Discussion and audience Q&A:

Anthony Watkinson – In the US they have the Mellon Foundation who supply significant levels of funding. Where is our Mellon? Where will the money come from?

Answer from Michael Jubb: struck by how conservative the US publishing landscape remains, despite 20 years of Mellon initiatives.

Answer from Marilyn Deegan: Mellon seems to support two kinds of projects, either boutique projects for a single book, or large infrastructure projects, many of which are in partnership with libraries. We in the UK need to focus on what we actually need.

David Sweeney, Research England – Thanks particularly to Michael for an excellent piece of research. However, the challenges highlighted in the report are very scholar-centric. This sits uncomfortably with the AHRC focus on scholars developing a wider influence in the UK as a whole. The breadth of the contribution of our research to our national culture needs to be as important for humanities scholars as it is for science.

Answer from Michael Jubb: lots of sympathy with that view, which is why the report emphasises the importance of quality of research output, and that the book should be a partnership between the author and the machinery of publishing (ie dissemination).

Conclusion:

Shearer West, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Sheffield –

This is a huge subject, so to finish, and inspired by Jenny Holzer and her “Truisms”, which are short statements encapsulating sometimes uncomfortable truths, here are 10 statements:

  • Libraries have adapted more radically to changes in the digital environment than either publishers or academic authors.
  • The reports are relatively silent on readers, apart from noting that both students and academics prefer hard copy academic books to digital ones, but with little indication as to why.
  • The desire to get published by well-known university presses appears to be as much a concern about academic reputation than a concern about rigorous peer review. The brand becomes a proxy for quality.
  • The continuation of the print book is increasing supply led rather than demand led.
  • Supply chain complexities mean that publishing is a discrete set of processes and services rather than a single event.
  • The sluggish pace of open access developments in monograph publishing suggests that the right audience for an academic book is more important to authors than a large audience.
  • True Innovation in the format of academic books is not scalable.
  • There is increasing strain in the relationship among stakeholders in the academic book supply chain.
  • It is more difficult to preserve digital books than physical ones.
  • The hard copy book serves as a monument to the author.

Promoting your academic book with a blog post

Has your publisher asked you to write a blog post for your book? If so (or even if they haven’t) I would encourage you to do so. Having spent so long writing the book itself, it is worth spending two or three hours on something which will persuade people to read it. If you want help to get started, or even to convince yourself that it’s actually worth doing, read on…

Writing a blog post is a great way of making your research more discoverable to others. As the author you are the expert on your book, so it is more effective if the post is written by you rather than by your publisher. A blog post provides an opportunity for you to highlight the key findings and features of your book in more detail than the standard book jacket or website blurb allows. There are no absolute rules about how long a post should be, but 500 to 1000 words is usually about right.

Blog posts should be readable and informative, and the aim is to encourage people to seek out the book by highlighting key points of interest.

In a blog post, you can reach beyond your peer group, and the text should be made as accessible and readable as possible with this in mind. Librarians and others outside your specific sub-discipline need to be able to judge whether your book is of relevance to them.

The information here is intended to provide guidance and advice to help you prepare a post.

Where do I start?

You have probably already produced an overview of your book in its introduction, so one option is to review and re-purpose this.

Or, you could use a Q&A format for the blog post, which is a good way to highlight specific aspects of the book, and which also produces text in short chunks which are easy to scan on screen.

A third option is to produce something completely new, which might be good if you want to write about something related to the book or to your wider research. For example, you might want to focus on a related conference presentation or discussion.

Re-purposing the book’s introduction

The introduction to your book is likely to contain a lot of text which can be re-used in a blog post, but is likely to benefit from a reduction of the word count and some re-ordering. People have short attention spans when assessing content online. They will scan quickly to see whether it’s of interest, so you should start with the most interesting information, presented succinctly. After that, once you have their attention, you can expand on your main points and ideas. You may find it easier to write the expanded text first, then write the succinct overview, which you can then place as your first paragraph.

Once you have some basic text, you can expand on it by adding extra content, for example illustrations or photographs, and by providing links to additional information or resources.

Some pointers:

  • Start with a short paragraph explaining why the book is interesting and what the key conclusions are. Make an immediate impact. Hit them with the good stuff first.
  • Follow this up with a few paragraphs expanding on the main ideas and arguments. Draw the reader in and provide a bit of context. Keep it interesting.
  • Perhaps include some personal comments about your reactions to your findings. Did something in your research surprise or delight you? Have you had any notable feedback from others that is worth sharing?
  • Aim for clarity and conciseness and keep complex vocabulary to a minimum. The reader may not be a specialist in your field (for example they may be a librarian or bookseller) or they may not have English as their first language.
  • Do not include information about your methodology or a review of how your findings fit into the wider literature. Concentrate on telling your story.
  • Come up with a narrative headline for your blog post, one which conveys your essential message. It is often easier to write the headline last, once your post is complete.

Further reading: Patrick Dunleavy has a very useful article on Medium about how to convert a journal article into a blog post, which contains some excellent and wide-ranging advice.

Using a Q&A format for your blog post

Many blog posts use a Q&A format, and it’s easy to see why. It provides an onscreen layout that is easy to scan, and the discussion element brings the text to life. It’s also easier to write, because the questions act as a prompt and help to kick start the process of formulating answers.

For a blog post relating to a scholarly book, try these questions for starters (but feel free to add your own):

  1. What is the main argument presented in your book?
  2. Can you summarise what your book is about? What are its findings?
  3. What inspired you to write this book?
  4. What was the most surprising or exciting thing that you discovered during your research?
  5. What impact do you hope that this book will have?
  6. What are you currently working on?

Sample blog posts with a Q&A format:

Author insights – Gavin O’Toole

Five minutes with Paul Dolan

Writing a blog post from scratch

Writing a completely new piece of text for your blog post is in some ways the hardest thing to do. But it can also be the best option. It gives you the opportunity to talk about one particular aspect of your book, or perhaps something related but which didn’t quite fit into argument or narrative of the book itself. You might want to write about how your book has been a catalyst for a new direction in your research.

Tips:

  • Make it interesting! Why will a reader be drawn to your text? Highlight the best bits.
  • Have a focus, a key idea, and structure the post around that. Make sure the blog post title reflects the main idea.
  • Have an idea of what you want the reader to do once they have read the post. Do you want them to click through to more information about the book, or to buy it? Do you want to direct them to further reading or supplementary material? Do you want them to find out more about you and your research? Add links that enable this.

An example: Global Capitalism, Fan Culture, and (Even) Stranger Things

General blog post tips:

  • Short paragraphs are good, as are short sentences and bullet pointed lists. Remember that people want to quickly scan the text before deciding whether it’s worth spending time reading in more detail.
  • Include keywords that are relevant to your argument, but not to the extent of damaging the readability of your text. Concentrate on conveying your message and making your meaning clear.
  • Add links to related information or online resources. Google judges the quality of blog posts partly on which other online information they link to (and which link back to them). Links to university pages are particularly valuable.
  • Add images or photographs. Visual elements make the post more attractive to the eye and help to break the text down into smaller, scannable chunks.
  • Tell people about your post by sharing a link on Twitter, Facebook or other networks. If you tweet, include a hashtag such as #twitterstorians to broaden your reach.

Still not convinced? Read these…

Why should academics use social media?

Are you skilled in the dark art of social media?

Yes, Serious Academics Should Absolutely Use Social Media

 

Some Thoughts about Impact (and Open Access) for Humanities and Social Science Publishing

My background is in Humanities and Social Science publishing, and that’s the key area of focus for the majority of university presses. Attending a couple of sessions on Open Access and Open Science at the London Book Fair last week reminded me just how different things look from the perspective of the STEM subjects and the major journal publishers. A session on crossover academic books, and an inspiring talk from the founders of the new Goldsmiths Press brought some other thoughts into play too. A common theme was impact.

For academics, the measure of success is prestige. Have you changed the conversation? Have you changed the world? This idea came up in the session on the crossover book (the academic book that crosses over into a wider market). Penguin Press has published serious books by academic authors which have sold more than 100,000 copies. The question was posed in the session: as an academic why wouldn’t you want to reach 100,000 readers? If you want your work to have real impact in the world make sure you write well and concentrate on communicating your message. Penguin is highly selective in its commissioning, but then really gets behind the marketing for each of its books. Its academic authors include Daniel Kahneman and Paul Dolan. These authors have genuinely made an impact, and the huge success of their books must bring fantastic prestige to their institutions. I was left pondering the contrast with Open Access publishing, through which as much research as possible (rather than selected research) is made available (rather than actively promoted).

With the rise of Open Access, there is a commercial imperative to issue as much OA material as possible. This was from the “What is a Publisher Now? It’s Open, but where on earth is it?” session. Funders are providing money for Open Access publishing, and publishers seem very happy to take the money. A lot of money is being poured into the development of new platforms, and the big publishers are becoming content providers rather than book and journal publishers. With more and more research being published, discoverability is becoming a key issue. Metadata and semantic search are buzzwords. Is there an element of re-inventing the wheel here? Google is the expert in semantic search, and Google is widely used by academics for search purposes. In the future, will scholars search within several different platforms to find what they’re looking for, or will a single search portal (like Google) become dominant?

In STEM subjects, articles rather than books are the dominant form. Article Processing Charges for OA mean that there is a shift in where the value is perceived to lie, away from the journal (the publisher) and towards the article (the author). Articles can be published before the journal publication date. There is a move towards article-level metrics, which would mean that prestige (the academic’s measure of success) is tied in with the impact factor of the article, rather than the journal as a whole. In this scenario, what is the purpose of the journal? What is the purpose of the publisher? Are they now simply platform developers?

The fact that for STEM subjects OA is moving towards content held on platforms provides challenges for research that does not fit into the journal article mould (aka books!). Rupert Gatti (Open Book Publishers) and Lara Speicher (UCL Press) both spoke of the difficulties of finding the right business model and of getting Open Access books to the reader. Open Access books typically have free versions and also paid-for versions (for example you can access the pdf free online, but you can also pay to buy a print edition). Retailers (such as Amazon) and library suppliers are happy to list information about the books on their systems, but they don’t label them as being Open Access. So how does the reader know that a free version is available? Open Access book publishers need to find new channels. Publisher platforms, websites, OAPEN, DOAB and social media were all mentioned. For smaller publishers, without the scale and finance to develop sophisticated platforms like the mega-publishers, and without the routes to market provided by established commercial distributors, this seems very challenging. It’s often repeated that making books available as Open Access does not have a detrimental impact on sales of the print or ebook versions. I’m now wondering whether this is significantly influenced by the fact that distributors who sell the book do not mention the OA version. Are buyers ordering books through their usual channels not even aware that they’re paying for books that are OA? As OA becomes more widespread, surely this will change?

The newly launched Press at Goldsmiths is format agnostic. They are taking a critical attitude to Open Access, not saying yes, not saying no. For co-founder Adrian Driscoll, a key issue is sustainability. Open Access is very reliant on continued funding, which seems risky for a university (and therefore a press) which has a liberal arts focus. Sarah Kember, the Publishing Director, wants to think about different communication formats that are suited to subject specialisms which include arts and performance. She thinks Open Access does not work for the liberal arts. OA belongs to the STEM subjects, and publishers’ systems are being developed for those subject areas where the article is the main communication vehicle.  Goldsmiths Press wants to push the barrier between academic and trade, to focus on the needs of authors and scholars and on supporting the aims of their institution. They are asking whether impact can be measured in new ways.

Advocates of Open Access talk about increasing the impact of research, getting it read by more people. The speakers in the crossover books session were talking about that too. Mathew Lyons spoke about it being important that academic humanities should be a vital contributor to the national conversation and be part of the wider political and cultural debate. Sarah Kember from Goldsmiths spoke about finding the best way to maximise impact for different areas of research. There seems to be wide agreement about the importance of impact, of changing the conversation.

At the University Press Redux conference In Liverpool in March, Mandy Hill from Cambridge University Press expressed a worry that Open Access might mean that some research might not be able to be published. I read a tweet from a librarian who was in the room, reacting to this idea with astonishment, and thinking that he must have misheard. But there are costs associated with publishing research, whether those costs are paid by the publisher, by institutions or by external funders, either through processing charges or through funding a university (or library) press. If institutions and funders are paying article and book processing charges, and the publisher is supplying a content platform instead of making commercial decisions about what to publish and what not to publish, where will this lead? For research which may not have an immediately apparent commercial value (STEM research receives a lot of commercial funding, humanities and social science research does not) will there be a limit to how much will receive OA funding for publication?

Liz Allen from F1000Research spoke about the outbreak of the Ebola virus providing a strong impetus to get the latest research published fast. Open Science is ideal for this kind of research and information sharing. But maybe a different approach is more suitable for the communication of humanities and social science research, one that is more focused on proactively engaging with the national conversation, communicating ideas and research in ways that will advance culture and policy.