The future of open access books

By: Rosalind Pyne, Tue Jun 18 2019
Ros Pyne

Author: Rosalind Pyne

Director, Open Access Books and Book Policies

Open access book publishing has been growing in recent years. The Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) lists 2,099 open access books published in 2018, an increase of 38% from 20171. Funders are also starting to engage with open access for books: a small number of European funders now mandate open access for books and provide financial support for open access book publication. COAlition S has also indicated that they support transitioning monographs to open access, and will provide guidance by the end of 2021.

At Springer Nature we are committed to expanding the open access availability of scholarly publications. This means not just journal articles, but also books. We were one of the first major publishers to launch an open access option for monographs, back in 2012. We now publish open access books and chapters under our SpringerOpen and Palgrave Macmillan imprints, across a wide range of subjects in science, technology, and medicine (STM), and the humanities and social sciences (HSS), and recently published our 750th open access book.

Given the increasing attention being paid to open access for books, it is crucial that we understand book authors’ attitudes to ensure that any future initiatives are mindful of authors’ specific needs and priorities for their books. An increased understanding of book authors’ attitudes to open access is also vital if we are to effect the cultural and policy changes that will be necessary in order to increase take-up of open access for long-form publications.

While previous surveys have explored academics’ attitudes to open access in the context of journals, there has never been a survey dedicated to understanding the views of book authors on open access.  In February and March 2019, Springer Nature therefore conducted a survey of book authors worldwide. Our aim was to offer a truly global view of book authors’ attitudes to open access, across all subjects.

So, what did we find?

  • The majority of all book authors agree that all future scholarly books should be OA.
  • Immediate open access on the publisher’s platform is authors’ most preferred policy for open access books.
  • Pro-open access attitudes are stronger among junior researchers, researchers based in Europe and Asia, and previous open access book authors.
  • Ethical reasons (equality in access) and reaching a larger audience are identified as key motivations for choosing open access for books.
  • Lack of awareness, concerns about quality, and lack of funding are barriers to open access publication.
  • The majority of authors want more financial support from funders for open access book publication.
  • The top three things authors want to achieve with their books are: to reach a large audience, to increase interdisciplinary discussion and use of their work, and to reach students.
  • Reputation of publishers matters less to open access authors but is still the deciding factor for publication.
  • Print options are still highly valued by authors.

The findings reflect the views of open access and non-open access book authors alike: from the 2,542 participants, 407 authors had previously published at least one open access book, 2,037 authors had not published an open access book, and 98 authors did not know whether they had published an open access book previously.

What are the implications?

  • Authors are positive about an open access future for books, but funding is a barrier. Increased support from funders, as well as a wider variety of routes to open access publication, will be needed if open access book publication is to grow.
  • More needs to be done to increase awareness and understanding of OA, and to reduce scepticism, particularly amongst more senior researchers, and within North America, to accelerate take-up of open access book publication. Senior researchers have particular importance, due to their influence on junior colleagues’ publication decisions and career progression.
  • We need to help allay areas of concern, particularly around the perceived quality and reach of open access books. Publishers should focus on communication about their peer review and quality assurance processes. There is a role for the wider community, too, for example in supporting and maintaining resources such as the OAPEN Library and the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) that have set standards for acceptance.
  • Given low response rates for some regions, we suggest further work to understand author perspectives regionally, particularly in Africa and South America.

We look forward to sharing and discussing our findings, and working with the community to increase take-up of open access for scholarly books. 

You can find more information and a link to the full report here. We have also shared the anonymised dataset on figshare under a CC BY licence.

1. Data from Retrieved May 15, 2019.

Ros Pyne

Author: Rosalind Pyne

Director, Open Access Books and Book Policies

Ros Pyne started her career as a publishing editor at Palgrave Macmillan, and has since worked at Nature Publishing Group and Springer Nature in project management, policy and strategy roles with a focus on open access. She has been involved with OA books for more than five years and is passionate about bringing OA to long-form scholarship and to the humanities. Ros sits on the Universities UK OA Monographs group and is co-author of several reports on open access.