Moving towards OA: Addressing opportunities and challenges for OA books

Research Publishing
By: Rosalind Pyne, Wed Sep 30 2020

For authors in the humanities and much of the social sciences, the scholarly monograph is the pre-eminent means of communicating research. The monograph allows the space to fully explore and contextualize a topic that short-form outputs can’t provide. And yet while the policy and infrastructure for a journals open access (OA) future have been developing at pace, monographs risk being left behind in the drive towards open research. Springer Nature is committed to open research, and we believe the opportunities and benefits it brings should be available to book authors as well. But why is it taking so long? What are the challenges in this transition for book authors, and how can we, as a community, better support engagement with, and uptake of, OA for books?

Funder Engagement

One reason that monographs lag behind in the drive to OA is the lack of funder engagement. For journals, funder consortia such as cOAlition S and the Open Research Funders Group are setting challenging OA targets, and publishers are devising innovative models to transition their journal portfolios. By contrast, funder support for OA books is - with a few notable exceptions - limited and fragmented. Institutions, in turn, are much more likely to provide OA funding for journal articles than for scholarly books. Without policy engagement and the funding to back it up, only a fraction of scholarly books can be published OA. 

Lack of Awareness

Another challenge in expanding OA for books is the lack of awareness and understanding on the part of book authors of this mode of publishing. In our 2019 survey of book authors’ views on OA, 41% of authors who had not previously published an OA book told us they were not familiar with OA. Authors were concerned that OA books were perceived as being of lesser quality than non-OA books, and were also worried about some aspects of OA licensing and about print availability. While ultimately we may need policy changes from funders to truly normalise OA for books, there is still much we can do in the meantime to change attitudes. We at Springer Nature are playing an active role here, seeking to ensure OA is seen as the book publishing option of choice, and smoothing the path to publishing an OA book.

Building the body of evidence on OA book publishing

One powerful way of increasing interest in OA books is to demonstrate the benefits that they can bring to authors. Our 2019 survey showed that reaching a wide audience is a key motivator for researchers when publishing a scholarly book. For authors who had published OA books, reaching authors in low-income- and lower-middle-income-countries was particularly important. OA should help books reach their widest possible audience. This seems intuitively true, but where’s the evidence? We recently released a white paper, "Diversifying Readership through Open Access", which seeks to address this knowledge gap. We provided data relating to 4,000 books, of which 281 were open access, to the COARD team at Curtin University. Their analysis shows that OA books achieve on average 10 times more downloads and 2.4 times more citations than non-OA books, and are read in 61% more countries, including a large number of low-income- and lower-middle-income-countries. OA books really are living up to their promise.

Providing practical support

We are aware that change doesn’t take place overnight, and that it requires practical support. We remain committed to addressing author concerns and questions in order to increase engagement with OA. With this in mind, over the last year and a half we’ve been working with the OAPEN Foundation to devise a new resource for authors, the OAPEN OA Books Toolkit. The toolkit is a free-to-access, stakeholder-agnostic resource that aims to help authors better understand OA for books and to increase trust in OA book publishing. It provides an introduction to OA for books, explaining terms and setting out the benefits of publishing OA, and features primers on key topics such as policy and funding, how to choose an OA book publisher, Creative Commons licensing, third-party rights, how to maximise readership, and metrics and impact. The articles in the toolkit were written by a global group of stakeholders, and it will be a living resource, with regular updates from its Editorial Advisory Board; we encourage feedback. We hope it will enable more authors to publish their books OA, and prove an indispensable tool for institutions supporting their researchers.

Open research is one of the major forces reshaping the way that researchers communicate and collaborate. We’re committed to supporting open research and enabling our authors to take advantage of all it has to offer. This includes scholarly books as well as journals. Central to making the transition to an open future is, we believe, the ability to bring together diverse skill-sets and viewpoints to a common good, as exemplified in the two projects discussed here. We are starting to make substantial strides forwards, and look forward to further fruitful collaborations to ensure that the scholarly monograph has the OA future it so richly deserves.

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.