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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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The most well-known, although neither the most common nor the only, way of providing gold open access to research material is through article or book processing charges (APCs/BPCs). These are problematic in some disciplines where most research work is unfunded (hint: the social sciences and the humanities). It also tends to concentrate costs/risk. To clarify: it is not, in these instances, about paying to bypass quality control. It is paying for the labour of publishing as a service to the author so that research material can be made openly available to read and re-use.

Stuart Lawson contends that the UK’s Finch Report, acting on incorrect and outdated information, has now created a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby a narrow range of £1,600-£2,000 has become the norm for APCs. For books, there is a greater range but a much higher cost. The current rates requested by established presses under such a system are high and pose real, possibly insurmountable, challenges for unfunded research: $2450/chapter from de Gruyter; €640/chapter from InTech; £5,900 from Manchester University Press for books of up to 80,000 words; £11,000 from Palgrave; and approximately €15,000 from Springer, to name but a few. [UPDATE: de Gruyter contacted me on social media to say that they charge a flat BPC now of €10,000 per book. The original source from which I derived this information was a Palgrave comparative FAQ.]

Given how keen some publishers (and the UK government, who loves OA for its market perspectives) are on market phenomena, I have a question: why has nobody considered financing schemes to spread APC/BPC costs over a longer period of time? After all, in other market environments, if I want to buy something expensive, I have repayment schemes over a longer term thrust at me. I’m not told: “oh, I’m sorry, it’s not viable for us to sell you a sofa, the model doesn’t work”. Instead, I am given the option (albeit with profitable interest for the company) to repay this over an often-lengthy period. What about spreading a book payment charge, or an article processing charge, over a 5-10 year period (matching inflation, perhaps)? Maybe, at the end of each year, if publishers wanted, they could offset future payments against sales revenue from selling print copies.

What might it look like for a book over a 10-year repayment? That’s a long time, you might say. But we’re constantly being told that humanities journals and books have a longer half-life, with greater usage over a longer period, so why not pay for it over a longer term?:

Publisher BPC Cost per book per year
Palgrave £11,000 £1,100
MUP £5,900 £590
Springer €15,000 €1,500 (~£1,114)

Why hasn’t a publisher thought to try this? Who will be the first? This might actually make a transition viable…