Martin Paul Eve bio photo

Martin Paul Eve

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

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As part of my efforts on Work Package 3 of the COPIM project I am engaged in a project that seeks to convert publishers to business models that will allow them to publish their books openly, without using unaffordable book processing charges (which authors hate and which will not scale).

I am pleased to say that, as of today, we can announce the first press to take the leap: the Central European University Press. The model is called “Opening the Future”, although I preferred my punny title, as above.

How does the model work? It’s a subscription to the Press’s backlist that gets you access 50 titles via Project Muse. But here’s the cunning part: we are going to use the revenue from that subscription to the backlist to fund frontlist titles to become open access. The pricing is ultra-affordable with a combined frontlist/backlist combo aggregate average price of 10.67 EUR (about $12.50 USD) per title per library, if we hit our targets.

What’s good about this? We know - or, at least, in my experience of running OLH, have seen - that there are about 300 or so libraries who will support OA membership schemes. However, there are many many more who will purchase books. By having a subscription to purchase books, we broaden the pool to bring libraries who have not yet funded OA schemes into the fold. They come for the backlist and we hope that they will then stay for the OA. Would I prefer it if the backlist was also OA? Of course I would. But I think it is better, in the short term, to leverage this as a subscription so that we can get new library and institutional funding actors into the OA mindset.

What’s also good about this model is that it scales dynamically. I call this “elasticity”, although others don’t like the term. What I actually mean by it, though, is that the Press will continue to operate exactly as they are at the moment. However, the second we have enough revenue to make a book OA through the scheme, the next book to be published will be made open access. In this way, we don’t need to wait until we have 200 libraries to start making things OA. It can start once we have 8 members (as an example). We’ve also set a target to reach and, when we hit that, the membership fee can come down in subsequent years.

To whom do we owe this? I cannot stress enough that libraries who support pure OA presses are doing an immeasurable good in the world. Both Open Book Publishers and punctum books, for example, have membership schemes. We took massive inspiration from their efforts. Please, do support these presses who have been doing the right thing from day one. I have published a book with OBP and my next book is going to punctum. I personally donate to both of these presses (punctum, monthly; OBP, yearly). Of course, my own experience at OLH has also informed my thinking here.

What happens at renewal? Of course, the question becomes: once everything is OA, won’t libraries drop out? They might. But if the revenue isn’t there, then the press continues to sell books, just as they did before. The OA is contingent on ongoing financial support to make it possible. We’ve sweetened the deal here in that, on renewal after a three-year term, libraries get perpetual access to DRM-free versions of the 50 titles they subscribed to in the first round. However, at some point that will run out. By that point, though (in 25 years time!), the idea of OA should be so embedded in the ecosystem that it will be the norm to support it.

But where do I think this might lead? A concern some people have raised is: do we really want lots of mini-deals with small presses? Isn’t it too much overhead? The alternative lies in centralised schemes such as Knowledge Unlatched (KU). Now, KU has done a phenomenal amount for OA books. Just yesterday I got an email saying that over 100 titles had been made OA this week. But there has also been library concern about the selection processes and all manner of kerfuffle over its business model/for-profit status. And, also, though, its affordability. As KU grows, the money poured into it grows ever larger and it becomes questioned on institutional balance sheets. The problem with such centralised models is that as they scale, they look unaffordable compared to individual book purchases.

It is therefore my belief that, if we wish to see a fair transition to open access for books, across the university sector, we need presses to implement these models themselves – models like this one that scale dynamically as the revenue becomes available and that can set us on the right path. That is why, as we go forward, we will be writing up everything that we have done in implementing this model and releasing the software to take pledges, so that others can also take the leap. If we can get this to catch on, we would truly see a sustainable transition to a much better, much more open model of open access to book-length scholarship. There is no reason that small to mid -size university presses, say in the USA, might not adopt this model.

With many thanks to my co-conspirator at COPIM, Tom Grady, with whom I have worked on this! Here we are, pictured below, about to hit 88MPH.

Backlist to the Future