Martin Paul Eve bio photo

Martin Paul Eve

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

Email Books Twitter Github Stackoverflow MLA CORE Institutional Repo ORCID ID  ORCID iD Wikipedia Pictures for Re-Use

This week, cOAlition S endorsed the Subscribe to Open (S2O) business model.

This group of international funders is committed to a complete transition to open-access publishing. To date, critics have claimed that the cOAlition has been too wedded to the (inflationary) Article Processing Charge business model, although Plan S is theoretically neutral on this matter. However, coupled with their recent publication on “Diamond” OA, this endorsement marks a milestone for open access without author-side payments.

I am, of course, delighted at this news. The Open Library of Humanities (OLH), which I run, has planned and used a collective business model of the “S2O” variety since 2013. The only difference is that OLH has no threat to revert to a subscription model if libraries do not participate. We would, instead, close down. Nonetheless, the growth of OA membership models feels like a vindication of the argument I have been making since 2014 (and others had made before). Namely: In many disciplines, author-facing charges for open access are unjust and will not scale. However, the distribution pattern of libraries paying for “subscriptions” to enable open access will work.

There is still an additional piece to the puzzle that needs to slot into place. We know that cOAlition S will turn its attention to books later this year. Crucially, books exacerbate the problems of cost-concentration in author-facing charges because they are expensive to produce. If we think that £3,300 is expensive for an article processing charge, we will be shocked at the requisite payments for books. Scholars in the humanities do not usually have project-specific funding. They conduct their research using ongoing institutional funding, such as QR from the UK’s REF. This situation makes it very hard to come by book processing charge funding. Such scholars will not be able to find £11,000 per book locally.

To avoid this danger, I have been working, at COPIM, on models for open access to books that do not require author-side payments. Our Opening the Future scheme is converting university presses to collective funding models for open access to books. With the Central European University Press, we are demonstrating that it is possible to implement equitable funding schemes for OA. Indeed, our model looks a little like a Subscribe to Open scheme, except for books.

We are still in the early stages of Opening the Future. We have reached the target of our first books with the CEU Press. However, there is still a long way to go. I hope, though, that this recent focus on equitable business models will play a role in cOAlition S’s thinking when it turns to monographs. I remain as committed to an OA future as ever and I want to reach this future as soon as possible. However, to get there, we need to pay attention to funding distribution and the thorny economics of monographs.

Given the recent endorsement of S2O, I feel hopeful that the funders understand many of these challenges. We also need libraries (and academic faculty) to recognise that we must now shift expenditure from building local collections to funding global open books. With the success of pilots will come the normalisation of collectively funded OA. This transition can only be a good thing for the visibility of research in the humanities disciplines, provided that the models under which we achieve it are equitable.