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Martin Paul Eve

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

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It’s an exciting time in the OA book world because many experiments are coming to fruition. We’ve seen MIT’s recent D2O offering; Michigan has a new membership programme; punctum books and Open Book Publishers are on the go; Springer is piloting a scheme with Berkeley; and our own COPIM-grown Opening the Future (OtF) model is taking off at the Central European University Press, with a second well-known UK University Press set to launch an OtF programme soon.

All of these models are attempts to avoid book processing charges. In my (anecdotal) experience, the number one turn-off for academics around OA for books is the economics of these fees. The distributional economics are just not right.

The challenge, of course, is that libraries may find themselves torn between which initiative to support, or they may feel that they cannot fund multiple efforts. The problem with this logic is that it doesn’t match the existing purchasing ecology. At the moment, libraries buy books from numerous publishers via a number of aggregators, across a range of purchasing models. OA membership models do not obliterate the need to support multiple initiatives.

Where will the money come from to support multiple OA monograph initiatives? It will vary by institution, but I would first note that it is cheaper, under the Opening the Future model, to support the OA route than to buy every new book that the Press publishes. This route saves libraries money. Indeed, if our model works the cost to large libraries will be less than a quarter of closed books equivalents, and even less for small libraries. Second, the amount of money we ask to support this flip is less than half the APC of a journal article at commercial publishers. That is to say that the absolute amount of cash that we are requesting is minimal, compared to the funding that, say, the natural sciences need per article. We are hoping that this absolute level of affordability makes a difference.

That said, it is possibly also the case that libraries may not fully understand the landscape as it is emerging. To that end, I’ve posted a comparison table of some of the different kinds of models. Any mistakes in the characterisations are my fault, although I have tried to consult with stakeholders.

Libraries are possibly also somewhat lost as there is, currently, no central location at which they can find open-access book initiatives with the ability to shop around. My colleagues at the COPIM project are working on this and we hope that such a site will be available in the not-too-distant future.

In all, though: this is a time when many models are blossoming for OA. Will they all work? I don’t know. If we do not, at this moment, though, try, we will forever be at the mercy of book processing charges and a systemic transformation to OA will remain out of reach.


Born-OA presses (e.g. Scholar-led)

Small-Mid Size Transitioning University Presses (e.g. Opening the Future)

Large Transitioning University Presses (e.g. D20)


Upfront fee structure with potential bespoke negotiation.

Upfront fee structure based on Jisc and LYRASIS (Carnegie) banding.

Tiered support fees are based on institution type, size, and budget.

Membership thresholds

Some have membership fee threshold requirements. Others use membership as a second, stable revenue source.

No target threshold of membership fees: members accumulate until enough fees have accrued to publish first title, and so on.

Requires reaching a financial threshold before frontlist titles are released as OA that year. If the threshold for a collection is reached, that collection opens. Any surplus commitments from one collection may cascade to the second collection.

Elasticity of the model

The library contributions remain at a steady rate, or else increase or decrease at the discretion of the press.

As more libraries participate beyond those required for total frontlist conversion, the price will decrease.

If total participation exceeds financial goal at the end of the commitment period, MIT Press will reduce the fees for all participating libraries.

Who might adopt this model

Suitable for born-OA, scholar-led presses who

require a sustainability model and who do not have a non-OA backlist.


Suitable for small to medium -size university presses operating under resource constraint, and with a reasonable number of non-OA titles that can be used as backlist subscription content.

Model suitable for presses with a

strong commitment to OA, and with a number of non-OA titles that can be used as backlist subscription content. Not dependent on backlist size, but backlist size relative to frontlist.


Launching the model

Typically introduced by presses after they have already begun publishing OA books funded by other means (loan, grant, in-kind support etc). The library support thus replaces or supplements existing funding/income.

No upfront direct funding and no budget for cushioning the transition period - releasing OA books is entirely dependent on membership take-up by the library community from the start.

Books only go OA upon reaching the financial threshold. Success is dependent on the library community coming together to support the model.

Running the model

Assumes all new content is published OA.

Assumes that a non-OA production and distribution process will be maintained alongside an OA publishing process (so allowing for a mixture of OA and non-OA publications).

Assumes all new monograph content is published OA conditional on the financial threshold being reached.

Funding OA

Allows the press to earn a steady income, not tied to sales, grants, or BPC charges, enabling it to grow and publish more OA books, hire staff, etc. One off author-side payments (eg: BPCs) are compatible alongside this model.

Allows a press incrementally to move towards OA - if the funding target is not reached then frontlist titles are published in the traditional (non OA) way. Individual author-side payments (eg: BPCs) are compatible alongside this model but would not be collected for books covered under the Opening the Future model.

Participating libraries will receive term access to the backlist/archives even if the model is not successful. These archives will otherwise remain gated. Individual author-side payments (eg: BPCs) are compatible alongside this model but would not be collected for books covered under the D2O model.

Access and benefits

Libraries subscribe to the membership programme to support the press’s work, and receive any benefits the press offers to members (e.g. free access or discounts to formats that the press might otherwise charge for, metadata delivery, OA outreach support from the press’s staff, etc).

Libraries can subscribe to curated packages of backlist books or can choose just to support the OA frontlist. Backlist access can remain perpetual after a period of paid-for term access, or the model could be adapted to feature subscription renewals.

Libraries can choose to support one of two, non-overlapping subject collections or the complete collection. Libraries that commit to support a frontlist collection receive a year’s term access to the corresponding backlist collection even if the frontlist offer does not succeed.