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Martin Paul Eve

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

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We are at an exciting moment for open-access books. UKRI has announced a forthcoming funding mandate, kicking off in 2024. Plan S funders are deciding what to do about books. And much (if not all) of the dissent around the idea of OA monographs has gone quieter. It seems, at least to me, that more and more people are persuaded that OA books are a good concept… so long as the route by which we get there is equitable.

One of the core ways that we can make open access for monographs equitable is by avoiding book processing charges. These charges scale badly. They are not well distributed between institutions. They exclude those from outside funded projects and wealthy universities in the Global North. They do us no favours in a move towards an open-access world.

Hence, it is encouraging to see a raft of new models for OA books. There’s MIT Press’s D2O scheme, Cambridge University Press’s Flip it Open, the membership models of Open Book Publishers and punctum books. And, of course, the Opening the Future model that I have been working on at COPIM with the Central European University Press and Liverpool University Press.

One of the complaints that I do hear from libraries, though, is that the landscape is becoming saturated with ‘new models’ and is too difficult to navigate. As models proliferate, the legibility and evaluation of such schemes becomes harder.

This is, in some senses, true. Of course, as we see new business models arise, libraries will have to evaluate their expenditure differently between those different enterprises.

However, there is also a danger in this thinking. The temptation may be for libraries to throw their hands in the air, to stand back and not participate, and to declare that it’s ‘too complex’ with ‘too many models’.

Is this really the case, though? Certainly, there are lots of models emerging in the journal space. Subscribe to Open, OLH’s Library Partnership Subsidy (my guilt there), PLOS’s Community Action Publishing, APCs, transformative agreements/read to open in all their various stripes, and others.

In the world of books, though, there aren’t actually that many models so far. Certainly, that could change, but I am really not sure that we can stand back, at this point, and say there are too many. It’s also the case that the book models that have emerged so far are very affordable and represent only a relatively small ask of library budgets.

I feel that saying the world is too complex would, at this point, be disastrous. We need to try out models at this time so that we can avoid the trainwreck of a BPC-only ecology. If early attempts to convert presses to OA fail, right now, it will be used as evidence that open access for books is impossible. We simply cannot afford for that to be the case. We will soon have a world where all natural scientific research is openly available to read… and if the OA for books experiments do not take off, most significant humanities research will remain behind a paywall. This is a bad world for education and equality of access.

I am the author of 10 books (some forthcoming). All 10 of these are set to be open access in the near future (or when published). I never thought it would be possible to get that far with OA, but here we are. But I am the lucky one who got the prize money that would allow me to do this. Most of my colleagues are not in that boat. Now is the time, instead, for us to find fair models for OA for books and thereby to revitalize the humanities publication environment for the digital age.