OAPEN-UK focus group on open access academic publishing

On TuesdayI took part in a focus group on open access academic publishing at the British Library, organized by OAPEN-UK, the British branch of the Open Access Publishing in European Networks project. Six academics with an interest in open access publishing were asked to consider from the point of view both of authors and or readers various issues around the free, online publication of academic monographs. (Publishers were represented at a parallel meeting earlier in the week.) The remit of the three-year OAPEN-UK project is to consult with publishers, librarians, funders, academics and various other stakeholders, and analyse the most important issues surrounding open access publication with a view to making recommendations based on wide discussion and hard evidence. (The project includes an experimental element whereby thirty pairs of books from various publishers, one open access the other not, will be compared over the course of the three years to analyse the impact on sales, profit, circulation, impact and citation.

In addition to myself, the group included Gabriel Egan (Loughburough), Peter Heslin (Durham), Panu Minkkinen (Leicester), Thierry Rayna (London Metropolitan) and David Zeitlyn (Oxford), and was convened by Ellen Collins (BL) and Caren Milloy (JISC). Some of the major issues that were raised in the discussion included:

  • financial questions surrounding the costs undertaken, tasks carried out and risks taken by publishers, such as commissioning/editing, copyediting and printing
  • the issue of prestige and metrics; the imprimatur brought to a monograph by virtue of having been peer reviewed and accepted by a major publishing house, which is important to scholars seeking tenure, promotion, etc.
  • the difference between basic open access (merely cost-free to read) and full open access (legally free to re-use and distribute)
  • the fact that many of the important intellectual roles in publishing are carried out by other academics, usually for no pay: peer reviewers, referees, series editors, etc. A learned society ought to be just as well-placed to administer this work as a publisher

There seems to have been a lot of interest in the idea of combining the traditional publication of hard-copy (or even e-pub copy) for sale, with a rolling wall allowing open access publication or self-archiving of digital copy perhaps a year or two after the first publication, when almost all the profit a publisher is going to earn has been made. It remains to be seen whether publishers will be as enthusiastic about this model, or whether we will need to continue to see research grants paying publishers subventions to allow open access publication, as happens in some scientific and medical disciplines.

It was a fascinating and rich discussion with a wide range of interest and expertise, and I certainly haven’t done it justice in this brief summary. I look forward to seeing the official report on the OAPEN-UK website.

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