Background to OAPEN-UK

The primary output of much humanities and social science research, the wide dissemination, readership and reach of the scholarly monograph is critical to fostering a world-class, vibrant and innovative humanities and social science research environment in the UK.

However, the future of the scholarly monograph is not secure. The 2010 Research Information Network’s Trends in the finances of UK higher education libraries: 1999 – 2009 reports that ‘between 2004 and 2009, expenditure on print books fell in real terms by 13% across the sector.’[1] This drop has been further exacerbated by the need for libraries to reduce their monograph collection building in order to maintain funds for journal subscriptions.

This is not a new trend, as print sales of the scholarly monograph have been declining worldwide over the last decade. In the US, between 1980 and 2000, ‘a monograph’s average library sales plummeted from around 2,000 copies in 1980, to 1,000 in the late 1980s, to 500 in the 1990s, to a little more than 200 in the early years of this century.’[2]

The consequences of declining sales include increased title prices, higher production costs and lower print runs. Maintaining the role of the scholarly monograph as a medium to share high quality research across the world comes under pressure as a result.

Open Access (OA) publishing is a model that could simultaneously improve the dissemination and readership of scholarly monographs whilst also helping publishers to maintain a sustainable publishing business. The process of incorporating an open access model into the existing print model with its cost structures, workflows, funding schemes and research processes, is complex and requires research.

A number of experiments and new initiatives are in progress, particularly in the US, to test out different models for OA monographs. In Europe, the OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks) project aims to develop and implement a long term European approach to realising the supply, visibility and usability of high-quality OA monographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The goal is to foster the creation of new content by developing future-orientated publishing solutions, including an OA library for peer reviewed books in HSS.

OAPEN believes that working at an international level is essential to foster change across the whole monograph publishing industry, but in order to develop a sustainable model for OA academic monograph publishing, experimentation and testing is required at a national level.

OAPEN has published the following reports:

Further information on OAPEN is available at: http://www.oapen.org/

In OAPEN’s Summary of Digital Monographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences: Report on User Needs they note that ‘many scholars in the HSS see this newly developing form of publishing as an important contribution to their ambition to share their knowledge and research results with their peers and other potential readers, provided there is sufficient quality control.’[1] In addition, academic libraries strongly support the role of OA monograph publishing in optimising access to their staff’s research and see the role of the institutional repository as supporting this.

The position of publishers varies as highlighted in the OAPEN Summary of Digital Monographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences: Report on User Needs:

‘Academic presses tend to favour both the development of eMonographs and Open Access, under the condition that a business model will arise that makes this practice feasible and economically viable. Commercial publishers are hesitant, pointing to the existence of a still substantial print market and a few outright refusals by some users in particular disciplines to switch to the digital. Other publishers have brought the present structure of the publishing industry into the discussion as well. They suggest a new role for publishers, as academic content providers and developers of services for the scholarly community in the different fields and disciplines, using the broad array of possibilities digital technology has to offer. None of them expects that the role of the publisher will disappear in a digital future, a position shared by the majority of other actors in the field of scholarly communication. Organizing independent peer review and per-forming crucial editing functions remains necessary in the future.’

When exploring OA models, there are three key aspects to the publishing operation[2]:

  1. The Publishing Model – stakeholders and functions of the stakeholders
  2. The Business Model – funding and income generation
  3. The Publishing Process – workflows, formats, platforms (including peer review)

Understanding what each of these aspects involves is still being clarified and in particular, there is much more work to do in establishing viable business models for OA publishing of HSS monographs. It is difficult to establish what a self sustaining OA business model might be, particularly when in the traditional print market, monograph publishing has always been somewhat reliant on funding from institutions and other funders. It may be that harnessing this funding will always be a requirement of an OA business model or it may be that publishing costs become integrated into research costs. Establishing the routes of funding and the impact on the publishing model and the publishing process requires research.

JISC Collections is well placed to explore the open access scholarly monograph model in HSS at a national level. Data collected through the OAPEN-UK project will be shared internationally to develop recommendations and guidelines that can be implemented and to foster change.


[1] RIN. 2010. Trends in the finances of the UK higher education libraries: 1999 – 2009. http://www.rin.ac.uk/uk-libraries-trends

[2]Willinsky, John. 2010. “Towards the Design of an open Monograph Press” Journal of Electronic Publishing 12, no. 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0012.103

[3] OAPEN report. 2010. “Summary of Digital Monographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences: Report on User Needs” http://www.oapen.org/images/D315%20User%20Needs%20Report.pdf

[4] Further information on these can be found in the OAPEN report. 2010. “Overview of Open Access Models for eBooks in the Humanities and Social Sciences” http://www.oapen.org/images/OpenAccessModels.pdf