MIT Press’s Direct to Open, part two: Determining success and incentives

Part two of our deep dive into the MIT Press’s new sustainable framework for open access monographs, with the Choice Authority File podcast

In March 2021, we announced the launch of Direct to Open (D2O), a sustainable framework for open access monographs. D2O moves professional and scholarly books from a solely market-based, purchase model where individuals and libraries buy single eBooks, to a collaborative, library-supported open access model. Instead of purchasing a title once for a single collection, libraries now have the opportunity to fund them once for the world through participant fees.

Recently, Emily Farrell, Library Partnerships and Sales Lead at the MIT Press, and Greg Eow, President of the Center for Research Libraries, appeared on the Choice Authority File podcast to talk about the model and the opportunity it presents. Their conversation was distributed as a four-part podcast series. Go back and listen to the first episode here.

Listen to the second episode in the series and read along with an adapted transcript below. 

Bill Mickey: The last time we spoke on this program, the Press was examining some of the design criteria for the project—particularly in terms of its impact on existing editorial operations within the monograph publishing process. I'm curious to hear where you landed post-design in terms of the operational structure of the model.

Emily Farrell: It's incredibly important to us to continue to uphold the editorial and production integrity that the Press has. It's central to the program and to ensuring that the high-quality of scholarship that we publish remains. It's something we need to be able to tell to our authors—that there's a huge benefit here in being able to make your work open access. There's the potential for increased downloading and increased citation, potentially. And our acquisitions editors need to be able to reassure our authors that the shepherding process remains the same: Your proposal will still be reviewed in the same ways by your peers, you will see the same copyediting and production processes, and we will still be offering these books in print—because that's incredibly important to our authors as well.

All of those pieces have remained. After assessing everything and moving forward with this model, the real focus is making sure these works are open at publication. And that will happen; assuming success of the model this year and getting library support, we will be immediately opening books next year in 2022.

Bill Mickey: One of the issues with collective action models is being able to maximize participation. Different institutions have different policies, and aligning maximal participation with scalability and equitability is a challenge. How do you see this playing out with your model?

Emily Farrell: It's definitely a challenge. We have been lucky to be working on the model development with Raym Crow—who you spoke with before—who has quite a lot of experience in building collective action models. The design of it takes into account some of these challenges. In one part, there's the pure collective good of making these works open access. At the same time, libraries that support the model will also gain access to the corresponding back catalog of monographs and edited books—which is somewhere around 2,000 titles.

One of the interesting additional appeals of the model for libraries is that we plan to have a commitment window later this year. Once that window closes, if we haven't actually met the threshold we need and we can't make any books open, any library that has agreed to commit to the model will still get that back-file access and will not have to pay for it. There really is quite a lot of incentive, I think, to support the model.

Bill Mickey: Greg, I'm curious to see or hear your perspective on this—particularly as a librarian, but also the consortia aspect of it too.

Greg Eow: One of the challenges in the eBook space, open or not, is that it's complicated at every single level. Whether it's strategy, whether it's workflows, whether it's financing, whether it's licensing issues—it's a really complicated, messy space. One of the most challenging issues is just knowing where to allocate your attention. There are so many different experiments and so many different models, how can you possibly adjudicate where to spend time and attention? I'm really keen for the Center for Research Libraries [to] identify some experiments that we think deserve special attention. I think one of the successes of this model is it can help us continue to change the conversation that libraries are having with publishers.

Bill Mickey: How might collective action fit in with a library's budget or needs?

Greg Eow: You have to assess the value proposition. What are we looking to get from the partnership or experiment? Certainly you need to look at price, licensing terms, and content. But that's not all we should be looking at. We should also be looking at what kind of experiments and partnerships this gets us at the table for; what kind of further conversations this allows us to participate in; what kind of data and metrics this allows us to capture and leverage—not just among publishers, but among libraries—about what our faculty, our students, our users are using and not.

Through this lens, it gets really exciting; how could we not do it? I want to go on this journey with MIT and see where we can go together.

Bill Mickey: Emily, I'm curious to hear what you might have to say about this as well, in terms of conversations you may have already had with prospective partners.

Emily Farrell: We certainly hear that this makes the landscape more complicated or adds an administrative level that we didn't have before. We're not doing this to make things more complicated, but we're doing this because now we can experiment. We've launched our e-books platform, which is what will enable us to push forward this open access program and will enable us to work together with libraries on getting those metrics and assessing how this sort of thing could potentially work.

We [want to] see this push a culture change more broadly that moves us away from worrying about the value of monographs. The value proposition of monographs is still clear when you look at the author side in tenure and promotion practices. But it's also clear that there's not a market fit. We've needed to step outside the traditional model for a good while. In doing it collaboratively, the hope is that we can push through the conversations that focus on the difficulties and find how this investment can be worthwhile. We need to take the chance and take this risk.

At the MIT Press, we have a history of innovative work. Ideally we'd be able to come out the gate with 200 presses doing this at the same time. For libraries, that would be perfect: you don't have to do individual purchasing, you've got them all at once, and everything goes open. But we need proof of concept for this one first, with a real hope that this will be larger.

Bill Mickey: Greg was talking about this being a collaborative effort between the library and the Press in terms of working together in exploring the model. Emily, is the MIT Press ready to be doing that with the libraries that you work with in this first year or so of the experiment, getting the model off the ground?

Emily Farrell: That's what we've been trying to do. In the last four months or so, we've started talking with consortia; the focus for us is trying to work with consortia as partners. We've had some very positive conversations with consortia internationally about how we can ensure that we have put something together that's going to be appealing to their member libraries. During that process, we have gone back and adjusted the model and changed how it looks. We've incorporated different tiering to account for how different countries work, for instance. That has felt quite collaborative.

We're lucky enough to have a close relationship with the MIT libraries and feel there's always an open door in talking about how we can strengthen our effort. The overwhelming feeling in talking to libraries and taking this feedback on board has been that it is collaborative. That's been hugely affirming.

Bill Mickey: Let's dig a little bit more into the model itself. If I were a librarian coming to you, how does this work for me? What are my commitments here? What would I need to do?

Emily Farrell: The model is focused on our monographs and scholarly edited books. We are looking to get commitments from libraries to open the frontlist books. We have about 15 tiering levels in this model, so we really want to try to cater to a particular institution's abilities to fund this model collectively, taking into account collection size and the size of the institution. What a library will do is pledge to support the model, and we'll know by the end of September whether it has been successful. A library can choose to support the whole set of books, or we have also split the list in two to give it just a little bit more of a chance to at least be partially funded. We have a humanities and social sciences collection and we have a STEAM collection.

If we fully fund the humanities and social sciences collection, any amount above the threshold for that collection cascades over into the STEAM collection until that's fully funded. And then above that full collection threshold, funds will be redistributed. So the tiering that a library sees will be the absolute maximum that they will pay for the collections. The pricing, because it's a collective action model, is the lowest it can be for each library, particularly on a per-title basis. It will enable all these scholarly books to be open from publication in 2022, and libraries get the benefit of back-catalog access.

Alongside that, because they will be on our platform, we can provide counter data. Libraries can grab counter stats from our administrative portal whenever they need them. So there will be an ability for us—but also for the library—to monitor how this content is being used and to see the metrics on what their support is doing for this content.

Bill Mickey: In order for this to be considered successful, how many libraries will you need to sign on?

Emily Farrell: We definitely will need a good number of libraries internationally to come on board with the model, but it will depend on how many libraries we see at each level. We're still doing a little bit of finalization and adjustment. We don't know the exact number yet. But we have presented it to some consortia, and we did get some feedback [that we] might want to reduce the number of libraries and increase the fees so that we are making this within reach. That was really helpful feedback to get, because [while] we do want to make this as affordable for libraries as possible, if we're expecting a thousand libraries to come on board, then it's going to make it very difficult for us to get it over the line.

Keep listening with the third episode in the series.

Learn more about D2O or sign-up to become a participating institution

D2O was developed with the generous support of the Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. In the summer of 2021, the Press will release a report on the D2O program that peer institutions can adopt and adapt, with the aim of making it possible for many more scholarly monographs published each year by university and other mission-driven presses to be discovered, accessed, and shared broadly.