Peer into the Crystal Ball: Finding a Place for Open Access Monographs

Thanks to a three-year, $850,000 grant from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, the MIT Press is performing a broad-based monograph publishing cost analysis and will develop and openly disseminate a durable financial framework and business plan for open access (OA) monographs. The Press, a leader in OA publishing for almost 25 years, will also undertake a pilot program to implement the resulting framework for scholarly front and backlist titles.

Recently, Terry Ehling, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the MIT Press, and Raym Crow, a Senior Consultant at SPARC who is working with the Press on its OA publishing model initiative, appeared on the CHOICE Authority File podcast to talk about the project’s progress so far. Their conversation was distributed as a four-part podcast series.

A stream and edited transcript of the third episode in the series—“Peer into the Crystal Ball: Finding a Place for Open Access Monographs”—can be found below.

Bill Mickey: Welcome to The Authority File. I’m Bill Mickey, your host and the editorial director at CHOICE. In this series, we’ve been talking about open access monographs. More specifically, I’ll be joined by two guests from the MIT Press, which, thanks to an $850,000 grant from the Arcadia Fund is embarking on a three-year project to develop a financial framework and sustainable business plan for publishing OA monographs, a business plan that virtually any university press can implement. If the university press mission is to distribute knowledge and research as broadly as possible, then many in the market are increasingly looking to open access as a way to support that mission to its fullest. Print monograph unit sales have plummeted in the last twenty years, clearly impeding that mission and causing presses to be more dependent on subsidies or other subventions as well as trade and journal based editorial strategies to remain viable. Joining me are Terry Ehling, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the MIT Press and Raym Crow, a Senior Consultant at SPARC, who is working with the MIT Press on its OA publishing model initiative. In this final episode of our four part series, we actually go out on a limb and predict the future of OA monograph publishing and how open access monographs could change the dynamic between the press and its institution and the competitive landscape overall.

Bill Mickey: So, because OA is inherently digital, does it need to take into account all of the capabilities that medium entails? We’re not just thinking of replicating print in an OA world are we?

Terry Ehling: No, we hope not. But at this point, no one has agreed yet on what an optimal reader experience might be. There are several notable Mellon-funded projects that are looking into that right now. But you know, UX/UI praxis is still informed by the physical representation of the book. On the PubPub platform that was developed here at MIT, for instance, we’re able to support real time collaboration on an OA HTML-based work, but for the Arcadia program we’re planning to deliver PDFs, which will replicate the printed book. The Arcadia books will be hosted on our own platform, called MIT Press Direct.

Bill Mickey: Okay, and then just looking ahead, when you complete your study and publish a shareable model, what do you hope the impact will be? In a perfect world, how will this potentially change the market?

Terry Ehling: Ideally, the model would be durable enough and attractive enough for adoption by a two sided market, meaning both libraries (customers) and publishers (producers) and so making it possible for many, perhaps most, university presses and not-for-profit publishers, to flip their scholarly book programs to OA. Raym, did you have something to add to that as well?

Raym Crow: Just that success will engender confidence. If one or two presses are able to adopt models that work financially, then other presses that have different risk profiles and maybe aren’t as deeply funded will also be willing to try. And also the various models that get socialized with the market will become easier, less costly, to implement because the libraries recognize them and the presses recognize them, and so the cost of coordinating them or administering them goes down.

Bill Mickey: So Terry, you mentioned the word “flip.” I mean, could this model become the primary model for some publishers or would it sort of live alongside their legacy kind of publishing operation?

Terry Ehling: Yes, I think the conventional and the novel will coexist for the foreseeable future. As far as the future of OA monograph publishing is concerned, I think we’re all looking forward to finding out what models will prevail, and Raym you had some comments on the future as well?

Raym Crow: I agree that it’s going to be a pluralistic market. You’re not going to see one model that just knocks out everything else because there’s just too much variety both on the publisher side and on the market side, but certainly, and especially so, on the publisher side in terms of revenue expectations and their business structure. So, you will see mobile models that align with risk tolerance and all sorts of other things.

Bill Mickey: Okay. So in terms of, for example, the sort of choices that an author goes through and sort of selecting where he or she may want to publish—would that change at all?

Terry Ehling: It could. Some authors, particularly in STEM fields, are very interested in publishing open access. Many have extensive experience with OA journal publishers, so they’re already deeply embedded in the culture of OA publishing. On the monograph side, yes. For instance, historians and those working in traditional humanities fields are a little more circumspect about the benefits and impacts of OA.

Bill Mickey: How about extending that question in terms of dynamics, how might an established OA model change the dynamic between the university press and its parent institution?

Terry Ehling: That’s great question. We hope that a definitive shift to OA by university presses will align our interests more closely with that of institutional libraries. Within the last couple of years many high-intensity research universities have promulgated and codified a set of OA principles and recommendations that are meant to encourage open sharing of knowledge, and to work with others to bring this knowledge to bear on the world’s great challenges. The MIT Press’s efforts, through this Arcadia funded program, is our way of proactively supporting MIT’s commitment to advancing open knowledge and open education. So we’ve been well aligned with our institution for some time, and have been publishing OA books since the 90s. We were one of the first, probably the first publisher, to put the full text of one of our of signature trade books online in HTML, in 1995. And we were, perhaps, the only university press to sign the Budapest Open Access Initiative manifesto back in 2002. So culturally we’ve been inclined in this direction for quite a while.

Bill Mickey: Excellent. Okay, well Terry and Raym, thank you so much for joining us on the program. It was really great speaking with both of you.

Terry Ehling: Thank you!

Raym Crow: Thank you!

Bill Mickey: You just heard from Terry Ehling, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the MIT Press and Raym Crow, a Senior Consultant at SPARC who is working with the MIT Press on its OA monograph publishing initiative. This four part series is brought to you by the MIT Press. If you like what you hear, rate us or give us a review on your podcast platform of choice. And if there’s a topic you’d like us to cover, drop me a line. I might be mickey@ala-choice.org as always, sponsorship and advertising for The Authority File podcast are handled by CHOICE’s advertising manager, Pam Marino, and all of our episodes are produced by CHOICE’s Digital Media Specialist, Mark Dirks, and Digital Media Assistant, Sabrina Cofer. That’s all for this week. Thanks for joining us.