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MIT Press’s Direct to Open, part one: Exploratory phase no more

Part one 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.

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

Bill Mickey, Host: Emily, give us a refresher of the MIT Press’s recent efforts to pursue open access publishing, but specifically the project that’s emerged from the grant from the Arcadia Fund.

Emily Farrell: The MIT Press has worked to find innovative ways to make scholarly content in particular more open and accessible. And we’ve been pretty keenly aware that books have been somewhat left behind in the picture of open access and accessibility, very broadly speaking. We have been participating in a number of fantastic initiatives—the TOME initiative, for instance, that has brought together libraries and presses to support monographs. We’ve also received funding from the Mellon Foundation to make some books open in particular subject areas. These have been very important initiatives, but none of those have so far really comprehensively allowed us to make the whole monograph program open. And that’s been something of a conundrum: How do we get there in a way that’s sustainable for the Press, allows us to do what we do in the ways that we think these books deserve, and makes these works more open?

We were lucky enough to get support from the Arcadia Fund towards the end of 2019 to, first of all, make a set of books open. So, we did that immediately; we made some backlist titles open and then used funding to publish some of the frontlist titles last year directly open access. But the real guts of the project were to develop a business model to work out how we can support making frontlist monographs and edited scholarly books open from the publication date. That’s what we’ve spent the last year or so doing—drawing all the data we can together to get a model in shape to put out to the library community.

Bill Mickey: Greg, I’m curious if you’ve had a role in this program at all and how a program like this might line up with CRL’s priorities.

Greg Eow: CRL is just a collective collection—research libraries building collections and stewarding them at the network level. And so having a plan for how you leverage a collective collection like CRL to acquire monograph content in ways that meet the needs of libraries—whether it’s price or licensing terms, or it works well with workflows or in digital preservation aims—is really, really crucial. The more we look at this space, the more we realize that we have to partner more directly upstream with our colleagues in academic publishing to develop business models and sustainability plans so that we’re all successful. We really see university presses and research libraries as being parts of the same mission. This model allows us to change the conversation in some exciting ways between libraries and presses.

Bill Mickey: When we last spoke on this podcast with Emily’s colleagues, the Press was performing a cost analysis studying the market and examining financial and business models that would not only support an OA publishing model, but could also be standardized for any university press to use. That was kind of a neat kicker to this whole program—it’s not just you doing this, but it’s something that could be a model for anyone to adopt. Can you fill us in on what’s happened since then? What were some of the conclusions and major observations that came out of that exploratory phase?

Emily Farrell: At this stage we’re officially launching the model. We have gone through something of an iterative process: taking this analysis that we’ve done, looking comprehensively at revenue streams for monographs and scholarly books; as well as doing as much as we can to look at what libraries are purchasing, how they’re purchasing, examining variations in collection budgets, and trying to make sure that the way that we’re putting a fee structure together for the library community for this collective action model will be in reach and also financially sustainable for the Press to continue with the program. The model is now set to recoup partial direct costs for monographs.

We took into account what we know about the different revenue streams for monographs and our expenses and set a threshold that we are going to have to reach to make this set of books open access. We know that—because of the way that the market currently is—nobody’s used to paying the real market value for these books. So we know that we can’t cover everything with this model, but we are able to, I think, get to a place that is a sustainable threshold and that’s balanced with the number of libraries that we’ll need to support the model. These factors, all drawing together, are based on the data we could look at—costs, revenue, what the market looks like, what libraries are used to paying for books—and then the balance between those. One of the challenges, of course, is that the data is not the cleanest. Books are quite challenging in that regard.

We work with aggregators and, for the last two years, have been offering our eBooks to libraries on our own platform, which has been fantastic. It’s been hugely beneficial in opening up conversations directly with libraries where they would have previously been going through aggregators—but it does mean that the data sources are very different, and there are gaps. We’ve done the best we can to draw all of that together and put together a model that takes into account something that’s more fine-grained than just, say, looking at a set of libraries, placing Carnegie classifications on the top, and going with that.

The model that we’ve built is shareable and will be usable for other presses. We do plan to provide the resources for other presses to take this on. I think that there’s a real need for presses to be able to do this work on their own with the right tools, because we need bibliodiversity. We need different presses doing different things, but to have a shared toolkit is incredibly important to allow other university presses to assess what they have. They know their strengths and can take on this model when they can and where they can and deploy it in the ways that make the most sense to their publishing program.

Bill Mickey: So this model could be considered a collective action model? How would you describe the model and what would you call it?

Emily Farrell: This is a library collective action model. As Greg said as well, the intention is to try to create something collaborative between the Press and libraries where we are solving this issue of openness and financially sustainable models for vital long form research through this collective approach. There are no plans to license the model. It is openly sharable.

Keep listening with the secondthird, and fourth episodes 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.