In last few years the phenomenon of crowdfunding has spread dynamically across the internet, and Kickstarter is excellent proof that internet users are able and willing to contribute financially to projects which are of interest to them. Projects from Kickstarter gained millions of dollars. But crowdfunding does not just have to be for mainstream products, it can equally be applied to science as well as to Open Access.
A good example of application of this funding model to Open Access is the recently established cooperation between De Gruyter and Unglue.it. How does it work? The mechanism behind this partnership is simple. Users can contribute whatever amount they choose to a title. If a required amount of money is achieved, the book will be freed under Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-ND.
De Gruyter will be offering 100 titles from its e-dition series at the crowdfunding platform Unglue.it. Each title that raises 2,100 dollars at the site will be made available worldwide as open access content. The titles include books from 1958 to 2003, which currently can no longer be ordered. Most books are in German or in English. It is also worth mentioning that Unglue.it was set up to make ebooks free and universally accessible to libraries and individual readers alike.
De Gruyter and Unglue.it have demonstrated that crowdfunding can be applied to Open Access. However, it is worth taking a look at this in the wider perspective.
Crowdfunding has proved to be a successful funding model, but its implementation in science can be difficult and complicated. It is based on a critical mass of users, as well as on an attractiveness and demand for a product. In the case of science, the product is a piece of research, and it may appeal to a narrow group of “customers”. While this group may not be able to achieve the critical mass required for proper research funding, it still does not exclude crowdfunding as an option. In fact, there are many interesting crowdfunding services that specialize in science, such as Microryza.
Microryza is a crowdfunding platform for research. Individuals pool their money until the funding goal is reached. The users who make contributions will gain access to updates and progress from the lab and will have a chance to interact directly with researchers. At the end, they will receive the results of research. Right now, thanks to crowdfunding from Microryza, 12 research projects have been launched and many more are waiting for their sponsors.
The question is whether crowdfunding can be successfully applied to Open Access. In case of OA, the product is an article or a book (the result of research). At some point the number of “customers” may be even smaller than in case of science in general. However, the cost of publishing an OA book or article is relatively low, which may help to gain the required amount of money faster and easier.
Crowdfunding in Open Access may be considered in two ways. First of all, crowdfunding can be an additional business model for OA publishers. It is hard to believe that OA publisher could base its entire business on crowdfunding, but it may gain extra revenue and funds for publishing scientific articles and thus reduce the level of APCs for authors. Of course, an implementation of this kind of solution would not be easy.
Secondly, crowdfunding may be considered from the perspective of an individual researcher who plans to publish research in an Open Access model. In this case, a researcher may raise funds for this purpose by using crowdfunding mechanisms dedicated to that type of need. This way, a researcher may be able to gain money without the help of a university or any other institution. It may be very helpful, especially when grants for publishing in OA are limited or negligible, as in the case of HSS.
Crowdfunding cannot exist without payers. If there are not enough people who want to contribute, the mechanism will fail. That is why crowdfunding has to be properly promoted and must offer users added value. Ultimately, Open Access and crowdfunding seem like an unlikely alliance, since the outcome of OA publishing is essentially free and available to anyone. Therefore, it may prove difficult to find individuals that are willing to pay for a process from which they will not receive anything more than the average non-paying customer would.
Nonetheless, I think that crowdfunding could be an interesting option for Open Access and may help publishers, but mostly authors to publish their works in OA.