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Knowledge Unlatched – New Initiative with Open Access in the Loop

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Knowledge Unlatched

Open Access publishing is a rapidly expanding market, generating new types of activities and business models. Since this emerging framework involves many different stakeholders, their vested interests are bound to clash. Is it possible to reconcile the conflicting interests of authors, publishers and libraries, and encourage them to work together towards a single Open Access model? Knowledge Unlatched is a project that specifically aims to solve this issue.

Knowledge Unlatched was developed in London by Dr. Frances Pinter and Dr. Lucy Montgomery. Their aim was to build a platform to facilitate the cooperation between scholarly authors, publishers and libraries within an Open Access model.

In order to achieve this, Knowledge Unlatched focuses on the key relationship between the publisher and the library. Publishers who agree to issue scholarly books (or ebooks) in the Open Access model would see Knowledge Unlatched bear the fixed costs that come with this process. In turn, the necessary funds for the project are provided by library partners. This simple procedure can greatly benefit both parties.

First of all, participating libraries have an opportunity to help select the material being published (i.e. part of their future content). This close relationship with publishers would allow them to allocate their funds more effectively. In addition, a larger number of libraries joining the project would considerably reduce their individual publishing costs. Moreover, depending on their financial contribution, libraries would also benefit from additional discounts on the finished product.

What is more, this strategy also lowers costs for publishers, since libraries share financial responsibilities with them. Besides, publishers still have the possibility to substantially increase their profits by offering their products to additional clients.
The Knowledge Unlatched website outlines this approach as such:

1. A title fee is paid to publishers to cover the fixed costs of publishing scholarly books.
2. In return, publishers make books available on an Open Access basis.
3. Publishers agree to sell print copies or ebooks to member libraries at a discounted price.
4. Publishers sell to the rest of the market on their own terms.

Last but not least, authors would greatly benefit from having their works distributed across all participating libraries, as it represents a convenient way for them to spread their work and reach a wider audience. Along with this come all the benefits of being published in an Open Access model.

However, I wonder about the distribution of loads in the project. At first sight, it seems that libraries will have to pay a lot for it. They have to cover the title fee and then buy books from publishers. Of course the situation has a number of significant benefits, some of which are mentioned above, but do the perks outweigh the potential costs? Well, actually everything will depend on how many libraries join the program. The more libraries join, the lower the cost for each library will be.

Personally, I think that a project like this, which tries to promote cooperation between libraries, publishers and authors, has never been launched before. I’m not sure if the model of Knowledge Unlatched will be widely adopted any time soon, but it is quite an interesting offer, which is worthy of attention and further analysis.

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  1. Hi Maria –

    Its fantastic to see that you guys have noticed Knowledge Unlatched! Thanks for writing such an informative blog.

    A really important part of the Knowledge Unlatched model is that we are trying to encourage a vibrant market that includes Open Access versions of scholarly books to form.

    We think that the most effective way to achieve this will be by helping libraries to maximize the positive externalities of what they are doing already: selecting and purchasing good quality books!

    The Knowledge Unlatched Title Fee will mean that publishers don’t need to load all of their origination costs onto a hardback version (what currently happens). As a result, the approach has the potential to encourage prices for books to move down, lowering barriers to the adoption of print on demand and giving publishers room to experiment with lower prices more likely to appeal to wider audiences. Of course, you already noticed that Open Access digital versions often stimulate demand for other formats, so publishers have everything to gain from being involved in the KU program.

    Knowledge Unlatched will not require all member libraries to purchase every title it offers. Instead, it will provide member libraries with a catalogue of titles from well-respected publishers. Librarians will choose the titles they want in their collections and the format that would be most useful for them. Some libraries will be happy just to have the open access versions. But others will want to take advantage of hefty discounts on physical copies and premium digital versions. Even if a library chooses both the unlatched version and a premium version, the total should still add up to less than they already pay.

    So, really, this model is less about cozier relationships between publishers and libraries and more about using an open access approach to get the market for scholarly books working more effectively.

    Very Best –

    Lucy Montgomery (Research Director for Knowledge Unlatched)

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