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Open access books funding – Parts Unknown

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According to the Key Challenges of Research Communication – De Gruyter Open Survey, 5% of all academic book authors published one or more book in the so called “author pays” open access model. Among all actual and potential book authors, 15.1% claimed to have access to funds that may be used to cover a fee for publishing an open access book. However, those who provide an exact amount of funding available to them for this goal, are not usually able to pay prices offered by established open access book publishers.

Open access for books seems to be even more in demand than for academic articles. Conventional book publishing models undergo big market pressure, which might result in a virtual extinction of whole fields of research, which are unable to generate books that will become bestsellers. Therefore, in my opinion, finding a sustainable funding model for open access books is one of the most important challenges of today.

Why are books different?

The best known open access funding model is based on money transferred by an author or an institution behind an author to a publisher, in order to cover the cost of a publication. This money is called the “Article Processing Charge” (APC) in journal publishing. The APC based model proved to be successful in the case of academic articles in the fields of biomedical sciences, however, up until now little evidence exists that it might be implemented in other fields, especially Humanities and Social Sciences.

The whole issue might be even more complicated in the case of books. Books are expensive in production. Labour intensive text editing is growing disproportionately with its length, so editing a book is more time consuming and more expensive than editing several academic articles. The high price of book processing makes it harder for authors and their institutions to bear the whole cost of book publication, which in conventional book publishing is divided among numerous libraries. Both non-profit and commercial publishers that publish books in this model charge fees in the range of 5 to 15 thousand euros per book.

How popular are BPCs now?

Having this in mind, we aimed to examine perspectives of an open access book publishing model based on publication fees.

According to our data, only 16 authors in the sample published 1 or more open access book that a “Book Processing Charge” (BPC) was paid for in the last 3 years. This is 17% of authors who published an open access book recently, 5% of all book authors and only 1.7% of all academic authors in our sample. 1 author published 13 books this way in the last 3 years, 2 published 3 of them, and 7 only 1, which gives us 26 books that BPC was paid for (with half of them by one author). These 26 books are 17.1% of all books published in open access by our authors and only 2.8% of all their books.

Therefore we may say that the BPC based model is just a small part of current open access book publishing. Fairly less important for the whole open access books landscape, than APC based model is to whole journal publishing environment.

Unfortunately only 7 of 16 authors provided us an amount that they paid as the most recent publication fee, the rest claimed to do not know how much money was paid for their book. Amounts given by them seem to be low in comparison to the offer of estabilished publishers on the market. They claimed to pay fees of 50, 80, 300, 900, 1000, 1400 and 3000 euros. It is hard for me to say where to find publishers that charge fees from this range for publishing a book.

Future perspectives

We also asked authors if they will have access to money that might be spend on open access book publication fees. This question was asked only to those respondents who published any kind of book in the last 3 years or plan to do so (N=769). Among them 13 (16.9%) failed to provide a valid answer. 15.1% of the rest claimed that they will have access to some funds (including 1% that meant funding from their own pockets only), while 36.9% said that they do not know that, 47.9% stated that they will have no access to money for this goal. Therefore access to funding that might be spend on BPCs is even less common than access to funds that might be spent on APCs.

When it comes to sources of funding available to our respondents, similar to the case of APCs funding, institutions that hire authors are the most important funders (54,3% of authors who have access to any funds claimed to have money from these sources, for 29.8% it was the only source available). Second position is shared by grant money intended to cover publication fees from authors’ own pockets (36.8% of all respondents with funding are able to use these resources).

Is there enough funding?

Among these researchers who claimed to have funding, one failed to answer the question about amount that is avaliable to her/him annually. 53 (46.9% of the rest) said that no amount is specified, 33 (29.2%) answered that they do not know the amount of funding available to them. The remaining 27 researchers (23.8%) provided us exact amounts of funding available to them for BPCs in 2016. The median of these amounts is pretty low, only 1100 euros, much below the range that established publishers charge for book publications. Only 8 researchers claimed to have access to 5,000 euro or more this year on this goal. This is probably the result of the fact that funds available to researchers are scaled to meet the needs of APCs market, rather than to cover book publication fees, which are significantly higher.

Alternative models?

Taken all together, the picture of BPC market is quite disappointing. Books that publication fees were paid for are just a small fraction of the market and it is unlikely to change in the near future, until new sources of funding emerge. However, as we know from one of my previous posts, our respondents were able to publish a significant amount of gold open access books using alternative funding models that do not involve BPCs.

What do these models look like? This is unclear. The only two that we know quite well are a crowdfunding model employed by Unglue.it and a consortium model, represented for example, by Knowledge Unlatched. Both of them operate on a small scale at the moment.

Hence there are no favorites in the competition for a good funding model for open access books. And for sure publishers, activists and policymakers have a huge task ahead in creating a sustainable book publishing environment, that will meet the needs of academic authors and preserve less sexy research subjects from total extinction.

This was the last post with a partial result of our survey. A white paper summing up the whole output will appear here soon. Feel free to verify all my findings, since our data is open.

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