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Will Open Access Save the Monograph?

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When it comes to publishing, the humanities and social sciences have slightly different customs than other disciplines. One of these traditions is the publishing of monographs, whose format allows researchers to fully express arguments built on years of research. However, the results presented in such publications are becoming increasingly less accessible.

Both the high publishing costs of monographs and the on going cuts in library budgets have led to diminishing numbers of monographs being purchased by institutions, thus resulting in fewer readers having access to them. The following data from Research Information confirms this trend:

In the last 10 years, library print book purchasing expenditure has declined from 11.9 per cent of their overall budgets in 1999 to 8.4 per cent in 2009 (RIN, 2010). The average number of sales of monographs to libraries has declined from around 2,000 in 1980 to around 200 in the early years of this century (Willinsky, 2009).

However, there are ways in which the Open Access model could compensate for these diminishing figures. OAPEN-UK, the open-access monograph project, explores such possibilities as well as other monograph-related issues. Working with publishers, academics, learned societies, research institutions and libraries, this project aims to assess which monographs ought to be published, depending on factors such as economic viability, etc. The results are expected by the end of 2014.

Yet the main issue, namely an increasing lack of access to monographs due to a shortage of funds, still needs to be addressed. Within the Open Access model, payment is introduced at the beginning of the distribution chain rather than at its receiving end. In the case of OA monographs, readers do not need to look for them in libraries and in turn, the latter do not have to pay to access them. Moreover, promotion costs are considerably reduced, since the works already benefit from unrestricted Internet circulation. But more importantly, this free flow of information opens up a world of scientific findings to the general public.

The actual format of OA books should also be taken into account. Even though it may appear sufficient to provide works in PDF and HTML format, the implementation of an additional standard like EPUB may contribute to a better dissemination of e-books since it is the format of choice for users of contemporary technologies such as readers, tablets and smartphones. Finally, another key factor in determining the popularity of the book is choosing the correct license under which it will be used and distributed.

From this, it is clear that Open Access could have a rather positive impact on the humanities and social sciences. While in-depth investigations like OAPEN-UK are being carried out, lowering costs and increasing access to monographic publications are already contributing to the dissemination of academic knowledge within the scholarly community and beyond.

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  1. Knowledge Unlatched is an attempt at solving this problem by creating a global library consortium that will collectively pay the fixed costs of producing a monograph in exchange for publishers posting the monograph online on a Creative Commons license. Publishers will be able to carry on selling print and enhanced digital versions. See for more information.

  2. Hi Kamil –

    Lucy Montgomery from Knowledge Unlatched here. Its great to see that Open Science knows about us. Thanks for providing the link to the blog entry!

    I have posted a few comments under the Open Science blog post on Knowledge Unlatched.

    We have taken the position that a vibrant market for books that includes the availability of full text OA versions is the best way to help authors to maximize their impact and to encourage physical copies and premium formats to be made available at prices that everyone can afford.

    Ensuring that librarians are still able to choose which books they would like to include in their collections is a very important part of this. Knowledge Unlatched is attempting to structure its approach so that publishers are encouraged to compete to offer the highest quality products (including OA versions) at the best possible prices.

    The discounts offered to participating libraries will reflect their contribution to the open access version – so there won’t be any double dipping!

    Anyway, please take a look at the comments I have added under your site’s blog on Knowledge Unlatched.

    And let us know if you have any questions about what we are doing!


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