Plurality, partnership and pellucidity — the three ‘p’s of open access monograph publishing

by Caren Milloy (@carenmilloy)

Monographs remain an essential part of the scholarly communications landscape for humanities and social sciences researchers — allowing them to explore ideas in depth and over time, acting as important marker for academic reputation, and often being their primary scholarly output.

But where does the monograph fit into UK government requirements for free and open access (OA) to publically-funded research? While the focus of this initiative has been giving better access and discoverability to the public of scientific research and papers, a question mark hangs over the feasibility of a transition to OA for the academic book.

Research into monographs

This was the driving force for OAPEN-UK, a project funded by Jisc and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which undertook a five-year study into OA monograph publishing in the humanities and social sciences.

Examining the attitudes and perceptions of funders, researchers, publishers, learned societies, universities and libraries, our study reiterated the deep strength of feeling and connectedness that each group has with the monograph, especially in terms of identity and reputation. It also found that while many think open access is a good idea in principle, there is uncertainty about how easy it would be to implement the necessary policies and systems to support OA monographs.

While achieving a coherent OA strategy for monographs is not without its challenges, based on our research we’ve arrived at a series of recommendations that have three core principles at their heart.

We need plurality

Research in the humanities and social sciences is diverse, as is publishing; both the methods by which researchers and their monographs are funded, and the publishing process itself, can take a variety of forms.

This demands a range of OA business models that take into account the subtleties that exist across the research, the monograph and the stakeholder. A single model or one-size-fits-all approach is not sufficient, nor is it the aim.

We are encouraging a plurality of models, which take into consideration the nuances of monograph publishing. These must also be flexible enough to grow and evolve as required. For all stakeholders, that means making their voices heard as we start working on new models, and ensuring they continue to input as we move through the transition

We need partnerships

As well as the various stakeholder groups we consulted who I mentioned earlier, our research highlighted the number of other vendors, third parties and system providers that also needed to be involved in dialogue about open access models for monographs.

Presently, these latter groups exist within an ecosystem whereby performance is measured on delivering paid-for and printed content. Consequently, the current system does not support the distribution and discoverability of OA monographs, and also makes the tracking, identification of trends and impacts of OA hard to isolate.

Continued collaboration, including cross-stakeholder partnership and co-ordinated projects, is crucial in adapting systems and processes to support the effective production, dissemination and discoverability of OA content.

A major part of this will involve identifying each aspect of the book publishing process — from commissioning, third part rights and contracting, to production, distribution, marketing and sales — and working in partnership to develop best practice, standards and new models that everyone can get on board with.

We need pellucidity

The path to OA for monographs is not a smooth one. Various factors interplaying — including recognising that monographs are different to journals, and each other, that there are subtleties in relationships, that a variety of perspectives exist even when you share a common goal; and that many models are better than one — all make for a rather muddled environment.

What’s key as we continue along this road is that no-one is left behind through confusion, misunderstanding or lack of information.

As the debate continues there needs to be understanding and recognition of what is important to each stakeholder, through honest and transparent communications that frame the value proposition for OA monographs based on what is important to them. When knowledge is shared on this basis it helps stakeholders to make informed and considered decisions about business models for OA monographs, which will be backbone of a successful transition.

Join the conversation

We need everyone with an interest in monograph publishing to come together and join the conversation.

Read the report and recommendations, and get involved by contacting me at or following me on Twitter @carenmilloy.

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