A Response to “The Costs of Publishing Monographs: Toward a Transparent Methodology”

Opinions and policies vary from country to country — and even institution to institution — on how best to fund scholarly communication in general, and open access publication in particular. But certain key data regarding the actual cost of knowledge production is missing, rendering these opinions and decisions less informed than is appropriate for an endeavour at the scale of supporting and sustaining efficient and accessible scholarly communication. In their study “The Costs of Publishing Monographs: Toward a Transparent Methodology” (2016), Nancy Maron, Kimberly Schmelzinger, Christine Mulhern, and Daniel Rossman tackle this issue, with a focus on monographs. They argue that if monographs do need to transition, en masse, to an open access model, than we need to figure out how to account for monograph production costs, even as they oscillate between university presses. In doing so, the authors pursue a tri-partite goal of providing a comprehensive list of the activities needed in order to produce high-quality digital monographs; generating actual data on the current cost of monograph production for university presses; and offering recommendations for general principles to guide said presses in potentially establishing price points for author-side payments for open access digital monographs, one of the proposed funding solutions.

Maron et al. present extensive data on the monograph production costs of 382 titles from 20 university presses in the 2014 fiscal year. After studying this data, the authors conclude that the average cost per monograph is a staggering $28,747. Indeed, if scholarly communication is moving toward an open scholarship future, this substantial cost will have to be properly accounted for. If this cost is not considered appropriately, university presses will be forced to transition from a role of cultural heritage curator / provider to a mere information dissemination mechanism, as they will need to reorient toward efficiencies and bare necessities.

Maron et al.’s report is relevant to my own research inquiry insofar as it focuses on the practicalities or pragmatics of open scholarship. Many open access advocates are prone to evangelizing about the importance of open access, and argue that access to knowledge is a public good, and even a human right (Willinsky 2006). In theory, I agree with this sentiment. But Maron et al. are correct to point out that scholarly production has a significant cost attached to it, and any robust system (open access or not) that preserves the tradition of long-form, sustained argument that is so inherent to humanities scholarship must also integrate its requisite funding and sustenance. The authors state, “Data gathered from the 20 participating presses suggest that monograph publishing is considerably more expensive than has often been reported anecdotally or in other studies, and certainly more expensive than current price points for publishers with OA models would suggest” (n.p.). As John Maxwell, Alessandra Bordini, and Katie Shamash (2017) remind us, open access journal publishing is a much more straightforward endeavour, as it requires less resources and less time than book publishing, and can be successfully carried out on relatively lightweight technological platforms. Monograph publishing, by contrast, is a far more expensive endeavour.

Works cited

Maxwell, John, Alessandra Bordini, and Katie Shamash. 2017. “Reassembling Scholarly Communications: An Evaluation of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Monograph Initiative.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 20 (1): n.p. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jep/3336451.0020.101/–reassembling-scholarly-communications-an-evaluation?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Maron, Nancy, Kimberly Schmelzinger, Christine Mulhern, and Daniel Rossman. 2016. “The Costs of Publishing Monographs: Toward a Transparent Methodology.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 19 (1): n.p. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jep/3336451.0019.103/–costs-of-publishing-monographs-toward-a-transparent?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Willinsky, John. 2006. The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship. Cambridge: MIT Press.