Earlier this month at the KGL PubFactory Virtual Series 2020, we hosted Open Access Voices and Variations, a lively session with a diverse group of book and journal publishers. The panel was made up of traditional academic publishers, a university press, and a society publisher from across the PubFactory community—several notably in the humanities and social sciences (HSS).
We explored their unique perspectives and approaches to Open Access, looking in detail at how they are each responding to challenges, adjusting business models, flipping journal programs, and coping with institutional mandates.
At a time when publishers are under pressure to accelerate OA output, and many have been outspoken about the unique challenges for the sector when it comes to the Plan S implementation, we felt this was an important moment to shine a spotlight on some of the innovation and forward thinking being fostered within smaller, society and independent publishers in particular.
Part of the Plan S conversation
When Coalition S first announced the Plan S mandate, the initial reaction among many HSS publishers was to denounce the initiative as unsustainable for the sector. Jasmine Lange, Chief Publishing Officer at Dutch-based Brill, certainly counts herself among the detractors who originally felt that Plan S was very much skewed towards STEM publishing and didn’t serve the interests of the HSS sector. Yet she claims that thanks to a broadly discursive and inclusive approach from Coalition S, the jarring shock of Plan S has somewhat subsided and many of the HSS community’s concerns have been addressed in revised guidelines.
In a presentation full of optimism, she highlighted the need for Brill and the wider HSS sector to now adopt a more progressive attitude and make a concerted effort to collectively rise to the Plan S challenge. Echoing comments from her recent op-ed in Scholarly Kitchen, she said: “I think it is time for publishers to get back in the driver’s seat and do what we are here for: develop and implement publishing models that fit the needs of our customers for high quality open research. Will it be easy? Certainly not. Can we do it alone? Definitely not. We can only succeed if the entire research community is willing to work together and not against each other.”
A two-pronged attack
Among the early OA adopters and consistently leading the way in experimentation of OA models in the humanities is Manchester University Press in the UK. With over 220 books published via OA in the last 10 years, the Press is now among the most prolific HSS publishers investing in OA across the globe.
In his presentation, CEO Simon Ross showcased MUP’s unique approach to hosting digital content via its dual online hubs—MachesterOpenHive, its dedicated OA books and journal portal, and ManchesterHive, its subscription-based content portal. While on many levels the two platforms have plenty of synergy, such as integrated features and user experiences, they also operate very much as separate entities and enable the Press to cater to different audiences, both internal and external, with different types of content. He highlighted that this approach has enabled MUP to be more innovative and experimental with business models and more responsive to customers while extending its global reach.
An equitable and inclusive funding model
Funding allocation has always been a major bone of contention for HSS publishers looking to migrate to OA models, with subsidies heavily skewed in favor of STEM publishers. One of the rapidly emerging models that has come to the fore, which is seen by many as a sustainable solution to this issue, is the subscribe-to-open model, where subscriptions are directed to convert gated access to OA using existing library relationships and payments. Independent publisher Berghahn Books is pioneering this innovative alternative approach with its Berghahn Open Anthro program, in partnership with Libraria, and has already flipped 13 of its anthropology journals to the equitable new model this year. Vivian Berghahn, Managing Director at Berghahn Books, highlighted how this significant and bold step has been enthusiastically received by the library community, while researchers have been quick to endorse and support the pilot.
Another publisher witnessing a great deal of success having flipped three of its journals to OA is the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS). Executive Director Mike Neff discussed the overwhelmingly positive experiences of moving its journals to online-only OA.
Aside from reporting a significant rise in global visibility of its journal content since migrating to OA, the Society also noted a rise in quality article and manuscript submissions from its author community, which can be partially attributed to a favorable, below-market-rate APC pricing structure.