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The State of Open Monographs

11th June 2019
 | Katy Alexander

Digital Science has today launched a report on the state of open access monographs. The report addresses the question of how we integrate and value monographs in the increasingly open digital scholarly network.

Key findings include:

  • Open access is still a relatively small part of the monograph landscape. As of mid-2019, the Directory of Open Access Books lists fewer than 20,000 OA books of all dates ( This is compared to an estimated 86,000 monographs published internationally every year.
  • Initiatives such as Knowledge Unlatched and TOME are experimenting with new business models that presume a world where open access becomes the norm for monographs.
  • While monographs continue to be central to the intellectual and professional identity of HSS fields, the technology for publishing them continues to be driven largely by the needs of a print and journal-based market. As a result, monographs remain largely outside the growing digital scholarly information infrastructure.
  • The challenges scholarly publishers face in adding open access monographs to their publishing programmes include issues with general discoverability and inclusion in library catalogues. They also face the challenge of how to measure the value and distribution of open access materials, in the absence of sales data and difficulties gaining usage data.
  • Monographs famously collect citations at a slower rate than journal-based research articles. Data in this report from Altmetric shows that monographs also accrue impact over a longer life cycle in a broader context, and show higher rates of impact in policy documents and wikipedia, than equivalent journal-based articles.
  • OA sheds a harsh light into how academic book publishing is faring in its transition to a networked digital world, and reveals dusty corners and dirty piles of laundry that we might rather have forgotten.

The report shows how assessing the current state of open access monograph publishing is particularly challenging, if for no other reason than that the terrain is so messy — more so even than it is for journal publishing.

Key report recommendations for fully integrating monographs into the digital scholarly information infrastructure include:

  • Urging publishers to adopt DOIs at both a volume and, preferably, chapter-level, that will support the discovery, monitoring and impact of monographs across the increasingly open scholarly infrastructure.
  • Recommending that distributors and aggregators make their usage data available in interoperable and standard forms, and support data aggregation and interoperability by consistent use of DOIs.
  • That funders recognize the value that monographs contribute to scholarship and that they fund the move towards open access at an appropriately sustainable rate.

Mike Taylor, Digital Science said:

“As a career-long advocate of scholarly books, and the arts and humanities, it’s been a delight to work on this white paper. Monographs have a unique role to play in scholarship, offering academics the opportunity to make more considered contributions that have a more prolonged impact than journal-based articles. The move towards open access publishing threatens to leave monographs behind, but having reflected on the infrastructure and evaluation issues, I’m confident that the monograph has a very healthy future – as long as aggregators, publishers, and funders embrace the changes needed.”

Download full report