A year into a global pandemic Cathy Holland, our Director of Global Publisher Business Development, looks ahead at how the pandemic has changed the state of open monographs in a post-COVID world.

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This month marks one year since everything started shutting down due to COVID-19. In March of 2020 I, along with many others in our industry, had planned to attend the London Book Fair, but that was not to be. While many parts of life were shutting down, scholarly content was opening up, and in particular, monographs. In April, Charles Watkinson wrote that many publishers, and particularly University Presses, had started to make monographs, journals, and other types of content freely available for a period of time.

As the pandemic lingers on even though 2020 is OVER in all senses of the word, we thought it would be interesting to look ahead and predict what may come next for monographs in a post-pandemic world. My personal prediction is that we will see more grants for monographs include earmarked funds for getting works published. This may take a year or even two, but what we have seen through this pandemic is that ‘Open’ is here to stay, and this will need to be supported.

We asked various industry experts to share their thoughts. Here’s what they had to say:

Dr Frances Pinter – Executive Chair Central European University Press and Founder of Knowledge Unlatched:
Post pandemic I’d be looking for more clarity on the three main funding sources for Open Access (OA) books; research funders, institutions and library budgets. This should enable simplified fund flows after we’ve arrived at a consensus on a handful of business models.
I would prioritise retention of excellent editorial standards and quality control, along with cost-reduction of all non-editorial functions through aggregated and automated backroom and workflow services.
I hope we can maintain the diversity, number and range of small- and medium-sized university presses and specialist publishers. Books are important, and keeping the 80% of humanities and social science (HSS) monographs that do not have research funder book processing charges (BPCs) closed is not an option at a time when STEM journal articles are travelling towards a full OA flip.

Emily Poznanski – Director, Central European University Press:
I expect OA books to be the next wave in publishing. My immediate prediction is that an increasing number of authors will expect unrestricted sharing of their books stemming from a general change in authors’ expectations.
However, I expect that not many of these authors will have funding for full book processing charges (BPCs), which leads me to say that publishers, librarians and funders should think creatively of ways to support this now.

Niels Stern – Director, OAPEN Foundation:
The pandemic highlighted the limitations of print books. Libraries witnessed severe e-book price increases, challenging researchers and students. As people explored new routes to digital books, they discovered open access (OA) academic books. The past year has seen a dramatic increase in downloads from the OAPEN Library (hosting 15,000+ OA books). I think this trend will continue.
The pandemic also demonstrated an urgent need for more OA content, including books. To support this, I feel funders will accelerate OA policy development for books. Publishers will experiment with and embrace open publishing with new business models.
Over the last 3-4 years we have seen a fivefold increase in the number of peer-reviewed OA books hosted in the OAPEN Library. This trend will not only continue but also speed up, with new usage patterns caused by the pandemic, new OA book policies, and new business models for open book publishing. In five years we will see a scholarly publishing landscape where open is the default.

Laura Ricci – Consultant, Clarke & Esposito:
The next phase of development will require further investments in infrastructure to support Open Access (OA) throughout the books supply chain.
OA books require different approaches compared to traditional (print and paid-access digital) books – not just in terms of technology, but also standards and incentives.

Dr Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei – Co-Director, punctum books:
The global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has once again shown that lack of public access to scholarly research – not only medical literature but also the entire sphere of knowledge production that investigates and reflects upon our human condition – costs millions of lives.
Keeping research closed behind article processing charges (APCs), book processing charges (BPCs), paywalls, and outdated notions of intellectual property will continue to be detrimental to humanity’s chances of survival on this planet.

Ros Pyne – Global Director, Research and Open Access, Bloomsbury:
Even before the pandemic, 2021 was set to be a landmark year for Open Access (OA) books, with policies due to be announced from both UKRI and cOAlition S. Publishers have long offered OA book publishing options, but we’re now seeing increased engagement and innovation which will surely continue. Experiments in collaborative funding models are particularly exciting as they have the potential to substantially expand OA book publication, much as transformative agreements have done for journals.
So where does the pandemic come into this? Over the last year, publishers have seen a significant increase in demand for e-books compared with print; this shift is good news for OA, which is primarily a digital initiative. Finally, as OA monograph publishing becomes more established, I think we’ll also, and not before time, see more attention given to ensuring it supports a diverse authorship as well as a diverse readership.

Elea Giménez Toledo – Director Human and Social Sciences Center (CCHS), Spanish National Research Council (CSIC):
The pandemic has caused small- and medium-sized academic publishers around the world to look more closely at the digital environment as a way to circumvent the obstacles posed by this situation. Digital transformation has emerged in this period as an imperative for the survival of publishers. But in addition, the transition to Open Access has appeared like a not so distant issue for small- and medium-sized publishers who have often considered that it was something that concerned the big ones.
Both issues, critical in scholarly publishing, are now also being analyzed by small and medium imprints. Therefore, one of the predictions that can be made is that the way has been paved for bibliodiversity to also be present in the open scholarly book space. That in those countries where there are no national strategies to promote open publishing programs, the debate can be opened to come up with innovative solutions to enable open publishing or to participate in projects already underway, such as the Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM). These options are especially necessary to preserve bibliodiversity and multilingualism in the digital environment.

Andrew Joseph – Digital Publisher, Wits University Press:
If publishers have learnt anything from the COVID-19 experience, it’s that OA monographs are very likely to be the way in which scholarly books will be produced in the future. The challenge is to ensure that all publications are included in this shift.
If access is to be meaningful, we need to ensure that technology and funding gaps are bridged for all. Global South publishers need to articulate their needs and drive this shift.

Please join our enthusiastic book group! We would love to amplify more voices on all topics concerning books, monographs, edited works, and more. If you are interested in sharing your thoughts with the wider scholarly communications and research community and would like to write about a topic please reach out to Suze Kundu.

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DOI for this blog series: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.12347939