To better understand the international landscape of open access monographs, Peter Potter, Publishing Director in the University Libraries at Virginia Tech, will be writing occasional posts from around the world. The first is about South Africa.

University World News reported last month that higher education leaders in South Africa are planning to pursue transformative agreements with the big five scholarly journal publishers—Reed-Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer and Sage. This move comes as existing contracts with all five publishers come up for renewal at the end of 2020. While the plan is still being formulated, the basic idea is to take the money currently being spent on journal subscriptions (ZAR500-600 million or $29-34 million) and redirect it towards a pay-to-publish model for funding the dissemination of research.

After reading the story, I reached out to Glenn Truran, who directs and is part of the negotiating team for the South Africa National Library and Information Consortium (SANLiC), the body that negotiates consortium agreements on behalf of the country’s 26 public universities and six of the national research institutions. I asked Truran if a similar effort might be underway to move the country toward OA monograph publishing. Truran offered his thoughts and put me in touch with a number of others who are directly involved in the book publishing scene in South Africa. The picture that emerged from these conversations is of a country beginning to embrace open access monograph publishing.

Truran explained that the country as a whole is looking to align with the government’s White Paper on Science, Technology, and Innovation (2018), which advocates strongly for open science, not just in STEM fields but in the humanities and social sciences as well.(1) And while he admits that OA book publishing is still very much “in its infancy” in South Africa, he echoed what others told me in saying that the goal is to move it forward in coming years: “So while we are starting from a really small base, I expect to see a significant growth in open monograph publishing over the next five years.”

For scholars in South Africa who write books, the base of publishers is indeed small, comprising a number of local university presses and independent scholarly publishers as well as some familiar international publishers. The main universities with established publishing arms are Witwatersrand (Wits UP), University of South Africa (Unisa Press), University of Cape Town (Juta Publishing), Stellenbosch (African Sun Media), KwaZulu-Natal (KZN Press), and Pretoria (PULP). Among independent scholarly publishers, those most frequently mentioned are AOSIS and HSRC Press, and the international publishers with a sizable presence in South Africa include Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Taylor & Francis, and Macmillan.

It is difficult to estimate how many scholarly monographs are published yearly in South Africa but the number is growing. Andrew Joseph, Digital Publisher at Wits University Press, estimates that the total number of monographs (not including textbooks, conference volumes, etc.) in 2013 was about 40.(2) Institutional incentives have pushed that number upwards. As I learned from Maria Frahm-Arp of the University of Johannesburg (Executive Director of the Library and Information Centre and Associate Professor of Religion), the scholarly book publishing system in South Africa is supported by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), which provides subsidies to institutions (not to researchers) based on the number of books or book chapters produced by its faculty in any given year.(3) The current per-title book subsidy is around R1 million (c. $57,500), with a maximum of ten books per institution per year. The maximum was increased from 5 to 10 in 2016, which led to a significant increase in the number of books published/subsidized per year. Since then, however, the numbers appear not to have increased significantly.(4)

For scholars who want their book to be published open access, the options are limited but growing. University presses face the all-too-familiar lack of institutional funding, which has kept them from moving more aggressively into OA publishing.(5) An exception is the University of Pretoria Law Press (PULP), which was established in 2005 to address the lack of published indigenous legal material in Africa, especially in the area of human rights. All of its c. 30 books are available open access. Among non-university based publishers, AOSIS and HSRC Press appear to lead the way with a total of 57 (14 in 2019) and 433 OA books respectively in their catalogues. Some international publishers offer an OA option but this requires payment of a BPC, which is generally too high for most scholars to afford.

Data from Dimensions can give us a glimpse into the impact that OA is having on monograph publishing in South Africa. The first figure below shows the number of monographs published in BRICS countries over the last ten years and the percentages relative to each other. China is by far the largest producer of monographs in BRICS countries while South Africa is the smallest.



The second figure shows the proportion of those books that are OA for each country, over that same period. In South Africa, 5% of the total monographic output is OA.



Looking ahead, it seems that OA monograph publishing in South Africa will continue to grow, even if absolute numbers remain modest. Meiya Nthoesane, Acting Director of UNISA Press, estimates that by 2025 about 80% of all monographs in the country will be OA. He admits that 80% sounds high, but he then explained, “If I told you in January 2020 that by March 2020 80% of the world will work remotely or at home, it would have sounded ‘crazy.’  All I am saying is that the need for paywalls will be outpaced by open scholarship and open access demand.” And COVID-19 will only “fast track” the process as the impact is felt on South Africa’s already struggling economy. In the end, therefore, the primary impact of OA in South Africa will likely be felt more on the consumption than the production side. That is, the international move to OA will greatly increase access to monographs in South Africa, which will allow institutions to shift shrinking collections budgets to other, more pressing needs. According to Maria Frahm-Arp, this might ultimately be COVID-19’s “gift” to South Africa.



1. “The challenge is to incorporate the knowledge and insight of humanities and social sciences into research and innovation in the natural, physical and engineering sciences.” (p. 39) –2018 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation

2. ”Scholarly publishing in South Africa: the global south on the periphery” by Andrew Joseph, p. 14.

3. Department of Higher Education and Training 2015 Research Output Policy

4. “Report on the Evaluation of the 2018 Universities’ Research Outputs”

5. On the state of university presses in South Africa (and Africa in general) see:  and


DOI for this blog series: