Go back

JISC launches study on viability of open-access monographs

The Joint Information Systems Committee has launched a project to investigate the possibility of an open-access model for scholarly monographs, which are often used in the humanities and social sciences.

The project, OAPEN-UK, will be jointly funded by JISC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It will be carried out in partnership with publishers Palgrave Macmillan, Taylor & Francis, Berg Publishers, Liverpool University Press and University Wales Press.

The project will include benchmarking surveys, focus groups and interviews with research funders, authors, publishers, libraries and researchers.

It will also include a three-year experiment to evaluate how making monographs available through open access could affect sales of books available through standard sales models.

Lorraine Estelle, the chief executive of JISC collections, told Research Fortnight Today that the experiment would use monographs provided by the publishing partners. Some titles would be available only through the standard model of bookshops and libraries whereas the other would include an open access option.

JISC will track usage data and sales for each group to investigate whether books that had an open access option did worse or better than books that did not. It is possible that open access could have a negative impact on book sales but it could also be the case that it stimulates interest in books, says Estelle.

“Over the years, the print runs of scholarly monographs have significantly reduced. Whereas 15 years ago, print runs would have been in the thousands, we now have print runs as low as a hundred copies,” she says.

“And clearly that means that scholarly research isn’t being well disseminated. That’s why it’s important to look at alternative models. If funders were thinking about funding open-access monographs, one of the things they would want to do is have some evidence of how that would improve the reach of research.”

William St Clair, an academic and chairman of Open Book Publishers, which is a small business publishing peer-reviewed monographs in the humanities and social sciences, agrees that scholarly monographs are under threat.

“This is really bad for the humanities and the social sciences and there is no need for it because the open access model is there,” he adds.

But St Clair warns against too much of a focus on sales. “For academics trying to advance knowledge [sales] is not the primary measure we should be looking for. We should be looking for the speed of getting it out, ability of people to engage with it…and to advance the general quality across the field,” he says.