Open Access – the concept and its context
The advent of the Internet and subsequent development of online digital content is one of the major forces behind the current shift in academic publishing. Technology has enabled researchers to access texts they need and work on-screen or print their own copies. There has been increasing pressure for countries, national and international research-funding bodies, and universities to make all research available to anybody with an Internet connection. Agreements and pledges have been made to this end (see, for instance, the Berlin Declaration on Open Access in the Sciences and Humanities, http://openaccess.mpg.de/Berlin-Declaration). Research librarians, as specialists committed to the spreading of knowledge, tend to be strongly in favour.
‘Open Access’ comes in a variety of forms. One such form includes free access to and sharing of data, allowing users to make use of the material as if it were their own, including modifying and integrating it in their own projects without indicating its origins. Open Access publication of scholarly texts does not usually extend that far, although different policies apply. For example, our partner Manchester University Press favours the Creative Commons Licence called CC BY-NC, which allows copyright to remain with authors, requires full attribution to accompany all reuse and dissemination, and requires the copyright holder’s permission for any commercial use of the content. Manchester UP will, however, use the less restrictive CC-BY licence when funders require it.
So far, the Open Access concept has mostly been employed in the context of journal publishing. However, the principles of Open Access apply in the case of books as well. Manchester UP is a pioneer in this regard, being the first large UK academic publisher to publish scholarly books in print and Open Access simultaneously. The platform used for Open Access publication is the Open Access Publishing in European Networks (OAPEN) platform. LU Press books will appear on those same terms.
The problems with Open Access
Despite the advantages of Open Access publication of scholarly works, it often meets with resistance from publishers and authors. Some of its fervent advocates overlook the fundamental problem of Open Access: the fact that producing a flawless scholarly text with substantial content and great potential impact is a substantial investment and that that investment must be recouped from somewhere, if publishers cannot cover their costs through the sale of printed volumes.
It is unrealistic to assume that a researcher can just put his or her manuscript into a repository. The work needs to be promoted in order for researchers to be made aware of it, and even the greatest authors require the services of an editor to eliminate typos, linguistic errors, and stylistic inconsistencies. In addition, texts intended to be read online require design, layout, and formatting to a high standard in order to be readable.
If a publisher cannot recoup its costs through sales, the logical solution is for the institution that funded the research presented in the work to pay for its publication. In the context of LU Press, the relevant institutions are the providers of external research grants and the Humanities and Theology Faculties themselves. There is also potential for income to be generated through donations to the publisher.
The fact that a publisher is paid to bring out a work raises questions over the possibility of ‘vanity publishing’. There may be greater concern over this in English-speaking countries than in, for instance, Sweden and Germany, where researchers are used to applying to various foundations and organizations for publication grants – grants which they then channel to their publishers.
The position of Lund University Press as regards Open Access
Bibliometrics alone may be thought to disadvantage publishers of locally created scholarly works which generate relatively low levels of income, such as LU Press. However, the view that bibliometric models cannot offer a conclusive indication of the quality of scholarly books has gained ground over the past few years, in Sweden and elsewhere, alongside recognition of the continuing importance of academic publishing to knowledge dissemination. Peer review has emerged as the only viable alternative to bibliometrics when it comes to assessing scholarly quality, and LU Press employs rigorous standards in that respect. Lund University Press operates on the basis of the conviction that eminent Lund research deserves to be sent out into the world in the most efficient and comprehensive manner possible, and that the consequent expenditure is warranted. Through our partnership with Manchester University Press, we are able to ensure that our research is known and freely available around the world. Open Access is a cornerstone in this process. Open Access publication does not preclude sales of the printed volume. A reasonably priced printed book on a topic of wide interest might sell hundreds of copies to scholars and students even if it also appears online. In reality, most academic books do not sell more than 500 copies even when appearing from major publishers and in print only; high prices often restrict them to the library market.