Wednesday, 27 November 2013

I'm not going to edit your £10,000 pay-to-open-access-publish monograph series for you

Over the last three or four months, I’ve been talking with an academic publisher – one of the big names that most people have heard of – who approached me to talk about launching a series in Digital Humanities. Now, Digital Humanities is quite fashionable at the moment, with many presses launching books and series about digital arts, culture, humanities and heritage, but goodness knows there is a need for a series that would publish only academic monographs in the area, rather than text books like this and this. I’ve been enjoying talking through the issues of publication with the press in question, and I asked Bethany Nowviskie to join me as co-editor, hoping to work together and thinking about how we could do something that suits our academic neck of the woods: offering good digital as well as print content, and tackling the open access monograph issue in as brave a way as possible, committing to delivering a high quality print publication that would also be available in open access too.

Last week they emailed me with their new company policy on open access. They are fully committed to offering high quality open access versions of their high quality academic books. But to produce open access versions, authors would be required to pay £10,000 (with applicable taxes added on top) to cover the “number of costs” that are involved to “produce” these titles.

I believe – at a time where rumours are flying that the next Research Excellent Framework will require all submissions to be available in open access, including monographs (although, please see later update at the end of the post about this) – that placing a £10,000 cost-to-publish fee onto monographs is iniquitous and will exclude many, if not most, early career scholars in the humanities from publishing their books in open access, as well as excluding any academic who is not at a very rich institution who has the resources to meet this publisher’s ransom demand. (There's an excellent blog post by Mercedes Bunz which demonstrates this very point).  This will have deleterious effects on humanities academic career progression, as the monograph is still seen to be the proof of academic excellence (even if “just print” will no longer “count”.) I believe that this stance by publishers to place the costs of publishing open access monographs onto humanities academics (in particular) is perfidious, and the only way we can counteract it is to stop engaging with presses who behave in this manner, refusing to submit manuscripts to them, but also, refusing to peer review manuscripts for them, and refusing to edit manuscripts – or a series of manuscripts - for them.

So I'm not going to edit their £10,000 pay-to-open-access-publish monograph series. And here is my reply to them. I’m not sure about the legalities of talking about this, so I have stripped out any identifying information regarding the individual publisher to safeguard myself. I would very much welcome your comments.

Dear (doesn’t matter which particular publisher, this could be directed to the whole shower of those who are asking for £10,000 for pay to open access publish a humanities monograph).

I understand that you are operating in a world where traditional publishing mechanisms and relationships have been turned on their heads. I understand that you have revenues to make to cover your costs, and profits to report to shareholders. I understand that, given a lot of authors from now on will have to provide open access versions of their research, you see this as an opportunity to further extend your profits. But I cannot understand the maths involved in calculating that it will cost £10,000 to turn a ready-for-print PDF proof into an ebook (seriously, I've been round the block a few times in book production, and that's some hourly rate those folks are charging you). You have looked at the £2,000 per academic journal paper model for open access in the sciences, and simply multiplied it and stuck it onto what you think is an humanities equivalent: a monograph equals about five journal papers, right?  It would be more honest for you to say: we are charging £10,000 to offset the open access copy against loss of potential revenue for book sales. I understand that this is a concern for you, of course I do, and it would be better to say this up front.

But even with this concern, I do not see that humanities authors are the people you should be targeting to make a profit.

The £10,000 cost for open access is not a commitment to open access at all. It is is a shield behind which you can keep open access away from those who might harm your profit margin. But think of the poor humanities academic who *has* to publish their work in open access. What are they going to do? Turn to their institution? Only the best ranked institutions in the world will be able to cover their costs: are you seriously saying that only those in the top universities worldwide are welcome to publish open access with you? Even within those institutions, only the top ranked individuals with prior grant income would have such a request entertained: here's a secret which you probably haven't figured out: most humanities faculties aren't rolling in money. So should aspiring book writers get the £10k from grant income? But you are applying a model from the sciences that doesnt apply to the humanities: in the UK the average Russell Group humanities academic brings around your cost for open access in grant income a year, and funding councils who have had their own incomes slashed cannot expect to prop up the publishing industry. Some have suggested that the £10,000 is seen as an "investment in self" where individuals would seriously pony up the £10,000 from their own meagre funds (read: credit cards), in the hope that they would recoup this through promotion, tenure, etc. Its a huge gamble to take, at a time when many - including most early career scholars - are exhausted from carrying the student debt albatross round their necks. As a result, the numbers publishing open access with you will be few and far between. With your "commitment" to open access, you will still be able to publish print editions for those who do not care about securing an open access copy. There's your open access commitment right there - you are more likely to never, ever have to publish an open access volume, even though you have a "policy", as it is just not achievable for all but the independently wealthy. And academic success for all just moves that step further away again. Hurrah for building the pristine ring-fenced arena that no-one can ever use, unless they bring their own polo horse! *snort*. It's just odious. 

I know that my list of suggestions for pursuing an open access monograph series in Digital Humanities were not usual (just to recap, I asked for: the print book for sale, with full contents available for free in an open access digital version, with a creative commons license to be agreed with each individual author (some of them might allow commercial reuse, such as CC-BY, some of them might be more conservative going for ND). This would be Diamond Open Access -so full peer review process, item available free in digital form, but no "author pays" model, and the resulting book should be published in various ebook formats, with no digital rights management (DRM). The author should retain copyright. Ideas for offsetting costs and potential lost revenue include lowering the level of royalty payments, or increasing the point at which the publication will start to recoup costs, depending on a realistic cost model, which we could help work out.) I'll also point out that I have never once asked for payment in any of this (and just for math's sake: what proportion of that £10,000 per open access book will go to the series editors? Oh that's right, none). So you expect to use my contacts, and to use my time, and for me to help feed into a exclusionary model that keeps your wheels turning, that takes money from institutions, or grants, or individuals, and to do that for you without even listening to anything I have been saying about the need for open access in the humanities, particularly within our community, or what we can do to fix – or at least experiment with - the existing model to be in everyone's favour?

The open access agenda is a huge issue in Digital Humanities. It is at the heart of the discipline: doing things in the open, experimenting, being the voice for the humanities in the digital age, showing people how it is done. Digital Humanities is big business at the moment, as can be witnessed by the explosion of Digital Humanities titles published in the past year alone (which is why you are talking to me, after all). Goodness knows we need more research monographs to come out that give people the space to seriously consider and present their research ideas amongst all these textbooks. But this can only be done by operating within the research modes of the community. We could have committed to doing a trial of, say, 5 or 10 books that would be printed with diamond open access too, and being absolutely open and honest about the costs and the revenues and the potential losses and gains, and really led the way in a discussion about where open access monograph publishing goes, and what works, and what doesnt, and what the realistic costs of producing open access research to a high standard is. We would have been famous, we would have sold books, we would have attracted the best and brightest minds with the most brilliant texts, no matter what their bank balance was. As it is, your £10,000 (plus taxes) seems entirely one-size-only-fits-you, jumping on the bandwagon of a scared publishing industry whose fear is contagious, copying an approach which doesnt work for anyone, but allows you to have a policy that will never actually have to be exercised. I'm sad, as I see this as a missed opportunity for us to work together.

I am at a stage in my career where I do not have to take on anything that I do not want to do, or do not agree with. I am at a stage in my career where I should be sticking up for what I think is right, and also looking out for early careers scholars coming up behind me. I am uncomfortable in putting my name to a Digital Humanities series that touts a £10,000 pay to publish open access policy as fair or egalitarian.  I'm not going to edit your £10,000 pay-to-open-access-publish monograph series. I doubt that any leading figure in our field would, but I wish you well in finding the person to take this book series forward.

I hope your book series in Digital Humanities is a success, I really do. Its been a pleasure scoping out what a book series could have looked like, especially with the challenges that face us in the digital environment. But I am left frustrated that we could have done so much together. Please do get in touch in the future, when this £10,000 open access model doesn't work for you, when you may like to - or have to - be braver.

Update 28/11/2013: Since posting last night, this has gone a little... viral. With the result that, ring-ring! that's HEFCE calling (via a tweet from Ben Johnson, thanks Ben) to point out the current state of affairs on the requirements for open access in the next REF. This is sketched out in paragraphs 46-50 of this policy document. So there wont be a requirement in the next ref for open access, but their view is "that open access publication for monographs and books is likely
to be achievable in the long term".

Obviously, if I had been able to find this (rather than the rumours) this would have tempered a couple of sentences in my blog post above, but only a couple, so I'm not going to retool it. The fact remains that open access monographs are on the horizon, and that publishers are attempting to profiteer from this without any adequate costing model as to how to achieve them. I'm not happy about being any part of that, and will not give up my time, advice, and hard work to support a model which excludes many from taking part in making their work available via open access.


Jacque said...

Melissa - thanks for writing about this. When I saw the question about the pay-for-access model come across Twitter, I nearly laughed out loud. There is no world in which I would be able to afford such a fee. Nor would my institution ever find the funds to support such publication - they couldn't do it for a single scholar, let alone a whole community of scholars. It's a non-starter and I appreciate your willingness to say so as a potential editor.

Ernesto said...

Bravo, Melissa.

I hope it is clear to readers (it is clear to me from your excellent post) that what you oppose here is not open access as a model, but the actual inversion of the subscription business model as currently established by most commercial academic publishers, where what would be covered by institutional libraries is supposed to be cover by researchers. These pricings are as ridiculous as the ones currently suggested for individual journal articles outside subscribing institutions.

~*sim*~ said...

Brava! It is so heartening to have those who can speak out speak out in support of those who can't (or who aren't heard when they do). I hadn't even come to the monograph stage, but I wasn't looking forward to it because I knew it would be exploitative.

My story: I have no debt from my 10 years of higher ed, but I am also unemployed, and looking at alt-ac rather than ac positions. When I look at what post-PhD academic success (achieved via conference attendance, archival research, publications) costs for those without funding, especially now that I do not have even a graduate stipend to rely on, my heart just stops. The costs of these activities were high even when I was a student, of course, but sometimes student rates helped reduce total costs, and I even had reimbursements to count on (my dept/school are wealthy). My eyes are opened now I don't have ANY financial support for these activities. And it hadn't even come to the book yet; how was I going to pay hefty image fees for the monograph I would inevitably be pressured to publish (for professional success, remember) in a few years? Do academic presses have budgets for these kinds of things!? (Someone please enlighten me if so!)

My "solution" to this issue is, unfortunately, to recuse myself from the conversation altogether – because I would rather do that than go broke chasing a unicorn (which, as an independent scholar, significant professional success may as well be).

I have been told too many times that I need to undertake these activities (which involve non-trivial amounts of effort!) as an investment in myself, for "exposure"/prestige, etc. But I don't see how unpaid intellectual/logistical labour can be justified endlessly on grounds of professional development and some mirage-like future payoff. This is work, and hard work, and work NOW, with no guarantee of anything in future. There are too many of us with 5-page CVs *already* for one more $700 conference to make any one of us successful beyond the odds. Or, we can each keep over-participating and over-publishing, so that everyone gets a medal -- except we're all chasing unicorns. Is there really a major, tangible future payoff to be expected from all this unrewarded activity?! Well, I suppose some would say that the work is its own reward.

So anyway, I am keeping my gratis activities to a minimum: namely, curating a public exhibition in another city thousands of miles away (for which I have done 1 week primary research + 20 hours of writing/editing just on the proposal), because there is no question of pay. At least there is travel funding to be had down the line. How is the alternative (paying my own way) even fair!? But I bet many other institutions don't have a choice and force curators to pay their own way, for “prestige”, naturally.

And so all other editorial/organizational responsibilities, from now on out, come with a price tag on my time and work (well, unless they are super-juicy and super-unique and super-unpassupable) -- because having been paid in the recent past for work like putting together conferences, and writing academic prose, etc., I know they involve significant labour. I refuse to participate in this economy of unfair non-/undercompensation. This may qualify me in some readers' eyes as quasi-capitalist or ungrateful or even hypocritical (for rejecting most opportunities but the best ones). Well, sure, whatever you like.

The truth is that I am finally realizing the value of my time and labour after exiting a brainwashed period of my life where I was told that I should chase professional success at any personal/monetary cost.

The truth is also that the field will not miss me, because there are hundreds of others available to take the slots I won't. But by my stepping back from this mess I am making a statement I think it is important to make, in my own way, *even though* it'll hardly make a difference -- because I am no longer desperate for academic-professional success and the mirage it falsely promises.

Kris Shaffer said...

Wow, that is just insane. Thank you for standing up to them!

In the past year, I've had the privilege of publishing two open-access ebooks. For free. For one I was an editor and contributor (that book is on pedagogy and is now required reading for graduate student teachers at a number of major American universities), for another I was simply the code monkey/technical process director. I'm also working with my field's leading open-access journal, which is published by my professional society and charges authors and readers nothing, to incorporate an open peer review model. I've come to the conclusion that there are very reasons one might work with a publisher for a scholarly work, given how easy ebook publishing is.

I hope more authors and editors will begin to self-publish, or work with their departments, libraries, or professional societies to create "presses" that trade on an established reputation and bring forward no-/low-cost publishing of quality scholarly works. Publishers only have a hold in our work because of fear and outdated tenure priorities, both of which could disappear if enough senior scholars and reputable institutions took the (very easy technological) step of publishing themselves. Maybe that's an option for you all?

Here's a post I wrote on how we published the projects I've worked on:

Kevin said...

Melissa, your response to the publisher mentioned a ready-for-print PDF. Does this mean that this major academic publisher was expecting you to arrange for editing, typesetting, and indexing on your own? If so, I agree that £10,000 is far too much of a fixed cost, even when you include the time of the acquisitions editor and the marketing folks. However, if you were going to deliver an edited manuscript, which the publisher would then lightly copyedit, typeset, perhaps create an index for, and design a cover for, then I can say from experience with Michigan Publishing that the costs for a scholarly monograph really do add up to about £10,000.

James Probert said...

Good for you Melissa. I'm in biology rather than the humanities but this problem is applicable to most scientists and academics. It is only by making a stand against what we know to be wrong that things will change. For now that may only be one person refusing to edit a journal but hopefully your example will encourage others to follow suit.

John E said...

An interesting post, and clearly £10k is excessive to recoup costs on the sales of most academic publications. However I think you slightly overstate the Open access requirements. There is only a requirement to publish open access for research that has been funded by a research council; currently all research councils in the Humanities allow for Green open access - ie inclusion of pre-publication versions in institutional repositories. So any colleague in the humanities can simply deposit their work in such a repository and they're covered. Currently there is only a requirement to do this if the research project (and so the book, in effect) was research council funded, but it is also a good habit to get into, and shouldn't affect anyone's career or publication prospects.

Stephanie said...

Thanks SO much for taking this action, and explaining so clearly to the publisher, Melissa. The publishers are experimenting to see what they can get away with, and editors and authors are the only ones who can put a stop to it. I hope others follow your example. Can you post excerpts or a paraphrase of their reply to this?

Juan Jimenez-Anca said...

I take my hat off to you Melissa. What an answer!!

It is very interesting what you say about HEFCE's response. But it has to be said that only last month SCONUL suggested to HEFCE that monographs should be included too. Will they listen to them? I don't know

SCONUL's reponse to HEFCE about next REF can be found here:

Their complaint is actually worded like this: "we would have preferred to see HEFCE include monographs within the scope of its proposals, albeit under slightly different requirements than for journals and conference proceedings."

John Baez said...

I wish you'd reveal the name of this publisher. We should name and shame them. That's what I do.

Tim Evans said...

As a scientist who works in both physics and humanities I do not understand the monograph beloved by my humanities colleagues. Who reads them? Who buys them? What does a publisher add to the process? What purpose do they serve? Is this an outdated pattern of academic communication linked to an age of paper post and printing? Genuine questions, not my flippant response.

One way to answer these questions is to ask why do humanities academics not publish monographs via a publishing-on demand web site or even simply as ebooks? You can get an ISBN number to make it an official book. I use an excellent text book provided at cost in print from one of these publishers (about 10GBP) which is also available in pdf from the web.

I presume that the main issue with self-publication is that it has low status within humanities. Lack of promotion of the text may be a second problem. Status you can fix if humanities reviewers stop judging a book by its publisher so isn't that a problem brought upon your own heads? Promotion of a monograph you could try yourself or perhaps we can begin to see where a publisher adds value. However there is no reason why publishing and promotion have to be done by the same company.

The one area where real value might be ascribed is in the selection, editing and reviewing by peers. Publishers argue this involves costs for them to organise. However, like you, I can see that core academic skills are given for free. In any case we can all point to cases where we think that this peer review has added no value so again it seems we use this as a simple/lazy proxy for quality.

I suppose I am asking if 10,000GBP is too much, why not set up your own system that does it for less? If it is a true reflection of the costs of publishing a monograph in its current form, are you happy doing the editing work for free (well is your time really free?) but paying the publishers with public funds via library and other purchases? Perhaps we should ask if a new approach is now possible and a lot cheaper.

However I do agree that this price is basically ridiculous and bad for research. However this is also a problem for many in STEM fields with low funding, typically those in the more theoretical and less applied areas. I average about 3 papers a year which is about half a monograph if I pay open access costs. I do not have that kind of money. I do have some access to these funds centrally but not sure if that will always be true. Then what will I do? Same boat as humanities except REF will demand open access for my papers by 2020, I can not avoid this issue any more.

Luckily, most of my work (not my humanities publications of course) is placed on an open archive without peer review, The reader provides their own peer review which is often better than unpaid referees with too little time or often the precise expertise to review every paper they are sent. We web based system is maintained by central grants.

The only flaw in using an open archive is the current academic system itself. Internal promotion, external grant agencies, HEFCE and REF all demand peer reviewed journals (or I imagine monographs with acceptable publishers), they don't arXiv postings. These assessment systems place a value on current but centuries old publishing practices which they or the public then pay for down the line. Strange as REF says they will evaluate every output individually so it should not matter if its on or in Nature.

So I think we need to look at what is worth keeping from current practices, to open our systems to new ways of valuing work, and finally we should learn the true cost of the parts we value. Don't wait for the 10K fee to arrive, change the approach. Everything else has had to respond to twitter and the ebook. Perhaps academics need to be ready to adapt and show a little more invention?

Jill said...

I'm really undecided about this model, but I'm pretty sure it's unfair to say they're taking £10,000 for converting a print-ready PDF to an ebook. I haven't worked in publishing, like Kevin who posted above has, but having ha books published I agree with him that £10,000 sounds about right for the job of coordinating reviews (and reviewers of monographs usually do get $150 each), assessing the prospectus, possibly working with the author on the manuscript,. A marketing person or the editor suggests a blurb and edits it with the author. They check permissions, although the author does have to do the actual permissions themselves. There's a page prepared on the website. And very importantly, the publisher pays for copy editing (which was extensive with Polity and not quite so extensive with MIT, but in both cases clearly many hours work), layout, proofing, cover design. I had the option with polity to pay for my own indexing out of future royalties or to do it myself. I think MIT just did it. Then the print book is produced or at least tested (they promise print on demand) and ISBN and copyright are registered, and then marketing starts.

I actually wrote to ask Palgrave whether they would market and do all the other work for an open access book as for any other book, and they quickly responded that yes, they would do exactly the same work and planned to market oa books just as much as other titles.

There are things I'm not happy about in this model - the inequity in particular. My university just launched funding for this kind of thing this year, and the Norwegian Research Council has stated that when open access is required, funding will have to reflect that, so I'm not as skeptical as you about funding although obviously it's not there yet in general. But there's still problems and not everyone will have access to that funding.

However, I don't think it's right to expect anyone to work for free.a md that includes publishers. Perhaps open access works will also sell as much as closed works. Maybe, if so a fee is wrong. But if the publisher actually won't be selling any or many books, then who should be payin for the very real costs of publishing a well-edited and designed monograph? Perhaps it's not unreasonable to expect an author's institution or the research council to pay?

Alternatives seem to be either poorly edited open access works or a lot of free labour done by other academics. And someone still has to pay for the copy editor.

On the other hand, MIT Press have published a few open access books, like 10 Print, and have not charged a fee. I would love to know more about how that worked, and how other similar initiatives have worked.

Paul Vetch said...

As academics, we have actually created the academic publishing industry. As with any industry that manifests itself in physical objects, change happens slowly. I think right now most academic publishers - well, the ones that are going to last - are scrabbling to figure out what the implications of the digital era are - let alone what Open Access is all about. The role of the publisher is more and more frequently called into question. Let's call to mind a good publisher though and think through what they've done for us. Reader reports and feedback commissioned; copy editing; indexing; marketing; distribution. These things don't happen by magic and they mostly cost money. Critically though, as academics we continue to validate the idea that one publisher has more credibility than another - so we really propagate this situation just as much as we are victims of it. Most of the academics who might profess to love the idea of publishing with a boutique Open publisher will still get heart palpitations when approached to publish by 'Coketown University Press'. It's not our fault - it's our upbringing (and our egos). This is an exciting time, forcing change both on the academy and on the industries which have developed to support it and make money from it. But for now at least academics and publishers still need one other so we have to make it work.

Ib said...

Maybe you should come and work with Open Humanities Press. :)

Jeroen Bosman said...

There are some suggestions here that the 10K figure may not be very far of the mark of the real costs. When I bring my bicycle in for repair I get a quote that says exactly what they propose to do, what is the cost for new parts and what for the hours involved in changing tyres, cleaning gears etc. So surely anyone paying 10K for something would like to see the exact breakdown of that. Then one can decide what services to pay for and what to do in house or just leave out. So publishers, please bring out your detailed quotes for this.

mOOm said...

In the traditional model if a book sells for £50 say and sells 200 copies that's £10,000. The cost of making the physical book is a small fraction of that and has to be replaced to some degree with computing services costs to supply the book in open access in perpetuity. So, really based on existing revenues for books, I don't think this is really a very high fee. But it might show that open access really isn't practical unless foundations or governments are willing to pay for it.

Melissa said...

This comment just came in from Marilyn Deegan, posting it here myself due to blogger issues:

I’ve entered into this debate about Open Access monographs rather late--I blame Christmas bracketed by two eye operations. But I am back on form now, and I’d like to add some comments to what Mel says here--ahe makes some great points.

Gold Route Open Access costs--usually. The reality is that publishing has many processes that take time and expertise, and publishers add value and prestige to our publications that self-publishing frankly doesn’t. And given all the things that we have to do as academics, do we really want to publish, promote, market and sell our books as well as write them? Someone has to pay for these costs, and if it isn’t going to be the consumer, who is it going to be? In reality, and especially for journal articles, it is generally institutions who pay the library subscriptions, and also buy the books. The Open Access movement is turning things around somewhat, with an author pays model being gradually adopted, mostly at the moment in the sciences. The argument is that if you are running projects with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of grant funding, a few thousand to publish papers with immediate access is neither here nor there. But what is the humanities academic or the digital humanist with little or no grant funding to do? Certainly not, as Mel points out, pay 10,000 pounds to publish a monograph. And as Mel points out too, having a series of monographs in the digital humanities that would publish quality work with generous Open Access policies would be a huge boon. Guess what folks--there is one! And we are looking for contributions. The series Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities is published by Ashgate (, with myself, Lorna Hughes, Andrew Prescott and Harold Short as Series Editors. It has so far published nine titles, mostly collections of essays so far, but all reflecting state-of-the-art in some aspect of digital humanities scholarship at the time of publication. We are now also beginning to publish monographs, with the first one appearing in June 2014, and have more under contract. The particularly good news about this series is that Ashgate has been extraordinarily liberal in its attitude to Open Access, giving us a generous Green route that verges on Gold. In edited volumes, authors may upload the published version of their contributions to their own web sites or their institutional repository as soon as they wish after publication. In the case of monographs (single or multiple authored), after the book is published, the author may upload a PDF of their pre-print typescript to their institutional repository or web site. We are really grateful to Ashgate for their flexibility and we find them a great press to work with. Come and join us! If you have an idea for a book, talk to one of the series editors or contact Dymphna Evans at Ashgate.