Thursday, September 01, 2011

Full open access to scholarly monographs - suggesting a local library consortial approach

Frances Pinter (Bloomsbury Press) released a provocative 8-minute video suggesting a full flip to open access complete with CC licensing for scholarly monographs, and initiating the discussion with a vision of a global library consortial approach to payment for production of all scholarly monographs (or perhaps all of Bloomsbury's production?). What really caught my eye in this is the acknowledgement that production costs account for a third of the cost of producing a scholarly monograph. With this model, there would be room for publishers to earn additional revenue through print sales and/or added value e-versions.

This is a great start to an interesting and important conversation. The current model for scholarly monographs just isn't working. As library budgets are increasingly caught up in journal big deals, there is less and less money for monograph purchases; diminishing circulation means fewer copies from which to recoup costs, resulting in a negative spiral not unlike the serials crisis. For an excellent and in-depth examination of scholarly monographs publishing in the U.S. and the U.K., see Thompson (2005).
My perspective is that the overall approach is a great starting-point for discussion, but not practical at a global level. What I would suggest instead is a regional approach to library consortia funding scholarly monographs for full open access on a production basis. There are several benefits to this approach:
  • vastly expanded access to scholarly monographs as compared with the current system
  • avoids the problems associated with currency fluctuations - the local payers (libraries) pay in local currency
  • minimizes issues associated with the vastly unequal wealth of the world. Local payers in wealthy countries pay relatively high rates, local payers in developing nations pay appropriate rates for their region
  • payment on production rather than purchase can highlight the relationship between high quality and economic efficiency
My recommendation would be to simultaneously at least begin to address some of the factors currently pushing scholars towards overproduction of scholarly monographs, such as the push for some scholars to publish two books rather than one as described by Harley et al.

Here is my vision for what might be doable, inspired by Pinter's video:  if libraries could collaborate to fund a scholarly monograph publishing system at one third of the current system, and if we could furthermore work with scholars towards a healthier scholarly communication system favoring appropriate publication over quantity of publication, then perhaps we could fund a system at perhaps one sixth of what libraries currently collectively pay that would be a very great deal more effective - free access to everyone with an internet connection, no crazy copyright restrictions, full searchability, and value added services thanks to publisher partners.

[Disclosure:  I work for BC Electronic Library Network, a regionally based library consortium].


Harley, D., Acord, S. K., Earl-Novell, S., Lawrence, S., & King, C. J. (2010). Assessing the future landscape of scholarly communication: An exploration of faculty values and needs in seven disciplines. UC Berkeley: Center for Studies in Higher Education. Retrieved from

Pinter, F. (2011). Libraries, publishers, consortia. [Video/DVD] YouTube: Bloomsbury Press. Retrieved September 1, 2011 from 

Thompson, J. B. (2005). Books in the digital age : The transformation of academic and higher education publishing in Britain and the United States. Cambridge: Polity.

Cross-posted to my doctoral webpage.