Monday, 16 September 2013

Making open pay

OECD's Catherine Candea
The final session at the ALPSP International Conference was chaired by Catherine Candea from OECD. The panel reflected on the constant pressures on publishers to make content free and asked how can publishers survive and even thrive?

Frances Pinter, interim CEO of Manchester University Press and Founder of Knowledge Unlatched considered sustainable pathways for open access scholarly books. Getting to open access is going to be harder. Income to publishers for the kind of books we are talking about is going to be a mixture.

We don't know yet, where in the continuum we should be looking for up-front funding ('someone pays' model). We need to know as we move forward what the trade-offs will be to find funding for the costs and satisfying expectations of users who access content, and to pay for the added value that publishers can deliver and want to be recompensed for.

In the social sciences and humanities lots of people still want to read printed books. What will people want? We really don't know yet as it is too early in the process to know what does and doesn't work.

'Digital is riding railroads through disciplines in different ways.'

Third party permissions present major challenges which need to be looked at. Books in long form are an important part of research output in the humanities. Should that remain closed just because it doesn't work for books? If it does, it will shoot the discipline in the foot. If the content remains closed, how are you going to measure impact?

There are a number of open monograph models including the open access edition and sales from print and/or ebooks (NAP, Bloomsbury Academic), institutional support for press (World Bank, Amherst) and library press collaboration (Mpublishing/Michigan).

Pinter's own Knowledge Unlatched is about to launch in pilot form. It is not-for-profit and aims to help publishers recover origination costs for monographs while helping lbiraries from around the world share the costs of making books open access. They use CC BY-NC licence and include front list titles. Their goals are to make open access for the humanities and social sciences sustainable so these disciplines don't get left behind.

Libraries can choose to jointly make a title fee payment to publishers by pledging to unlatch a collection via Knowledge Unlatched. In return, publishers make a flag PDF version of unlatched titles available on an open access licence. Hosting and preservation is done via HathiTrust and OAPEN.

There are 14 publishers in the forthcoming pilot with approximately 100 titles in 4 subject areas. In order to unlatch a 30-title collection, 200 libraries will each pay a maximum of $1800 each. Knowledge Unlatched will take 5% to cover costs. Who benefits? Pinter believes readers, libraries, authors, independent researchers and publishers, amongst others.

Pierre Mounier
Pierre Mounier, Associate Director of the Center for Open Electronic Publishing (Cléo), reflected on how policy has changed recently from activism to policy, from green to gold.

There is a 'gold' rush with a growing market for gold publishing. But every gold rush has its drawbacks, often leaving gold rush ghost towns. Is it a sustainable model in the long term? Publishing in this model relies on only one source of funding.

Mounier counselled that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater: the bathwater is the old clunky access to information that we want to throw away, the baby is the reader themselves and their needs. Publishers need feedback from readers.

The traditional model is a cycle of income-to-publication-to-usage-to-sales-to-income. With the gold model it is replaced by funding-to-publication-to-usage.

Another alternative is to consider the freemium model. They use HTML and produce PDF, ePub for restricted access and an Amazon version for Kindle. It is a combination of free open access and premium services and licensing. They develop premium services for libraries and their patrons which is then licensed to libraries. There is premium access to books and articles with a dashboard, data supplies and services, information, support and training, branding and customisation. But this is not a static offering: they will evolve and add to the service, with more to come in 2014 and 2015.

Open Edition has 100 journals, 800+ books (16,000 anticipated in 2020) and 60+ subscribing libraries.

'Bust out your Excel spread sheet. It's all about finding things in the margins.' 
- Drew Houston, founder of Dropbox

The keyword for Mounier is diversification for sustainable business models. Consider funding (gold), crowd-funding, in-kind institutional support, premium services income and print (on demand) sales.

Niels Stern, Publisher for the Nordic Council of Ministers, closed the session by outlining the five step process they went through to digitise and broaden access to content. These deceptively simple steps include:

  1. What is our winning aspiration (visibility and impact)
  2. Where will we play? (researchers politicians, government officials)
  3. How will we win? (digital distribution)
  4. What capabilities must we have? (formats, channels, production tools)
  5. What management systems are required (outsourcing partnerships)
Digital distribution was introduced as an open access project, streamlining and modernising the organisation. They are building a repository and policy which has created value for them, and they did this through listening to their target groups.

Keep an open mind. Openness is a very necessary thing when you feel you have a problem. Confront problems in an open way otherwise you won't solve the problem. His suggestions for making the transition included: 

  • Stop copying your previous behaviour
  • Revisit your arenas
  • Zoom in on your target audiences
  • Listen
  • Identify new needs
  • Finally, act and make new solutions!
Best practice is not always the best solution. Open did pay for them, and it can pay in most cases. It's about finding the right balance.

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