Gold is a dead model for Open Access Books

Book of the Dead
of the Priest of Horus, Imhotep (Imuthes),
ca. 332–200 B.C. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The recent final reports for the Academic Book of the Future are a revealing, well balanced account of the current and future state of scholarly monograph publishing in the UK. One feature is the close attention given to Open Access in books (pages 175-195 in Michael Jubb's report) .

In this blog I want to unpack the consequences of Book Processing Charges in a Gold OA environment and how they would be utterly unsustainable in a future OA mandated REF environment.

The report by Michael Jubb does not give quite such a stark conclusion, with a very nuanced view of a hybrid collaborative future of innovative practice envisioned. I thoroughly recommend reading the report. I hope in this blog to provide further impetus to this innovation and collective collaboration - because one thing is certain, the current costs of Book Processing Charges (BPC) would not be feasible or sustainable in any future REF that required or mandated Open Access for all monograph submissions. Gold OA, as currently practiced, is not the way forward for many reasons but let me just highlight the obvious financial difficulties.

In my report, analysing the Arts and Humanities books submitted to the REF2014, we gain an insight into the volumes of books submitted.The importance of books is clear for the Arts and Humanities. Authored books account for a range from 9% to 25% of submissions with an overall average in Panel D of 16.6% of submissions. If edited books and scholarly editions are added then the average submission rises to 21.9% of the total. There were 11,861 named submitters to Panel D (Arts and Humanities) and 8,513 books. Scholarly needs should be the key motivating factor that drives future scholarly book publishing rather than publishers’ business models. The REF in itself has too small an impact upon the UK book publishing market (as opposed to the journal market) to drive significant change or adaptation in publishing. However, for UK scholars the REF is a very large motivating force for the adoption of certain modes of scholarly publishing and most specifically for Open Access.

So we have 8,513 books submitted to the REF2014 and probably a similar number to the next one as well. The top 3 most book submitting universities were University of Oxford (511), University of Cambridge (344) and King's College London (245) [Figure 9].

Consider then this passage from the Academic Book of the Future report by Jubb:
"At present, the BPCs charged by established publishers vary significantly: Cambridge University Press, for example, charges £6,500, while Edinburgh University Press and Taylor & Francis both charge £10,000, Palgrave £11,000... Newer start-ups charge somewhat lower fees than the established presses: Ubiquity Press, for example, currently has a basic BPC of £3,780 for a book of 100,000 words, rising to £5,920 if copy editing and indexing is included in the service; and it provides detailed information about its costs (Hole, 2016). UCL Press charges authors outside UCL £5,000 for books of up to 100,000 words. Open Book Publishers suggests (Authors’ Guide, n.d.) that it costs c£3,500 to publish each title."

The maths don't look good if these figures continued into a new OA mandated REF environment. At the lower end (say £3,000 per book) the figures are scary, at the upper end (say £10,000 per book) the figures are impossible to sustain or contemplate:
  • Oxford's 511 books = between £1.5 million and £5.1 million cost to submit to REF
  • Cambridge's 344 books =  between £1 million and £3.4 million cost to submit to REF
  • King's 245 books = between £0.7 million and £2.5 million cost to submit to REF
The total cost to the UK HE of submitting 8,513 books to a future REF in OA if BPC's remained the same would be in a staggering range from £25 million (@£3k/book) to £85 million (@£10k/book). Remember this estimate is just for Arts and Humanities and also ignores the ~10,000 book chapters in edited volumes submitted as well. Something clearly would have to change as these financials are beyond contemplation.

Consider also that there is a strong sense of uncertainty regarding future funding for Gold Open Access from RCUK. Rumours abound that RCUK may decide to stop/reduce the levels of block grant funding for Gold (in place since 2013 as an initial 5-year pilot). There are concerns that RCUK may opt for REF compliance purely via the Green route from April 2018. Now as the Academic Book of the Future, OAPEN and Crossick have detailed, the Green route is even more problematic for books than it is for A&H journal articles. It also does not bode well for future funding for Gold route book publishing - so who and how will we pay for those BPCs?

Now, anyone who knows me will understand I am an Open Access advocate and want to see as much information, as freely available, to as many people as possible. I am not saying we can't solve these problems of book costs, but to hide from them will not make them go away. I am also distressed that many of the advantages of true OA are not being achieved with new e-books made OA through the BPC. For OA of books to be seen as a really valuable thing for academics then I think we need 3 very basic bits of functionality to be achieved:
  • The books need to be full-text searchable, not just when I have it on my device, but searchable the way that Google Books is searchable, as if each book is its own website. Just giving us an e-pub or pdf doesn't make this happen. If I can't find your book by its content then it may as well remain invisible.
  • The citations within books need to start turning up in our metrics. At present if I am cited in a book or I cite another academic in my own book then neither gets much credit in the systems of metrics that abound. This is desperately skewing the conceived value of these works.
  • We need a proper digital unique identifier for books because the ISBN just doesn't cut it. Would DOI be the solution? Maybe, but the current state of affairs doesn't enable e-books and e-resources to be used, cited or referenced in scholarly communications with enough longevity or simplicity.
I have laid out my concerns. I am glad that my colleagues in the Academic Book of the Future have also laid out some solutions. So please go and read the project reports. I hope I have convinced you that the issues are serious enough for us all to take an interest and to take action to foster collaboration as our only viable way forward.


  1. Simon, I have read your post with interest. The role of books in research evaluation has my interest, one of the reasons I organised a seminar on this topic during the Academic Book Week. And this is also the reason why we started Bookmetrix little over two years ago, to provide more insight in citations, downloads, book reviews and altmetrics for all our books and chapters published by Springer, Palgrave and Apress. Not only is this a great author service but it also provided great insight in how books are used by academics at this day and age. In any given discipline.

    The good news is, the academic book isn't dead. By any means. 25% of our books published in 2016 already had one or more citation and 42% of them had an 'altmetric' - all in all a very respectable score that many journals would fancy. I've written a blog about that on LinkedIn: So yes, books are cited and these should be shown on publishers' websites.

    And yes, using DOIs for identifying books is the best way forward. That's what we do in Bookmetrix as well. However, in contrast to journal publishing, in book publishing it is not uncommon to only publish a pdf with barely any metadata and reference lists aren't submitted to Crossref. In which case the publisher does a bad job for the author...

  2. Maybe the difference from papers is that there was no similar technological breakthrough for book publishing. While internet and current software simplify management of peer review for journal articles, there was probably no such efficiency jump for assembling a book.

  3. Is it okay to post part of this on my website basically post a hyperlink to this webpage?


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