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Open access monographs are more important than ever - here's why

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

Funding and research assessment mandates

Open access options for monograph publishing have been growing in significance since the Wellcome Trust released their 2013 open access (OA) policy which expanded requirements ‘to include all scholarly monographs and book chapters written by its grant holders as part of their Trust-funded research’ (Wellcome Trust, 2013). These requirements were taken into account during the consultation carried out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in 2017 (Research England, 2017) and have informed the move towards requiring OA monographs for the post-2021 REF. In addition to being required for future research assessment purposes, the need for OA monographs has also been highlighted in the revised guidance on Plan S, the international push towards OA mandates (Coalition S, 2019).

Essentially, by 2021, there will be policies and mandates for OA monographs in place in the UK. Although the specifics and the implementation of these are yet to be agreed upon, there is an agreed premise that ‘the removal of paywalls is fundamentally important to reaching as wide an audience as possible.’ (Universities UK, 2019). How many researchers and institutions will these mandates and policies affect? If we look back at how many monographs were submitted in REF2014, it gives us an idea of the scale for future assessment exercises:

In REF 2014, there were 12,873 submissions of output type ‘A’ (authored books), 2,066 of output type ‘B’ (edited books), 13,253 of output type ‘C’ (chapters in books), and 436 outputs of type ‘R’ (scholarly editions). Taking a book to be composed of approximately eight chapters – an admittedly rough measure for economic purposes – this yields a total of 17,032 books submitted to the 2014 exercise (but this figure does not deduplicate books in the case of multiple book chapters).

(Eve et al., 2017)

The impact of scholarly research

It is clear that open access monographs are going to be an integral part of research funding and assessment exercises over the next few years, but that is not the only reason we need to take notice of the OA monograph movement. The impact of research is measured through research assessment, and also carefully monitored and analysed by institutions, funders, researchers and policy makers as part of individual and organisational strategies. Being able to talk about why and how research makes a difference in the world is increasingly important:

The Research Excellence Framework was the first exercise to assess the impact of research outside of academia. Impact was defined as ‘an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’.

In order for research to have a measurable impact on the area outlined by Research England, that research first needs to be made accessible to practitioners, students, professionals, the public and policy makers. In short, if research is going to effect change in society, then people need to be able to read it, and a large proportion of scholarly work is currently hidden behind paywalls, particularly when it comes to monographs, which remain of high importance in many areas of academia:

The issue of open access is therefore important as the dissemination of scholarly writing, whether from researchers or filmmakers has a direct impact on documentary practice. The intertwining of scholarly thought and practice is still a crucial dimension of documentary film so the availability of such writing to those outside of academia is very important since the cost of non-open access materials can be prohibitively high.

The assumption here is that OA options for monographs result in wider audiences and therefore, have more potential for impact. Researchers and organisations are monitoring and analysing data in relation to this premise and, so far, the evidence is encouraging. The 2018 Open Access Monographs Report from Universities UK reported evidence collected from UCL Press and Springer:

In May 2018 UCL Press reported that the 80 books it had published since June 2015 had been downloaded or viewed one million times. Similarly, Springer Nature reported that download rates from the SpringerLink website are seven times higher for the OA titles than the non-OA titles.

(Universities UK, 2018)

By looking at the position of academic monographs in the current research and publishing landscape, two things are very clear; funders and institutions want to be able to measure and analyse the impact and scholarly value of research produced as monographs, and having the option to publish these monographs through an OA model can have a positive effect on the usage and impact of the work, which can then feed into assessment exercises. There are already over 12,000 books listed in the Directory for Open access Books, and this number is set to grow significantly over the next few years (Pyne et al., 2019). However this still remains a small fraction of the estimated 86,000 monographs published each year (Research Information, 2019).

What is less clear now is how the publishing industry is responding to the increased interest in OA monograph publishing, and how the practical side of production and addressing low funding (Pyne et al., 2019) can be handled. We will be looking at these two pressing areas in our next blog post in our monograph series.


COALITION S. 2019. cOAlition S Releases Revised Implementation Guidance on Plan S Following Public Feedback Exercise [Online]. Coalition S. Available: [Accessed 26/06/2019 2019].

COX, G. 2018. Open access monographs are increasing the dissemination of documentary film research. University of Huddersfield Press Blog [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 26/06/2019 2019].

EVE, M. P., INGLIS, K., PROSSER, D., SPEICHER, L. & STONE, G. 2017. Cost estimates of an open access mandate for monographs in the UK’s third Research Excellence Framework. UKSG Insights, 30.

PYNE, R., EMERY, C., LUCRAFT, M. & PINCK, A.S. 2019. The future of open access books: Findings from a global survey of academic book authors.

PYNE, R., MCCUTCHEON, V. & LUCRAFT, M. 2019. Open Access Books [Workshop Summary]. University of Glasgow.

RESEARCH ENGLAND. REF Impact [Online]. Research England. Available: [Accessed 05/06/2019 2019].

RESEARCH ENGLAND. 2017. REF Consultation [Online]. Research England. Available: [Accessed 26/06/2019 2019].

RESEARCH INFORMATION. 2019. OA 'threatens to leave monographs behind'. Research Information News [Online]. Available from: 2019].

UNIVERSITIES UK 2018. Open Access Monographs.

UNIVERSITIES UK 2019. Open Access and Monographs.

WELLCOME TRUST 2013. Wellcome Trust extends open access policy to include scholarly monographs and book chapters. Wellcome Trust.

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