The challenges and opportunities for open access (OA) book publishers

Updated: Jul 22, 2019

In the first two blog posts in this series on open access monograph publishing, we looked at the current research and publishing landscape (Taylor, 2019b) and saw how funders and institutions increasingly want to measure and analyse the impact and scholarly value of research monographs. It is clear that an OA model can have a positive effect on usage and impact, which can then feed into assessment exercises. We also looked at how much it costs to produce OA monographs (Taylor, 2019a), and explored some of the funding options for publishers wanting to do this.

In this final post in the OA monograph series, I’m going to talk about the challenges facing OA monograph publishers, and look at some of the innovative activity going on to address these challenges and make the most of the current publishing landscape.

What are the challenges and how are publishers addressing them?

We know that monograph print sales continue to reduce, whilst usage of OA monographs continues to rise (Cassuto, 2019). Readers, researchers and funders are all using and demanding more OA monographs, but recent research has shown that potential authors still have concerns which need addressing. Jisc reported (Stone and Weigert, 2019) on the Knowledge Exchange Survey on Open Access Monographs (Jisc, 2018) published in November 2018:

One of the key questions that remains is how to encourage more authors to publish their monographs OA. The Jisc KE survey (pdf) revealed that concerns over sustainability, copyright and third-party rights, quality issues and trade and crossover titles are high on authors’ agendas. It is key to engage authors in a debate around these issues.

(Stone and Weigert, 2019)

The need for transparency in publishing

If we take the first two points from the above quote – sustainability and rights – it is clear that some of these concerns could be addressed by improving the level of information and transparency provided by publishers. Over the ten years I have worked in academic publishing and communications (both traditional and OA models), I have had countless conversations with authors who want to know more about the licenses covering their content and the preservation of their content – more than that which is covered in the publisher’s standard information.

Publishers can address this in quite simple ways by providing more information and resources on their own websites and in information packs, such as whether they are signed up to preservation services, and what type of creative commons or other license they are using. There are also various organisations working with multiple publishers to further improve and formalise information relating to licensing and preservation. Having gone through the process myself recently for a range of journals and books, I know that Scopus, the Directory of Open access Journals (DOAJ), the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) and the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) all analyse the information provided by publishers as part of their membership or application process. In particular, I have found that DOAJ, DOAB and OASPA take a really proactive and developmental approach to helping publishers improve transparency, working to genuinely improve the information available for authors, as well as guiding publishers through their application processes.

Navigating the complex landscape of book usage data

Addressing the concerns of authors is certainly key to knowing and responding to the needs of your author community. That said, it is just as important to understand the other stakeholder groups, including your reader community. Traditional book production models have relied on sales figures to paint a picture of who is reading content, but the move towards digital and hybrid models has opened up a whole new world of data. Having access to huge amounts of data can be daunting for small presses, and a recent research project aimed to address this by doing a case study on OA UCL monographs. Ironically the article reporting the results is not open access (Montgomery et al., 2018a), but some of the results are summarised by the authors via the LSE Impact Blog (Montgomery et al., 2018b).

What kind of tools can be used to gather the data?

· Download statistics made available by platforms and repositories hosting books

· Google Analytics data

· Social media data

What questions can publishers ask using the data?

· How is this book doing?

· What promotion strategies are effective?

· Is the press delivering on its mission goals?

Adapted from (Montgomery et al., 2018b)

The idea is that, by using the vast amount of data now available for monographs, publishers can better understand their readership and, in turn make more informed decisions about the future products they offer to their readership community.

Hopefully you have found this blog post series on OA monographs interesting and helpful. The OA monograph landscape is constantly changing, influenced by policy changes, author and reader behaviours, and developments in publishing technology. This brings many challenges for publishers, including myself, and it will be interesting to see how our practices adapt and develop in the run up to REF2021.


CASSUTO, L. 2019. Worried About the Future of the Monograph? So Are Publishers. Chronicle of Higher Education.

JISC 2018. Knowledge Exchange Survey on Open Access Monographs.

MONTGOMERY, L., NEYLON, C., OZAYGEN, A. & LEAVER, T. 2018a. Getting the best out of data for open access monograph presses: A case study of UCL Press. Learned Publishing, 31.

MONTGOMERY, L., NEYLON, C., OZAYGEN, A. & LEAVER, T. 2018b. How small open access monograph presses can make the most of an increasingly rich data landscape. LSE Impact Blog [Online]. Available from: 2019].

STONE, G. & WEIGERT, V. 2019. How do monographs fit with the open access agenda? Jisc Blog [Online]. Available from: 2019].

TAYLOR, M. 2019a. How is the funding landscape for monograph publishers changing? The International Bunch Blog [Online]. Available from: 2019].

TAYLOR, M. 2019b. Open access monographs are more important than ever - here's why. The International Bunch Blog [Online]. Available from: 2019].

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