Background to Open Access Publishing

While the current, rapidly changing world requires increased research and improved dissemination in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), availability of and access to academic publications in many areas of HSS is actually fragmented and limited. Language barriers in Europe limit the national markets for publications. The high and still increasing costs of international Science, Technology and Medicine (STM) publications cut into the available budgets of University Libraries for HSS publications. This means smaller print runs and higher costs, resulting in higher barriers for new publications.

Faced with the serious economic conditions facing the publication of scholarly books, University Presses all over the world have begun to recognise digital publishing as a viable alternative to disseminate works that would otherwise not have been published and as an important tool to increase the availability of works that otherwise would only have a very limited distribution. Adequate online access to research output in HSS is crucial for research, high-quality education and lifelong learning - essential factors for transforming the EU with its rich book-publishing tradition into a leading knowledge society.

However, many of the smaller and medium sized society- and university-publishers - in most cases operating on a not-for-profit basis – find it difficult to take up the full potential of digital publishing and its corresponding new business models. Digital Open Access publishing has focused almost exclusively on STM and journals. Monographs, edited volumes and archival materials, quintessential to the HSS, have so far largely been neglected.

Open Access funding models for digital editions in combination with digital printing techniques can lower the cost of publishing and distributing academic books and add to their retrievability and use. Aggregation of current, high quality HSS publications in a freely accessible online library based on common standards can improve impact and relevance of HSS publications and contribute to European policies stemming from the Lisbon Agenda.

In 2007, Ithaka published its extensive report on University Publishing in the Digital Age in which it is argued that the online publication role of university presses should be expanded and that presses should collaborate on many functions related to online publication, as is already common in journal publishing. A collaborative electronic publishing infrastructure of presses and libraries will save costs, build scale, leverage expertise and promote innovation. Added value of orchestrated effort not only makes sense for common infrastructure but goes for the respective content as well. The single Open Access publication gains value from better visibility. Scientific relevance, however, is achieved if single publications appear in larger coherences such as a subject-specific platform.

A clear example of the move towards digital publishing in HSS has been the revival of Rice University Press as the first fully digital university press in the United States and subsequently the announcement that Stanford University Press will be collaborating with Rice to publish a series of books reviewed by Stanford. Since then other publishers have adopted similar models, for instance Bloomsbury Academic and Open Book Publishers. In addition, The Public Knowledge Project and Open Humanities Press have announced the development of a new platform, specifically designed for books: Open Monograph Press.

These examples also demonstrate recognition of the possible advantages of digital formats for enriched publications, including features and material that up till now have not been possible in traditional publishing. This can be seen as another cause of change: the use of information and communication technologies inspiring innovations in research ('e-science'), requiring new publication formats.

OAPEN is committed to OA publishing and is excited to bring it to the HSS community.