Open Insights: An Interview with Janneke Adema and Gary Hall

Posted by Paula Clemente Vega on 13 January 2020

Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs 

An Open Insights Interview with Janneke Adema and Gary Hall

Professor Gary Hall and Dr. Janneke Adema are both researchers in the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University. They are also the Principal Investigators of the recently launched Research England funded project, Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM). Today we explore the context, aims and possibilities of the COPIM strategic international partnership and research project.

Hello Janneke and Gary, you are project leaders of the recently launched Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM) project. Can you please introduce COPIM? What are you setting out to achieve with this project?

Thanks Paula, we’re happy to talk about the COPIM project, of course! 

COPIM wants to remove many of the barriers that currently exist with respect to the publication of open access books: both for presses that are already producing open access books, and for those that would like to do so in the future, including new start-ups. As you know, at the moment our scholarly infrastructures are mainly set up to support the publication of closed access books by large commercial publishers—entities that increasingly own and control the entire publication infrastructure and workflow, ‘from article submissions, to metrics to reputation management and global rankings’, not forgetting the related data extraction, of course (Chen, Posada, and Chan 2019; Chen 2019). With this situation in mind, COPIM has been designed to enable smaller not-for-profit initiatives to publish open access books and to get them into the desired distribution and dissemination systems (e.g. libraries). At the same time, with COPIM we are looking to reconfigure these infrastructures. Specifically, the COPIM project wants to reimagine them in a way that allows for a diversity of players to become part of the publishing ecosystem.

Why and how did the project emerge?

COPIM has its immediate origin in two projects that were developed simultaneously and that shared the goal of improving existing options for OA book publishing. One project, established by the ScholarLed consortium that had emerged from an earlier project called OpenAire, looked at open community-owned infrastructures for OA monographs. The other, led by Martin Eve at Birkbeck, looked at possibilities to flip the closed-access models of learned societies and other book publishing programmes to open access. As both of these projects had very similar aims and intentions, we decided to combine them into one larger project—which became COPIM.

How many people and institutions are involved in this project? In which ways can collaboration benefit the capacity and sustainability of scholar-led open access presses?

COPIM is an international partnership led by Coventry University. It is made up of several universities (Birkbeck, University of London; Lancaster University; and Trinity College, Cambridge), established scholar-led open access presses (represented through the ScholarLed consortium, which comprises Mattering Press, meson press, Open Book Publishers, Open Humanities Press, and punctum books), libraries (UCSB Library, Loughborough University Library), and infrastructure providers (DOAB, Jisc). As we have argued elsewhere with respect to collaboration and scale in relation to the Radical Open Access Collective, we believe we can harness ‘the strengths and organizational structures of not-for-profit, independent and scholar-led publishing communities by: 1) further facilitating collective efforts through horizontal alliances; and by 2) enabling vertical forms of collaboration with other agencies and organizations within scholarly publishing’ (Adema and Moore 2018). It is this ethos that underlies the COPIM project and that we want to expand upon. 

As such, COPIM is part of a longer history of scholars in the humanities working in this fashion – one that stretches, for the two of us, from the OA journal Culture Machine (1999), through to Open Humanities Press (2008), the Radical Open Access Collective (2015) and ScholarLed (2018). Our partners on the COPIM project from Mattering Press, meson press, Open Library of the Humanities and so on all have similar histories. At the same time, COPIM is closely connected to the alternative history of the open access movement, as narrated by our Radical Open Access Collective colleague Samuel Moore in his recent article, ‘Scholar-led Publishing and the Pre-history of the Open Access Movement’ (2019). The usual origin story for OA has it centered around the hard sciences, and the liberal, techno-solutionism of the 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative. Moore, though, traces the pre-history of open access back to early 1990s scholar-led humanities journals such as Surfaces and Postmodern Culture. It’s precisely to this latter, more humanities and theory-oriented tradition of open access, that our work and that of many of the others involved in the COPIM project belongs.

COPIM’s main goal is to improve and increase the sustainability of open access book publishing, especially in the humanities and social sciences. How is COPIM planning to achieve this? Why is there a particular need for the support of OA book publishing in the humanities and social sciences?

COPIM is part of a constellation of agencies that have emerged out of various open access publishing experiments. These agencies take the form of publishing collectives, cooperatives and purchasing consortia. And we view them as having the potential to further academic publishing by providing a model that aligns with the ethos of scholar-led publishing. Here, working collaboratively helps to overcome both structural and strategic disadvantages, while maintaining diversity and providing a framework that can make publishing more resilient (we prefer this term to sustainable). COPIM is looking to achieve this by, first of all, delivering major improvements and innovations in the infrastructures that are used by OA book publishers, and by those publishers making a transition to OA books. But it’s also been devised to enable more productive collaborations between the various stakeholders, including librarians, publishers, and researchers, in the OA landscape. Finally, with COPIM we are keen to expand opportunities to develop the skills that are necessary to run OA publishing operations.

While OA has become an established option for journal articles, books are still produced primarily in traditional, closed formats. OA for books has not yet been widely adopted, even though books remain an important and distinctive publishing option for scholars in the humanities and social sciences (HSS) disciplines (OAPEN-UK 2014). Indeed, research has shown that making books available OA has a positive effect on their usage and discoverability (Ferwerda, Snijder and Adema, 2013; Lucraft 2017; Springer Nature, 2017). OA has also led to an increased use of books by readers and institutions in countries (such as many in the Global South) that struggle to access academic work (Gatti 2013, Snijder 2013, Tennant 2016). COPIM wants to celebrate the monograph as a vital format for HSS research, and is thus committed to enabling and supporting a transition to OA for monographs.

Another goal of COPIM, as stated in the press release, is to help build infrastructure for smaller-scale OA book publishers that would prioritise the needs of the creative research community and the values of public research institutions against those for-profit entities that seek to privatise (and also homogenize) knowledge. In which ways can more horizontal and cooperative approaches to OA publishing benefit institutions and authors and help enhance the impact of open access book publishing?

COPIM is working towards the creation of a collaborative rather than competitive ecosystem. It will be a collaborative ecosystem that, together with stimulating innovation in infrastructures, workflows and digital knowledge production, will support not-for-profit organisations involved in OA book publishing to scale in a horizontal manner by building alliances with other not-for-profit players—including presses, libraries and universities. All those with a shared interest in the public value of knowledge, in other words. What is needed to enable the development of such an ecosystem is nothing less than a reimagining of what academic collectivity, community and commonality are and can be in a digital environment. Here, there is scope for thinking of the various not-for-profit entities within scholarly communication as potential community partners in an emerging open commons of academic publishing. The point then becomes to realign the existing resources in the system, and to direct them to alternative, not-for-profit, collaborative models instead, while reimagining the relations within the publishing system beyond a mere calculative logic in the process. This includes an effort towards resource and skills sharing, which characterises the larger, scholar-led publishing community as a whole, where there is a focus on knowledge exchange overall here, and on the mentoring of smaller or newer initiatives, of co-publishing and community and consortium forming on various levels. This aspect of resource and skill sharing is something we would like to extend to other partners beyond COPIM. In particular, COPIM will be conducting knowledge transfer to the community through the various pilots we will be running around funding, business models, open disseminations systems, experimental publishing and the reuse and archiving of multimodal books. In this and other respects projects such as COPIM can be said to be about far more than just publishing: ‘they intend to reveal the possibilities of mutual reliance in higher education (and beyond) so that others may engage in similar practices of collaboration’ (Moore & Adema, 2019).

The project will also support and sustain a diversity of publishing initiatives and models. Are you planning to prioritise certain business models over others? E.g. consortial funding models over author processing charges models. In the humanities and social sciences, for instance, APC/BPC (article/book processing charges) based business models don’t work well…

BPCs are commonly seen as a barrier to sustainability for OA books because funding for publishing projects is not widely available in the HSS (Bargheer et al., 2017). At the moment it is not clear where the responsibility for covering these costs will lie: with funders, institutions or elsewhere. There are also ethical challenges, in the sense that BPCs worsen existing inequities in access to the means of publishing. Therefore, to explore alternatives, COPIM will indeed be focusing on developing consortial, institutional, and other funding systems. It will be building upon the partners’ existing network of libraries and other public institutions to do so. We hope that the development of such systems will provide important community-led and hybrid revenue models for OA book publishers, and that those models will be able to support the establishment of even more community-owned and governed infrastructures, as well as further promote publisher-librarian partnerships around OA book publishing.  But COPIM will also showcase alternative (non-BPC) business models which incorporate infrastructural innovations and/or cost-reductions through streamlined operating processes, production workflows and economic efficiencies—and which will benefit all scales of publishing initiatives.  As part of one of our case studies, for example, we will be locating at least two non-OA publishers that are willing to partially transition their business models to OA. Working with these selected publishers over a two-year period, we will assist them in migrating or flipping their economic models to OA, while documenting this process.

It’s sometimes hard to convince libraries to support non-APC based business models if they don’t see a direct correlation between economic investment and benefits for their own institutions – e.g. paying for the APCs of their academics. However, without the support of institutions, scholar-led initiatives such as the Open Library of Humanities, which is funded by a consortial partnership model, wouldn’t exist. It’s clear that a change of mindset is what is needed. Thus, how is the project planning to encourage this? Do you have any advocacy plan in mind?

Yes, and we are really enthusiastic about working with libraries, several of which are already part of the COPIM project as essential partners, having long supported open access book publishing projects and those of the partners in COPIM too. Existing partners such as punctum and Open Book Publishers (and also Open Library of the Humanities via Martin Eve’s involvement) have already set up extensive contacts with libraries through library-support schemes. Our aim with COPIM is to start scaling this activity up, with a particular focus on ours being a community-led and community-owned, not-for-profit initiative that will not be bought out or transformed into a commercial entity in the future, something we have seen happen previously to other players in the field. This is the assurance we will provide to libraries: that we are keen to build these systems with them, not for them, and that they will be an active part of our governance structures. Dissemination is a core element of COPIM, where we aim to create outreach programmes, convene stakeholders in targeted workshops and conferences, conduct various pilots with stakeholder groups and create white papers, reports, and online resources. We will also establish stakeholder working groups and deliberative bodies around the COPIM ecosystem, thus hopefully creating genuine community involvement. And, of course, all of COPIM outputs, including the various publications that will be produced, will be openly available, to ensure all key stakeholders as well as the general public can access and implement them easily and freely. 

Our thanks to Janneke Adema and Gary Hall, and keep an eye out for more #EmpowOA Open Insights soon!