OPERAS-P and OASPA workshop report: innovative business models for OA books

This blog post describes the ‘innovative business models for open access book publishing – 6 approaches in Europe’ workshop that took place on April 7th, 2021 (please scroll down for the video).

workshop 1 business models

Together with the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association (OASPA), OPERAS is hosting a series of three European workshops1 on business models for open access books targeted specifically at small and medium-sized academic book publishers. This is the report for the first one, the second and third ones of the series are planned for May. As part of the OPERAS-P project work package 6 (Innovation) OPERAS is looking into innovative, non-bpc, business models to create a sustainable infrastructure for open access book publishing in Europe. Feedback gathered in the course of these three workshops will inform a report on innovative business models for OA books and will be published by the end of June 2021 as an OPERAS-P project result.

The first of the three events took place on April 7th, for which we invited six publishers from Finland, Croatia, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom to share about their business models for open access book publishing. Each of these publishers, sharing their experiences and insights with an emphasis on Revenue, Costs, Legal Affairs and Workflows (Production and Distribution). The presenters were:

  1. Sebastian Nordhoff (Language Science Press)
  2. Niklas Alén (Finnish Literature Society)
  3. Martin Paul Eve (Opening the future)2
  4. Iva Melinscak Zlodi (FF Open Press)
  5. Lucy Barnes (Open Book Publishers)
  6. Fulvio Guatelli (Firenze University Press)

1 The million dollar question

Each of the 6 publishers had a different approach towards achieving a common goal: publishing open access books. Following introductions, presenters immediately moved beyond the question of why publish a book open access, straight on towards the critical question of how. It is no secret that smaller and medium-sized publishers are typically not in the ‘business’ of maximizing revenue and minimizing costs and, some perhaps don’t even perceive themselves as being a business at all. Still, what about their real costs, efforts and labor involved and how are these recovered?

The presenters shared a wide variety of revenue sources that enable cost-recovery including: print sales (which remained significant for some publishers), library membership fees, grants & donations, public subsidies, institutional subsidies, e-sales & fees for additional author services. On the cost side, the majority of costs were associated with activities adding direct value to the quality of the book, such as typesetting, copyediting, proofreading and design. On the topic of costs and cost-breakdowns, how this is defined and considers in-kind and voluntary contributions varies per press, complicating direct comparisons. All publishers shared and elaborated on their cost structure however. Two of the publishers shared average costs per book even (‘first copy’ production costs), which amounted to ~5.500 EUR and in one case ~ 3.000 EUR, demonstrating cost transparency.

2 Legal Affairs / Workflow

A wide range of legal considerations were discussed, including trademark and logo registrations and the importance of securing your brand. The use of certain Creative Commons (CC) licenses differed between the publishers, some leaning more to CC-BY-NC-ND and others to the less restrictive CC-BY. The majority of the publishers explicitly mentioned they support copyright retention for their authors however. Challenges in the legal domain related to copyright issues (for translations, illustrations) or intentions to publish in English later on and take-down notices and lack of automatic registering of ‘fair dealing’ exceptions by third-party platforms.

When it comes to production, the publishers had various streamlined workflows in place, including standard templates (doc and tex), collaborative production via Overleaf and print-on-demand service. One publisher appreciated having in-house programming expertise which has been useful to them. Dissemination workflows ensure the distribution of open access books via a plethora of platforms and channels, beyond publisher websites, various platforms such as Zenodo, DOAB, OAPEN, GoogleBooks, EBSCO, GitHub, Institutional repositories, search engines, and others were mentioned. For all publishers, online usage numbers far exceed print sales numbers but for most non-OA distribution partners for the delivery of print copies to their readers for instance remain in place. 

3 CC-BY – Perspectives on re-selling: a tale of Jane and Paul

In parallel to the presentations, the presenters and the audience engaged in a vivid conversation in the chat. One particular topic that stood out and sparked a discussion related to the CC-BY licence and re-selling. The print re-selling of CC-BY books is, to a certain extent, taking place as pointed out in a blog post by Professor Martin Paul Eve here.

Below, we attempt to briefly summarize the topic as it was discussed during this event, in the form of a tale of Jane and Paul:

“If Jane [not the original publisher] manages to (re-)sell a book [CC-BY OA book] which was free in the first place to Paul, Paul was probably not aware that book was available for free, otherwise he could have chosen not to spend money on it. So Jane has increased outreach’’

Perspectives were shared on some of the wider implications re-selling of CC-BY books may have, such as: low-quality reproductions of a CC-BY work, author reputation, (future) author perceptions of open access & publisher revenue-loss.

The story of Jane and Paul will most likely not end here, and we invite anyone to continue sharing their perspectives via the Open Access Books Network here.

We would like to thank the presenters and over 100 participants who participated in this event. Following this workshop two will be organized in May as interactive in-depth workshops focused on challenging areas in the OA books publishing process. 

Video recording:

OPERAS P & OASPA Workshop: innovative business models for open access book publishing in Europe

OPERAS-P Funding

  1. While these three workshops focus on innovative business models and approaches used within Europe, we would like to emphasise similar innovative business models have been implemented outside of Europe too. []
  2. Unfortunately Professor Martin Paul Eve was not able to join us on the day. Instead, we would like to recommend you to take a look at a recent recording on his business model here – to learn more about the innovative ‘opening the future’ business model. []

1 Response

  1. 22/04/2021

    […] OPERAS-P and OASPA Workshop Report: Innovative Business Models for Open Access Books (OPERAS) […]

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