Business Models for Books

Funding Open Access Monographs

Video on Funding Open Access Monographs. [German] (CC BY 3.0 DE)
Source: Brinken, Helene (2020). Finanzierung von Open-Access-Monographien, open-access.network. https://doi.org/10.5446/49535

The key takeaways from this article are:

1

There are numerous business and funding models for open access books.

2

The individual models have specific advantages and disadvantages; some models can be combined with each other.

3

Besides book processing charges (BPCs), which are widely used in the German-speaking area, the parallel sale of print editions, the institutional funding of open access, and consortial models are of particular importance.

Open access means free access to and reuse of scientific information. Because open access books are available to readers free of charge, the publication costs can no longer be covered by sales of the books, but rather must be financed through alternative business models.

In recent years, the importance of open access has increased enormously in the humanities and social sciences. As a result, a variety of business and funding models for open access books have developed. Although there are both commonalities and differences between these models and the common models for open access journals, the models for open access books are by comparison more varied and more experimental. In practice, different approaches are often combined with each other.

In what follows, the main funding models for open access books in the German-speaking area are briefly introduced. The overview draws on existing typologies with different degrees of complexity that can be highly recommended as further reading (Collins et al., 2015; Speicher et al., 2018; Penier et al., 2020). Moreover, for the selection presented here, the brief overview provided by the Open Access Books Toolkit (OAPEN, 2020) proved helpful.

Video on Publishing Books in Open Access. [German] (CC BY 3.0 DE)
Quelle: Stern, Niels: Publishing your book in Open Access?, open-access.network. https://doi.org/10.5446/52108

Book Processing Charges (BPCs)

BPCs enable the recognition and assumption of the costs associated with the publication of high-quality open access book publications. Because, for many years now, research funding organisations, foundations, and authors in the German speaking area have also funded conventional book publications via so-called printing cost allowances, the hurdle for paying BPCs is lower here than in other countries.

The BPC model reinforces injustices in the academic system by giving an advantage to authors who work in secure positions at financially strong institutions or on well-resourced third-party-funded projects. Authors who work at less well-resourced institutions are disadvantaged, as are those who are not affiliated with an institution. At the international level, the model disadvantages authors in the Global South. Moreover, there is also criticism of the fact that commercial publishers do not clearly present their actual costs and services, which is why the reimbursement of BPCs is increasingly contingent upon compliance with standards relating to quality and transparency.

 


Practical Tip

Here you can find helpful recommendations and checklists on quality standards for OA books:

Publication fees for books, also known as book processing charges (BPCs), are levied by publishers to cover the costs that arise during the publication process. They are the counterparts of the well-known article processing charges (APCs) used in the journals area. The level of the BPCs varies from publisher to publisher; they range from a few hundred to several thousand euros. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the services and licensing options offered by the publishers differ, as do the books that are published. Second, differences in the costs and revenue structures of the publishers also play an important role. And finally, third, there are publishers who, besides their actual costs, also include estimates of lost sale proceeds in the calculation of BPCs. However, it is a matter of debate whether parallel open access publication has any effect at all on the sales figures of the printed edition. Various studies have shown that publishers’ fears of serious sales shortfalls are unfounded (Collins et al., 2015; Ferwerda et al., 2018; Snijder, 2019; Graf et al., 2020).

Publication fees are very widespread in the case of open access books (see Penier et al., 2020, pp. 46–52). The model is used both by commercial publishers and by scholar-led publishers and university presses. As a rule, BPCs are paid by research funding organisations or by the authors’ institutions. By now, numerous institutions have established publication funds for this purpose – in Germany, often with support from the German Research Foundation (DFG). However, particularly authors who are not affiliated with an institution, or who work at financially weaker institutions, have to bear the costs themselves. Because BPCs are author-side fees, the model is also referred to as the “author-pays model”.

Sale of Print Editions

The parallel publication of digital and print editions of books, sometimes known as “dual publishing”, is a hybrid model whereby revenues are generated from sales of the print edition. These revenues do not usually completely replace the BPCs, but rather are intended merely to supplement them.

In contrast to the journals area, the sale of books in printed form is still very widespread both in the case of commercial publishers and of scholar-led publishers and university presses. In the past, commercial publishers often relied on embargo periods and restrictive licensing models. However, also due to research funders’ requirements, a clear trend towards gold open access and Creative Commons (CC) licences is apparent. 

 

The sale of print editions (paperbacks, hardcover books) can be an important source of revenue for publishers. Thanks to digital technologies and lean distribution structures, the additional effort required for this has decreased noticeably in recent years. As long as there is still a corresponding demand on the part of libraries and readers, it makes sense for publishers to continue to offer scholarly books in printed form and to also use the existing channels of the book trade for this purpose.

 

Despite the savings achieved by using procedures such as print on demand, the production and sale of print editions is associated with a certain level of costs and administrative effort. Should the demand for scholarly books in printed form (continue to) decline in the future, this model, too, will become less attractive.

 


Institutional Support

For institutions and their libraries, it may be expedient to invest part of the budgetary funds earmarked for financing (open access) publications in the establishment of their own publication services. In this way, they can grant their own (and possibly also other) researchers attractive conditions, use existing infrastructures and know-how, and enhance the reputation of their own insitutions.

 

In order to be able to offer authors and editors an attractive publishing environment, a considerable level of commitment is required. The institutional-support model can develop its full potential only if activities are long term and sustainable

 


Within the framework of their promotion of open access, universities and non-university research organisations provide their own publication services for open access books. These can range from the creation of a repository or a publication platform to the operation of a university press. Institutional support can be provided on a financial, personnel, or infrastructural level. Libraries often play a key role in this regard. institutional support enables university presses either to keep BPCs low or to dispense with them completely. The fact that university presses operate on a non-profit basis also has a positive effect on pricing. The use of the services may be restricted to members of the university or be open also to researchers at other institutions.

In particular, institutions in which the humanities and social sciences are strongly represented, now provide book publishing services of their own. The majority of German-language university presses have come together in the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Universitätsverlage (Consortium of University Presses). The most well known of these are Göttingen University Press, Heidelberg University Publishing, and KIT Scientific Publishing

Library Consortia (“Institutional Crowdfunding”)

Within the framework of library consortia, libraries pledge a fee towards making collections of books open access. These bundles, or packages, may either be thematically grouped or may relate to titles published by one or more publishers. As soon as enough libraries have agreed to participate, and the pledging target has been reached, a pre-agreed fee is paid to the publishers, and the books are then made available in open access. This revenue model is similar to the well-known crowdfunding models in other areas. In the present case, the “crowd” is made up of libraries.

Consortial models are already widespread in the area of journals. For the humanities, the Open Library of Humanities’ (OLH) crowdfunding model is of particular importance. In the area of books, Knowledge Unlatched plays a pioneering role; as of September 2021, over 2,700 books had been “unlatched” – that is, made available in open access. Within the framework of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) Guidelines for Promoting Projects to Accelerate the Transition to Open Access, several projects are currently being funded that are developing consortial models for book series (KOALA, OAdine, TOAA). At the international level, the project COPIM is working on the (further) development of alternative business models.

Consortial models render it possible to dispense with BPCs and all their disadvantages. For this reason, they can be very attractive for authors. Moreover, they offer publishers a low-threshold way of converting their own programmes to open access. And finally, for the libraries, they can considerably reduce the processing efforts associated with the procurement of books.

 

There is no guarantee that a sufficient number of libraries will always be found to raise enough money to “unlatch” a package of titles. Moreover, there is a danger that, in view of budget shortages, libraries will speculate that the pledging target will be reached without their participation (free rider problem). Moreover, commercially oriented models may cause libraries to be sceptical, and may contribute to their reticence.

 

Video on Community Open Access Funding for Libraries. [german] (CC BY 3.0 DE)
Source: Oberländer, A. Tullney, M. (2020). Gemeinschaftliche Open-Access-Finanzierung für Bibliotheken. https://doi.org/10.5446/52895

Other Models

The models outlined above are merely a selection. Among the numerous other models, many of which have not been tested on a large scale, two should be mentioned at least briefly: the freemium model and the institutional membership model.

Freemium

Under the freemium model, a publisher or a service provider publishes one edition of a book open access without charging the authors a publication fee. This open access publication is financed via other revenue sources – for example, from the sale of digital editions with additional functionalities and in other formats (enhanced HTML, EPUB/Mobi, etc.). Although some publishers and platforms, such as OpenEdition und Open Book Publishers, are already successfully using the model, it remains to be seen whether it will prove its worth.

 

Institutional Memberships

Institutional memberships are another model that can be used to fund open access books. Often within the framework of consortial agreements, libraries and other institutions pay an annual membership fee to a publisher, who in turn assumes part of the costs of publishing books. Moreover, member institutions and their authors can obtain further discounts. The model is widespread especially in the area of journals, but it is also used by scholarly book publishers, such as Open Book Publishers and Punctum Books, and it can make an important contribution to the simplification and debureaucratisation of open access publishing.

References

Further Reading