MIT Press to publish monographs open access from 2022

Historic in-house press at Massachusetts Institute of Technology asking libraries for participant fee to enable titles to become publicly available

March 5, 2021
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One of America’s best-known university presses is to make its new academic titles free to view under a new open access scheme that will ask libraries to pay a voluntary supporter fee.

From 2022, all new scholarly monographs and edited collections published by MIT Press will be openly available on its e-book platform rather than sold directly to libraries or readers as single titles, the publisher has announced.

The imprint, which was established in 1932 and remains affiliated to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is asking university libraries to support its Direct to Open (D2O) scheme by paying a participant fee, based on library type, size and collections budget, although new monographs would available to anyone.

To incentivise sign-ups, however, only D2O members will have access to the publisher’s back catalogue of about 2,300 titles.

While several newer publishers have created similar open access monograph schemes, MIT Press is the first major university press to flip its monograph titles in this way, albeit as part of a pilot scheme.

It follows the collapse of the traditional market-based business model for professional and scholarly monographs in recent years: according to MIT Press, most university presses sell only about 300 to 500 units per monograph, largely to academic libraries, compared with 1,500 to 1,700 in the mid-1990s, thereby necessitating subsidies from home universities or charities.

Emily Farrell, library partnerships and sales lead at MIT Press, which publishes about 90 monographs a year, said she believed that other university presses would be able to adopt the business model, even those without a wealthy institutional backer like MIT.

“We are aware that we are not representative of all university presses, and there are challenges for smaller presses because of the cost of digital infrastructure, but it can definitely work elsewhere,” she said. The publisher would share the results of the pilot in September to help others considering a similar switch, she added.

Humanities scholars have been more sceptical about flipping academic publishing to open access than scientists given the high cost of up to £11,000 charged to authors who wish to publish in this way, with some scholars saying the range of titles published would be drastically reduced if such fees were levied.

However, Dr Farrell said she believed that a “shift was happening among researchers” in arts and humanities disciplines, partly as a result of the pandemic.

“Living in a context where print is less accessible and digital copy is the only way to access research means behaviour has changed,” she explained.

“With a model like this, it allows us to open up the conversation to readers who might be sceptical [about open access] by showing it can work,” said Dr Farrell, who added that print copies could still be ordered by libraries under the D2O model.

The D2O scheme has been developed with the support of the Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, which has backed several other open access initiatives for scholarly monographs as part of the Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (Copim) project. In November, the Central European University announced a Copim-backed initiative called Opening the Future, in which university presses would charge subscriptions that are then used to fund titles to go open access, once enough libraries sign up.

Martin Paul Eve, professor of literature, technology and publishing at Birkbeck, University of London, who is working on the Copim project, welcomed the new model adopted by MIT Press. “Membership models like this – pioneered by Open Book Publishers, Punctum books and the Opening the Future model – have shown us better, more equitable ways to open access,” said Professor Eve.

“The challenge, of course, will be getting libraries to participate. Without a transfer of expenditure from a purchase economy to models such as this we will not reach the potential that these models offer.”

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