Claims that monograph publishing is in crisis are exaggerated, and any move to open access ought to be motivated by the considerable opportunities it offers rather than by fear for the format’s future.
This is the view of Geoffrey Crossick, the author of a major report on monographs and open access in the humanities and social science, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and published on 22 January.
The funding councils have said that monographs will be exempt from the open access mandate that will apply to journals in the next research excellence framework, but they are contemplating ending the exemption for the following exercise, probably in the mid-2020s.
Some observers have suggested that declining sales mean that making monographs open access might be the only way of preserving the format.
But Professor Crossick, a former vice-chancellor of the University of London and now distinguished professor of the humanities at the School of Advanced Study, said that during the past decade the four largest monograph publishers in the UK had doubled the number they publish each year, to 5,000. And although the rising cost of journal subscriptions was squeezing libraries’ monographs budget, Professor Crossick had not detected that academics have a “serious problem” accessing the books they need.
Holding their value
Despite rising prices, monographs were still being bought by individual academics, too, he found. But open access could make monographs more accessible to the public and to academics in other disciplines or countries, Professor Crossick added, although he had no figures on the probable level of demand.
A number of experiments in financing open access monographs are under way. Professor Crossick said that the models based on collaboration among communities of academics could make it easier to find willing peer reviewers.
He was unclear which business models would endure, but he felt that a dominant model was unlikely to emerge. Prohibitive costs would afflict an author-pays model, while academics were unlikely to settle for repository-based access to the text of monographs stripped of their published layout and images. Other challenges included securing agreements on both appropriate licensing of open access monographs and on the terms for reproducing copyrighted images, texts and musical scores.
In his report, Monographs and Open Access, Professor Crossick deliberately avoids making policy recommendations because “we are at a much earlier stage than that”. But he felt that by the mid-2020s, most monographs were likely to be available digitally, and academics were likely to be even less willing than ever to go to libraries for material.
“In that context it would be difficult and wrong to resist [the] move to open access,” he said, adding that resistance could mean that monographs “wither” as a format.
David Sweeney, director of research, education and knowledge exchange at Hefce, said the report would provide “important guidance”.
“Any policy for open access monographs in future REFs would need to be established soon to give due notice to the sector,” he added.