OAPEN-Springer Nature Interview on the occasion of reaching 1000 OA books: Part 2

Eelco Ferwerda

Thu 18 Jun 2020

Read this article at hypothèses.org

This is the second part of this interview, to read the first part please click here .

Eelco Ferwerda, Ros Pyne, May 2020

Looking back over the last ten years or so, what have been the important developments for books to become OA?

I expect the answer to this could take up a whole interview in itself!

To name just a few – the early experiments coordinated by OAPEN in the Netherlands, the UK, and Switzerland were important in encouraging publishers to experiment with OA for books, and in providing early insights into OA book models. OAPEN and the DOAB continue to play a crucial role both as a central point of discovery for open access books, and, through their peer review requirement, in helping to maintain standards and provide reassurance as to the quality of OA books.

The Wellcome Trust was one of the first big funders to explicitly support and fund OA for books, and their policy and related advocacy has, I’m sure, been influential in persuading many publishers to offer OA book options. The TOME initiative to fund OA monographs in the US has also been important in raising awareness in a region in which authors tend to be more cautious about OA.

I think we at Springer Nature have also played a part here, through our sustained commitment to OA books over the last nine years and our growing programme, and through our research into the benefits of OA for books.

So, now let’s try to look into the future…

First of all, do you think academic books will remain an important part of scholarly output in certain disciplines? Do you think our perception of academic books are changing, or likely to change in the next few years? Why is open access for books important?

I’m convinced that scholarly books will continue to be the pre-eminent mode of communicating research and thought for many disciplines. The world is multifaceted and interconnected, and increasingly globalised. Books allow complexity and depth for solutions: a monograph allows the space to fully explore and contextualize a topic that short-form outputs can’t provide, and that won’t change. Opening up access to monographs allows many more readers worldwide to access the important research published in them.

Looking at the portfolio of Springer Nature, can you give us an idea of the relative importance of books? Is it changing?

At Springer Nature, we are strongly committed to books: they have always been the backbone of the company, and this will not change. What has already changed, though, is our interpretation of what is essential about a book and how we can develop it further to benefit authors and readers. We use our innovation and expertise to help shape the future of books.

What is the current growth rate of OA books, how does that compare to articles, do you see books catching up? Where do you see the growth coming from, in terms of types of books, funding sources?

We’re certainly seeing strong growth in OA books – we published 30% more OA books in 2019 compared with 2018. It’s difficult to meaningfully compare growth rates, given that books start from a much lower base than journals and that, as your question suggests, we see very different trends and growth by region and by country.

Funder policies influence the trends: we’ve seen a big increase in the number of OA books we published by authors based in Switzerland since the SNSF introduced their funding programme, for example. Authors from countries whose national funders already have OA books policies and a strong history of leading in the OA arena, such as the Netherlands and Austria, also feature prominently in our OA books programme. In the last couple of years there’s also been increasing interest from China and India.

The majority of our OA books are monographs and edited collections. This makes sense, as historically OA movements have focused on access to primary research. However, one of our aims is to offer an OA option for all types of scholarly book, and we continue to expand the options we offer our authors: earlier this year we started offering OA for major reference works for the first time.

In your opinion, what are the things that need to change, or happen, for OA books to become the mainstream model?

We know from our 2019 survey that authors are positive about an OA future for books. That’s a good start. We can still do more, though, to increase awareness and understanding of OA, especially amongst groups that are currently more sceptical, such as senior scholars and those based in North America. We also need to keep combatting misconceptions about quality and peer review; organisations like DOAB and OAPEN that set standards for acceptance play an important role here.

Research funders’ policies can be hugely influential in changing behaviours, so it’s good to see more of them turning their attention to OA for books: I’m sure the UKRI consultation and policy will have an impact. Alongside this, we know funding is a barrier, so from funders we will need not just mandates, but also the financial support to enable OA.

Finally, as OA for books becomes more mainstream, we will need better solutions for enabling authors based in low-income and lower-middle-income countries to publish open access.

We’ve seen for journals that making OA mainstream has required cooperation between publishers, institutions, funding bodies, and governments. I think ultimately the same will prove true for books.

What do you think the effect will be of the current pandemic? In terms of reading habits and the transition to OA?

The pandemic demonstrates the importance and benefits of open access to the research literature. Along with many other publishers, we have made all our research on SARS-CoV2, Covid-19, and related topics, including work in the humanities and social sciences, books as well as journals, freely available via our own website and the PubMed portal.

It will also be interesting to see if reading habits start to change as a result of scholars and students not having access to physical libraries for a long period of time. While journals have almost completely moved online, print books are still widely used and purchased alongside ebooks. But of course, right now few people can access those print books, and that could continue for months. In order to support learning for students who are away from libraries, we also made a set of Springer Nature textbooks freely available for several months, and we’ve seen great engagement. But all our OA books are already freely available to download and re-use in perpetuity. It seems likely there will be a faster transition to use of ebooks as a result of the current situation. Given that OA is inherently a digital concept, that move to e might also help with the move to OA.

Is it fun to work in this area?

I love it! It’s a good feeling to know that, in whatever small way, I’m contributing to making the world’s knowledge more accessible. I have a humanities background and I began my career in humanities and social sciences publishing; enabling open access for books supports those disciplines most of all, and that’s also important to me. Finally, there is a very special community of people working on open access books and that makes it an even more enjoyable area to work in.