An excellent Chronicle piece [paywalled, alas] from Sarah Kember (Goldsmiths Press) and Amy Brand (the MIT Press), on the slate of well-intentioned OA policies from the U.S., Europe, and Britain:
As the heads of progressive university presses on two sides of the North Atlantic, we support open and equitable access to knowledge. If history is any guide, however, the new policies may unintentionally contribute to greater consolidation in academic publishing — and encourage commercial publishers to value quantity over quality and platforms over people. Unless the new open-access policies are accompanied by direct investment from funders, governments, and universities in nonprofit publishers and publishing infrastructure, they could pose a threat to smaller scholarly and scientific societies and university presses, and ultimately to trust in published knowledge.
The commentary includes sharp takedowns of read-and-publish deals, as well as commercial-publisher data hoovering.
If I have a critique, it’s that the authors are vague about whether “truly public knowledge” should or must be open. They imply as much, and suggest direct (or collective) funding along MIT’s Direct-to-Open, with a nod to “state-owned, noncommercial platforms” (Europe!). Still, it would be possible to read the piece’s incisive critique of corporate OA as a warning agains the “false promise of ‘openness’” tout court.
I suspect the ambiguity is a result, in part, of the very challenging OA economics of university presses—especially those, unlike Kember’s Goldsmiths, built on legacy, print-based models. Though a small number of legacy presses—MIT and Michigan, for example—are leverage direct funding (with back-catalogue access as a carrot) to open up new books, most other U.S. university presses can’t—not with their cost structure—easily publish OA monographs without a large, author-excluding book processing charge (BPC). It’s telling that BPCs aren’t mentioned in the piece, even as Kember and Brand (rightly) call out Springer Nature et al for their usurious APCs.
They’re right, to wrap the point, that the nonprofit university press sector is an indispensable part of any future community-led publishing infrastructure. Yes. Still, the UP world will need to drop the BPC route, and turn instead to direct funding from libraries, host universities, and other funders.