‘Open access’ refers to a type of publishing that provides texts free to the reader. Since publishing requires resources, these have to be paid for in some way. Where the reader does not pay for text, an alternative source of funding is required. That source is typically the author or the author’s sponsors.
This might make open access publishing sound like vanity publishing. The two concepts are, however, distinct. In vanity publishing, the publishers typically (a) exert no quality control – they print whatever they’re paid for – and (b) charge high fees relative to production costs. In scholarly open access publishing, in contrast, the usual forms of quality control (notably peer review) may apply. And, though the size of subsidy required does vary, the relationship to publishing costs (typically expressed is cost-per-page) is usually tolerably clear.
The discipline of creative writing already benefits from some successful open access publishing. For example, Text, edited by Nigel Krauth and Jen Webb, is a well-established journal that is available free to readers. Another such journal is Creative Writing, founded by Nigel McLoughlin.
Though, in scholarly publishing, the open access model is more common in the field of journals, it also features in book publishing. For example, according to its website OAPEN (the Open Access Publishing in European Networks) “is a collaborative initiative to develop and implement a sustainable Open Access publication model for academic books in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The OAPEN Library aims to improve the visibility and usability of high quality academic research by aggregating peer reviewed Open Access publications from across Europe”. And the Open Access Directory provides a listing for open access book publishers.
There are reasons for thinking that, at least over the long term, the open access model for the publishing of scholarly books might grow in popularity. The driver behind open access – the desire to broaden readership – has now a particular appeal for two reasons concerning academic policy. First, research outputs are increasingly likely to be evaluated through citation counts. It is arguable that texts published through an open access model, by being more widely available, may be cited more frequently (though I’m not certain that the empirical evidence yet supports that proposition).
Second, in the UK at least, government is interested in supporting scholarly work that has an impact beyond the academic community. By making publications available to readers who have no access to university libraries and may lack the funds to buy full-priced publications, open access may have a role to play there.
To date, the publications we have contracted have been commissioned for a conventional publishing programme, i.e. one supported by charging the reader (or the reader’s library) a retail price. We are, however, considering whether to launch a second programme based on open access principles.
Our thinking is that books in such a programme would be:
1. subject to the same quality control measures as our conventional programme, including peer review on at least three occasions;
2. marketed alongside our conventional programme;
3. funded by authors or their sponsors on a predictable scale of charges based on production, marketing, and distribution costs, plus a management fee.
Would this be a useful initiative? If so, what should it be used for? We would welcome the thoughts of authors, scholars, students and others involved in creative writing studies in higher education. To send us your views, please use the contact form on the About us page or, if you wish to share your comments, the reply form below.