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Forget about books to save books?

Report from the conference: Open Access Monographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences, British Library, 1-2 July 2013 #oabooks by Lucy Keating @nulibarts


  1. This was a fascinating conference, packed with content and debate. I'm not going to attempt to summarise it all, so am instead just picking out the key points for me. It offers my own personal take on things, so don't take my word for it: other conference reports are available (and here), and there is a full tweet archive.
    Update: videos of keynotes and panel sessions are now online.
  2. The conference was packed and enthusiastically received. It felt like a topic whose time had come. Why?
  3. What's it all about?
    Put simply, most of the open access (OA) discussion and projects thus far have focused on journal articles (more important to science, technology and medicine), rather than monographs (more important to humanities and social sciences). This means humanities and social sciences have been somewhat overlooked in the OA debate. Coupled with this, a degree of post-Finch caution, and in some cases, hostility, has begun to emerge towards OA from some in the humanities.
    This conference, the first major one to focus on OA books, aimed to redress the balance.
  4. So, what are the problems and how do we solve them?

  5. Dr. Robert Goddard at Clark University
    Dr. Robert Goddard at Clark University
  6. Big issue 1
    The etymology of 'monograph' relates to 'writing on a single subject', but they're increasingly in danger of being read by a single reader. Average monograph sales have declined to 200.
    In an era when the academic impact of research is such a big issue, is there a danger that HSS researchers are increasingly talking to themselves? In a world of instantaneous reaction and comment, how can the laboriously slow monograph publishing cycle survive?
    Monographs are now becoming so obscure that one speaker termed them 'mother-in-law' books: a present which a researcher gives to his/her mother-in-law because it looks nice.
    Compare 200 lifetime sales with:
  7. Big issue 2
    There isn't much money in monograph publishing, and, compared with the behemoths of journal publishing, the suppliers are often much smaller concerns. But monograph publishing comprises many expensive and laborious elements. So who's going to fund it all?
  8. Big issue 3
    We need to forget about books as we know them, and think about them in a completely new way. All they are is a container for information, after all. The opening keynote urged us to 'forget about monographs', and the closing one asked how we can 'blow the book apart'. Nobody was being precious about books at #oabooks.
    Many speakers gave illuminating insights into how the OA and digital worlds could combine to transform books. Interaction, tags, footnotes, multimedia content, links to sources, annotations, open peer review, reuse...
  9. So a book about oral literature in Africa could include audio recordings to illustrate the topic:
  10. Yes, these possibilities could equally apply to any digital book, OA or not, but it doesn't seem to have happened so far, with ebooks generally just replicating traditional book formats, in my experience.
    However, OA greatly increases the potential audience and interaction needed to make everything more dynamic.
    We need to stop thinking of books in the same way that we've done for centuries....
  11. Medieval helpdesk with English subtitles
  12. If you can turn a PhD thesis into a film, a web site, a dance or a tweet, what can you do with a book?
  13. How do we solve it?
    Nobody knows...yet.
    However, I felt the conference did a very good job of showcasing emerging approaches and business models. I came away seeing things from lots of different points of view.
    We were shown a bewildering array of potential business models. Advertising, author-pays, funder-pays, altruists pay, cross-subsidy, crowd-sourced funding, freemium, green, gold, left wing, unglued, unlatched.
    It all started to get quite confusing....
  14. I definitely can't do justice to all the different models, but here are some examples. Please see the conference page for full listing.
  15. One publisher presented their 'author pays' model. Embargoes weren't popular.
  16. Open Book Publishers make some formats available free, and charge for others.
  17. Open Access Publishing at Open Book Publishers
  18. Open Monograph Press proposes a hybrid funding model.