Open Access and the Issue of Quality: Beall or not to Beall

Like everywhere else where money can be earned, also in the field of open access publishing there are pirates around. In the past 10 to 15 years, there have been many parties that abused the open access publishing model – in which the author must pay for the publication of his / her article, for the sole purpose of making money. These ‘publishers’ ask an Article Publication Charge (APC) for vague platforms or journals with a questionable or often non-existent reputation.

I’ve written about the Jeffrey Beall’s list before in Dutch here and eventually I wasn’t planning to write about his endeavors anymore, since it has been discussed a lot in the last few years. It’s a blacklist and for some it works as a point of reference, and for some it is only a biased view by one person; Jeffrey Beall himself.

Because the issues of academic quality in relation to open access almost always pops up in discussions about scholarly publishing I thought it still might serve the media studies community anyway to give some more context to this debate.

Since 2008 Jeffrey Beall, librarian at the Auraria Library, University of Colorado Denver, has been engaging with the quality issues of open access journals. In 2010 he began to draw up a list (the Beall’s List) of so-called “predatory journals.[1] Publishers / journals featured as ‘predatory’ are often identified by aggressive marketing strategies (spam) mailings and calls to submit an article for a journal that after a critical review is no more than a hollow vessel. The Beall’s List has been able to build the necessary authority in recent years, and rightly so in some extent.

But since his list acquired a lot of both positive and negative attention in the last 8 years, and it gained a certain amount of prestige as being the one and only curated list of ‘malpractice’ in the landscape of open access journals, it is newsworthy that only two days ago the Beall’s list suddenly got offline and all activities related to his blog seem to be erased from the internet (if that is ever possible anyway). Up till now it’s unclear why this has happened and one can only speculate about the reasons behind it.

Beall was one of the first to systematically map the abuses in open access journal publishing. He also formulated criteria, by which he assesses the journals and publishers. These criteria are published online, and up to last week he constantly provided updates to it. Beall writes in this document (latest version 2015 ):

“Evaluating scholarly open-access publishers is a process that includes closely, cautiously, thoroughly, and at times skeptically examining the publisher’s content, practices, and websites: contacting the publisher if necessary, reading statements from the publisher’s authors about their experiences with the publisher, and determining whether the publisher commits any of the following practices (below) that are known to be committed by predatory publishers, examining any additional credible evidence about the publisher, compiling very important “back-channel” feedback from scholarly authors, and taking into account counter-feedback from the publishers themselves.”[2]

But a growing amount of criticism to his work has appeared in the past two or three years. For example, it was not always clear why a publisher or journal made it to his list. Beall almost always made such a decision by himself, without having a clear and visible procedure for the outside world to judge. Transparency is an obvious problem; exactly what he is trying to denounce in the above quote.

It turns out that there is almost never ‘back-channel feedback, or if it is there, it is not often made public.

As the publisher, Frontiers, in October 2015 made it to the Beall’s list:


A huge online discussion started to get to know the rationale behind this decision. Many academics (who at that time also were partly involved as an editor at Frontiers) fell over this decision.[3] It would be too one-sided, would place too much emphasis on what is not going well in the editorial processes, etc.. Moreover, Beall had issued a warning in 2013, but this has been quite brief. But, with this brief announcement his action came not completely out of nowhere.[4] Despite the comments in favor of Frontiers, the publisher has taken steps to improve certain editorial processes. Beall’s action has therefore indeed lead to action/reaction, whether it is justified or not.

One thing is clear and that is that there is much to do about the list itself. There has been a formal accusation submitted by a publisher who thought that it was unlawfully added to the Beall’s list.[5] Recently some people even suggested that Beall would ask for money in order to do an assessments to get a journal or publisher off the list.[6] It is difficult to really determine the authenticity of such an allegation and we should therefore be careful about it. In the last few years some fanatics began a crusade against everything Jeffrey Beall is doing.[7] Even bullying him. And maybe this, as we’ve seen just this week has apparently lead to the end of his blog? Anyway, such practices, however, contribute nothing to the search for a workable (global) system where we can separate the bad apples from the healthy fruit.

We must not forget that even in the ‘old’ world of traditional (closed access) publishing, there were (and still are) rotten apples in the fruit basket. For several years Beall has increasingly positioned himself  in the opposite camp of open access. That in itself is not wrong, but since there always has been a lack of transparency, he undermined his (hopefully) good intentions.

So, he, like any other person or company who claims authority, needed to be held under a magnifying glass constantly. However, it does not make sense to put his work on the list completely sidetracked. Despite his, sometimes very negative, statements about open access, he ensured that we have to have a critical stance towards the quality of open access publishing, and more specifically the revenue models that come with it. The fact that at this time the focus is on pay-to-publish (APC-driven), it means that there needs to be a careful consideration how we can ensure quality without letting the financial incentives prevail. Moreover, the financial incentive in the old subscription model has always been very decisive. It is not for nothing that the big publishers continually defend’their’ citation indexes and impact factors with tooth and nail…

Are there other ways to assess the quality of open access journals and publishers? Yes there are. In the last few years a number of national and international initiatives have been developed to assess the quality of an open access journal (or publisher).

doaj_logoFirst, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) greatly aggravated its access requirements in the past two years. A journal must meet a set of requirements to be admitted to the index. If a journal is indexed in the DOAJ, one can assume that it is a decent journal and that it meets the technical (infrastructure, storage, distribution) requirements and industry standards. How editorial boards are formed and whether the output is relevant to the field, remains a matter between scholars themselves.

banner3In the Netherlands the Quality Open Access Market website launched in 2014. By inviting the academic community to provide an assessment for open access journals  (so-called journal scorecards), they aim for a balanced review coming from the community itself. An addition to the review is that the website mentions whether there is an APC applicable, and if so, what costs are involved. Something can be said about the value-for-money of those open access journals.

QOAM makes use of the metadata database of the DOAJ. QOAM is heavenly depending on the contributions from the academic world as in scholars are asked to crowd-source the database. Until now, it seems, there is not enough critical mass of reviews in order to provide a complete overview.

cl_lswkwkaa1uobThe Think CheckSubmit website was presented in September 2015, and it’s supported by the OASPA | Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association. The aim of this website is to create awareness among scholars about open access journals and their quality. What are the important aspects that reflect quality? What is important for a proper distribution of your publication? And is the journal doing what it promises? By submitting a series of answers to specific questions, a researcher can evaluate the open access journal.

DOAJ is around for a long time now. The last two mentioned websites above are fairly new initiatives, but one can also search in existing systems, like Scopus and the Web of Science. Open access journals are indexed in those systems for a number of years now. These journals must meet high standards and will not simply appear in these indices.

So, to conclude, there are different roads leading to Rome when it comes to assessing whether a journal has quality or not. Many university pages and open access advocacy websites worldwide do mention Beall’s list as the place to separate the wheat from the chaff. And the advice is to avoid (most of) these open access journals or publishers. But we must realize that this is only an advise. For example, the publisher Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) got on the Beall list in 2014, but several Dutch universities have an open access publishing deal with MDPI anyway.[8]

As a result of this weeks closure (an archived webpage can still be accessed) of Beall’s blog those university pages need to be updated soon I guess.

By Jeroen Sondervan

Update January 19, 7:32pm: I just came across this post in the Inside Higher Education where they say Jeffrey Beall declined to comment on the removal of his website.


[1] Beall, Jeffrey “Predatory” Open-Access Scholarly Publishers. The Charleston Advisor, 2010, vol. 11, n. 4, pp. 10-17.

[2] Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers, p. 1, Jeffrey Beall 3rd edition / January 1, 2015. (accessed January 19, 2017 – still available).

[3] See for example: and

[4] Beall, ‘I get complaints about Frontiers’. (checked 29 April 2016 – still looking for an archived version).

[5] (accessed: January 19 2017).

[6] Open Access Publishing – USD 5000 is enough to remove your publisher’s name from Beall’s list (accessed January 19,  2017)

[7] For example: (accessed January 12 2017).

[8] For a more extensive comment about the addition of MDPI: (accessed May 2nd 2016).

Image credit: Designed by Starline –

Open Science: which tools are you using?

Writing, researching, publishing. it’s all part of the larger scholarly communication cycle. Open Access to publications is part of a larger movement, which is the transition towards Open Science. On the FOSTER (Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research is a 2-year EU-FP7 project with the aim to produce a European-wide training programme that will help academics, librarians and other stakeholders to incorporate Open Access approaches into their existing research methodologies) web-portal, which can be used as learning tool in order to train stakeholders on the topics of Open Access and Open Science, the following definition of Open Science can be found:

“Open Science is the practice of science in such a way that others can collaborate and contribute, where research data, lab notes and other research processes are freely available, under terms that enable reuse, redistribution and reproduction of the research and its underlying data and methods.”[1]

More and more the debate on Open Access and access to research data is shifting to the larger discussion on how we can move to an open and transparent scholarly communication system. The main ideas behind the Open Science movement is that it makes science more reproducible and transparent and above all it has more impact on research and the society at large. This also implies that software and tools used for research, writing and publishing purposes are preferably freely available or developed in open source in order to ensure this reproducibility as much as possible.

In the research and writing phase, scholars are using a lot of specific tools. Colleagues at the Utrecht University Library, Bianca Kramer and Jeroen Bosman, started their 101 Innovations in Scholarly Communication project in 2015 and commenced a survey amongst more than 20.000 scholars worldwide. The landscape of scholarly communication is constantly changing and the changes are driven by technology, policies, and culture. But in the end the researchers themselves are the ones using tools and software in order to produce science and they are adapting constantly to new standards. Kramer and Bosman started the survey in order to create an overview of all these tools used for research, writing and publishing. The survey ran from May 10, 2015 to February 10, 2016.

What is really interesting are the results (data, publications, scripts, etc.), which have been widely disseminated in different channels. The one I find really great is the dashboard that has been created out of the available survey data. In this dashboard you can play around with the data and see what tools are used for specific activities in the scholarly communication cycle.

Here are just a few examples:



Archive/Share publications:


And there is much more to explore in the available datasets and van still look at the survey’s question here:

If you want to share any information about specific tools that you are using in your daily media researching practices, I’m curious to hear it. You could leave a message using the box below.



Copyright notice: Scholarly Communication image published under CC-BY: Bianca Kramer, Jeroen Bosman.

International Open Access Week 2016

Next week, starting on Monday October 24, International Open Access Week 2016 will kick off its 9th edition. This time the theme is ‘Open in Action’. Around the globe several things are happening at universities, research libraries and other institutions that are engaging with open access. For a list of events (136 already!) see:

The week is:

“…an opportunity for the academic and research community to continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.” (



Enriched publications advancing scholarly communication?

It’s hot again. Enriched publications. For academic publishers, the importance of enriching publications could lie primarily in the added value this can offer to researchers, both readers and authors. This immediately raises a number of questions. Which criteria must an enriched publication and its associated dataset(s) meet to actually be considered an enrichment for an article or other type of publication? Are authors really prepared to release their research data? Which applications and software can the reader use? What is the status of an enriched article compared to a traditional article? What is the impact on current practice (e.g. reading and publishing)?

Important questions that an academic publisher has to take into account when considering starting to offer this kind of service to authors and readers. These day for a publisher it is vital to be in the vanguard of the technological developments in scientific information. Close collaboration with research groups and university libraries to be able to properly use and re-use data and supplementary files is therefor an essential requirement. Scholars are usually the pre-eminent critical users of the newest technological applications, whether in the laboratory, or through online applications when communicating with each other.[1]

Open Access

The internet makes new forms of production, storage and distribution of information possible. This has led to a transition in the field of scientific publishing. Libraries are modernising, and they now offer scholars different options for durable storage via digital publication archives (repositories) and cloud-storage services like Figshare and Harvard dataverse. The idea of free access to information has ultimately developed into the Open Access movement, with the milestone of the ‘Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities’ that was formulated in 2003. The idea of Open Access stated in this declaration has expanded to incorporate the idea that Open Access contributions can include original scientific research results, raw data and metadata, source materials, digital representations of pictorial and graphical materials, and scholarly multimedia material. More and more media content is becoming available in the public domain, see for instance the OpenImages project in The Netherlands.

Schermafbeelding 2016-09-13 om 16.44.46.png
Source: OpenImages website

Enhanced or enriched?

But what exactly is meant by an ‘enriched publication’? In a state-of-the-art study about enriched publications (Woutersen-Windhouwer & Brandsma, 2008), the authors distinguish three major publication models. The modular model of Kircz (1998) splits a publication into independent modules such as abstract, problem definition, methodology, etc. The second is the semantic publication model by Hunter (2006), which bears some resemblance to the modular model, but focuses on the workflow. What these two models have in common is that they predict the end of the traditional publication model. The third model is a more generic one. It creates a loosely coupled system of independent objects such as images, texts, datasets, etc. The report summarizes what kind of resources can exist within an enriched publication and suggests the following:

“An enhanced (or enriched) publication is a publication that is enhanced with research data, extra materials, post publication data or database records, and that has an object-based structure with explicit links between the objects. In this definition an object can be (part of) an article, a data set, an image, a movie, a comment, a module or a link to information in a database.”

Since 2009 I’ve been involved in a few projects enriching scholarly journal articles and monographs. All projects stayed in an experimental phase. In 2009 and further on it was way too early. Storage wasn’t the problem, but repositories weren’t equipped, there were no API’s available, and persistent identifiers like DOI’s for data wasn’t common practice.

But above all, authors weren’t ready for it.[2]

I always make a clear distinction between ‘enhanced publications’ (hyperlinked content and data, with added metadata) and ‘enriched publications’. The latter type offers much more functionality (preferably inside the digital publication itself), such as visualizations of data, facilities to explore and to analyse data, which provides a better understanding of the data set and the underlying research.[3] Enriched publications can contain different types of enrichments, such as research data, visualizations, annotations, websites, and maps, and they can be composed in different ways. To ensure the scientific integrity and complete usability of the enriched publication, it is important for all the components, together with all the relations (e.g. links and online data from other sources), to be preserved in a durable manner.

E-books are an attractive format for this sort of enrichment, particularly those based on the epub3 standard, which allows the addition of multimedia (just like HTML5), although books are much larger and enrichment may be more complicated, just as intellectual property rights and licenses.

In addition to the possibility to support the textual publication with, for example, data or visualizations, these kinds of publications also promote the availability of re-usable scientific research data and above all allow verification of the outcomes of research. Ideally, repositories should have an API that allows publishers to obtain data from the archive and to enrich a publication dynamically by processing the extracted data set simultaneously. Though I think there is an important rule here: in my opinion enrichments should not be overdone, less is more. Since enrichments of publications have visualization and specialized analysis features, it is important to provide them in a durable way, to ensure the integrity of the publication. This requires that all components needed for these features (hosting, software, configuration and real-time conversion of data) should be ensured by a durable organization. One of the issues still remaining is that often such organizations restrict themselves to providing durable formats (like CSV), while modern software often requires more up-to-date formats (like JSON). But this is rapidly changing.

Researchers still think mainly in terms of the traditional article and are not used to employing their raw datasets in an interactive manner to support their arguments. This demands a cultural shift from researchers. The infrastructure is present and will be developed further. Now it is time for the researcher to start making use of it. The point is to make the enriched publications more visible and more importantly creditable considering the time-effort that needs to be made.

Metadata and Discovery

An important feature of enriched publications is the ability to improve the discovery of research data. Readers of enriched publications are able to explore the accompanying data, to verify the conclusions and to develop their own theories. The relation between the article and the research data is implicit, and researchers can only discover the data by reading the article. This can be overcome by defining an explicit relation between the article and the research data within the metadata. This allows portals and search engines to notify researchers of the research data when they find a publication.

The Object, Reuse and Exchange protocol from the Open Archives Initiative (OAI-ORE) allows the definition of an enriched publication as an identifiable aggregation of a publication and enhancements or research data. For instance this protocol was applied to build a demonstrator of enhanced publications in the Netherlands (Hogenaar & Hoogerwerf, 2008) for the DRIVER II project.

Preservation and permanent access

The introduction of enriched publications in scholarly communication creates new challenges with regard to preservation and permanent access. Besides the publications and the research data, they introduce two more elements that need to be preserved. One is the relation between the enrichments and the publications. Technically, this is not an issue, since they can be easily described in XML/OAI-ORE. The question is: who takes responsibility for them, as the components can exist in different repositories. The other element is preservation of the visualizations: this is both a technical and an organizational challenge.

The technical challenge is introduced by the dependency on software for visualization, since solutions do not yet exist for preserving software.To ensure the scientific integrity and complete usability of the enriched publication, it is important for all the components, together with all the relations (e.g. links and online data from other sources), to be preserved in a durable manner. For instance the Royal Library in the Netherlands has facilities to preserve complete website environments, but they cannot preserve all the functionalities of the tools. The only solution is to preserve the basic functionality by replacing the tools over time, which turns the challenge into an organizational one: who can and will take such responsibility to do so?

Added value of enrichments

The enrichment of articles is clearly still being developed, but that it is going so slowly is probably due to the unfamiliarity with the available functionalities and possibilities. And yet, enriched publications in theory offer an evident added value compared with the traditional publications, even those available online. First of all, it enables the authors to visualise and integrate parts of their research material in the publication. Thus, they can present the foundation for their findings better. Second, the methodology and results of the study can be made more comprehensible and thus better verifiable for the reader. This makes the authors more vulnerable, but will ultimately lead to an improved quality of the research. The authors will have to subject the obtained research data to higher standards of quality before turning to publication. Currently, scientists are often still hesitant to make their research data accessible for the outside world, for example because commercial interests are involved or there may be doubts about the specific methodology of the study. Indeed, the enrichment of publications will not change this situation immediately, but such publications could contribute to the transparency of science. The manner and the extent to which this will happen are still to be revealed. Third, the information that is stored in online data archives will have to be made more accessible and applicable. The archive and storage function of this sort of databank will have to be supplemented with a publication application that ensures that in the future the research data will be used more intensively for future scientific research. The fact that readers can make use of more precise and detailed research material can only promote the scientific debate.

Developments in Media Studies

Quite recently I came across a paper (pre-print) entitled: ‘Open media scholarship: The case for open access in media studies’. One of the arguments this study makes is:

“the topics that we write about are inescapably multimedia, so our publishing platforms should be capable—at the very least—of embedding the objects that we study”[4]

It only mentions a few samples of new publishing platforms. It also mentions open access for scholarly monographs as an example. I think this is something else. Open Access to monographs in itself is neither an enhancement or enrichment, it could only lead to new enhanced formats when using the right tools.

One of the projects that is mentioned is MediaCommons as an example of good practice in enriching scholarly output. As the founders, Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Avi Santo say:

“As media scholars can make the “form must follow content” argument convincingly, and as tenure qualifications in media studies often include work done in media other than print already, we hope that media studies will provide a key point of entry for a broader reshaping of publishing in the humanities.”[5]

In the last 10 years of its existence the project discussed questions like what counts as scholarship anyway, experimented with open peer review and much more.

This is all very good. But what I still find remarkable is that in most journals from existing, traditional publishing houses the embedding of video’s, adding dynamic data and visualisations, etc. etc. is hardly being implemented. It seems that almost all online innovations come from scholarly led platforms like MediaCommons, or start-ups developing specific writing and reading tools. And these tools make it easy to easily add media content.

The introduction of the audio-visual essay has been a huge success and on all levels you see an growing amount of audio-video essays. For a good start, take a look at In Transition[6], a side-project of MediaCommons. I won’t go into details here about the discussion of the academic status of audio-visual essays neither will I go into details about how to organise peer review for these new objects of research. I just want to point to examples of new publishing formats. One of the issues with these ‘objects’ is of course sustainability. In almost all examples I’ve seen video’s are stored with Vimeo or Youtube. Commercial web-services with clauses in their terms that enables them to remove content when they think it needs to be removed. And the objects have no persistent links.

Schermafbeelding 2016-09-13 om 16.45.45.png
In Transition website

Another nice example are the author and reading tools online. Like Apple iBook (you can easily make your own enhanced e-book). I believe tools like Scalar are really interesting for full integration of media content.

From their website: ‘The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture seeks to enrich the intellectual potential of our fields to inform understandings of an expanding array of visual practices as they are reshaped within digital culture, while also creating scholarly contexts for the use of digital media in film, media and visual studies. By working with humanities centers, scholarly societies, and key library, archive, and university press partners, we are investigating and developing sustainable platforms for publishing interactive and rich media scholarship.’[7]

In July 2016 Thomas van den Berg and Miklos Kiss launched their ‘Film Studies in Motion: From Audiovisual Essay to Academic Research Video’ enhanced book project.[8] The Scalar reading tool enables the reader to play around with the content and to make customized data visualizations. It has an institutional backing and is still in a developmental phase.

Schermafbeelding 2016-09-13 om 16.25.29.png
A sample of a visualization derived from the book Film Studies in Motion.

Nevertheless it’s becoming more easy to make your own enriched editions of papers, articles or books. There are many more examples of DIY software tools which take academic standards seriously.

The book Film Studies in Motion opens with the following quote by Mark and Deborah Parker in their book The DVD and the Study of Film: The Attainable Text:

“One of the great ironies of film study is that its ‘evidence’(a term itself derived from Latin and meaning ‘out of the seen’) has so limited a visibility in print form.”[9]

I can’t agree more. There is so much more out there. I will keep on collecting good examples of useful tools and post them here.

Let’s get to work and get the images to actual moving.

By Jeroen Sondervan


Hogenaar, A. & Hoogerwerf M. (2008). Sample datasets and Demonstrator of Enhanced Publications. DRIVER II project documentation. Available via

Hoogerwerf, M. (2009) Durable Enhanced Publications. (accessed 4 September 2016).

Woutersen-Windhouwer S., Brandsma, R. (2009) Enhanced Publications: State of the Art. In: Vernooy-Gerritsen, M. (ed), Enhanced Publications. Linkin Publications and Research Data in Digital Repositories. SURF, Amsterdam University Press, 2009.


[1] See the project 101 innovations ( in scholarly communication for an exhaustive overview of tools being used by scholars in the process of researching, searching, collaborating, writing, publishing and archiving.

[2] For a short explanation (video) of the 2009-2010 pilot project I did with, AUP, SURF, Leiden University and the Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries, click here:

[3] Both terms ‘enhanced’ or ‘enriched’ are being used in literature about this subject. In this post I will use both terms (e.g. in references to specific works), but my suggestion would be to use ‘enriched’ publications. An enhancement suggests improving something, as enrichments suggest adding something, which in my opinion is more adequate.

[4] Pooley, J. (2016) Open media scholarship: The case for open access in media studies’, p.1. The pre-print can be found here: (still under review). Update January 16th, 2017: the article has been published in the International Journal of Communication 10(2016), Feature 6148–6164 (

[5] Fitzpatrick, K. and Santo, A., 2006. “Introducing MediaCommons,” (accessed September 2016).


[7] Scalar project website (accessed July 2016).

[8] (accessed July 2016).

[9] (accessed July 2016).

Copyright: Sergey Zolkin

Open Access and the Long Argument

When it comes to open access, often the emphasis in the debate centres on the publication of articles in scientific journals. Today in the Netherlands this is heavily influenced by ongoing negotiations around the ‘big deals’ with the large publishing houses, like Elsevier, Springer and Taylor & Francis.[1] But what is the status of open access for the academic ‘book’ (whether monograph or collections of thematic articles)?

A few months ago it was announced that the tender for the second pilot of Knowledge Unlatched (KU) had been successfully completed.[2] This effectively means that in the course of 2016, 78 books in the OAPEN open access platform will appear in the KU online library.

One step back. As mentioned above, the open access debate is dominated by journals. In recent years, many new online-only journals have appeared on the market, for example PlosOne. These online platforms gather large collections of articles from different disciplines. Although the oft-used term ‘mega-journals’ is a bit discredited for such platforms nowadays, it’s all a matter of volume and scale for these initiatives.

In addition to publishing platforms like PlosOne, or similar platforms set up by more traditional publishers (like the recently launched Collabra from California University Press, four ‘platform’ journals at Brill, the ‘Open’ journals at De Gruyter and the recently established Elsevier Heliyon), many publishing startups are flourishing. These ‘new kids on the block’ do not carry the burden of old and costly organizational and publishing traditions. These startups experiment with publishing formats, new forms of peer review, and interesting combinations made with (open) research data. Examples of such platforms are Peerj, Frontiers, the recently launched Open Library of Humanities and F1000research, which in fact is a bit older.[3] It is clear that within the journal landscape online experiments are happening one after another.

But, when it comes to open access publications, there is more to it than just publishing in journals. And that is books. They’re less visible in the debate, which is strange since in barely five years some small but significant developments have taken place for the academic book – traditionally the domain dominated by the humanities and social sciences. An example is the previously mentioned OAPEN platform. The FP7 project OAPEN project funded by the EU (duration: 2008-2011) was one of the first projects in the field of accessibility and long-term storage for open access books. Since that start-up support, the platform has transformed into an independent foundation with several publishing houses registered and adding books to the collection on a regular base. This has had a positive effect for the discoverability of open access books.

What is the situation today?

Established publishers are also moving towards new publishing forms. Examples of publishers with an active open access publishing book program include California University Press, Springer, Amsterdam University Press, Brill and De Gruyter. There are numerous new entrants, such as Open Humanities Press and Ubiquity Press. These publishers in the humanities and social sciences show a shift to an alternative model for book publishing in open access. This shift is also seen in the ever-growing availability of open access books in online databases or institutional deposit services (such as OAPEN), even if the totals are currently very low. In 2015 an estimated 65,000 academic books were published that year[4] but only 700 books were registered as open access and indexed in the Directory of Open Access Books, the book alternative to the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) which was established following the OAPEN platform.

Figure 1: Number of publications in DOAB by year of publication.

DOAB obviously does not index every open access books, but the share of open access books remains small as a percentage of the total. The DOAB service started in 2012 and contains many backlist titles from publishers indexed in the first period that became available in open access. Figure 1 clearly shows that from that year a significant increase occurs in open access books. These books have become freely available immediately or after a short embargo period.

Even if academic books are not absent from the open access world, a proactive policy for publishing and financing such monographs and essay collections is still in its infancy. At this time, DOAB has more than 4,500 books available online, deriving from 150 publishers worldwide.

Figure 2: Amount of publications (blue) and publishers (red) in the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB).


To get a better grasp of the processes around the publication of open access books, several recent pilots in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have been organized around the OAPEN platform (OAPEN.NL and OAPEN.UK). Both pilots have developed extensive user studies and a lot of research has been done into the cost structure of open access books. Working together with publishers from the countries concerned was essential to gain a clear understanding of the publishing process (peer review and dissemination costs). Recently, a similar pilot project has been launched in Switzerland (OAPEN-CH). The results from all these pilot projects will hopefully inform wise policy decisions.

Another initiative to develop a healthy stream of open access books is the aforementioned Knowledge Unlatched project. In 2013-2014 KU launched a first pilot to offer a collection of 28 open access books by thirteen different publishers to research libraries. The model assumes that, with upfront commitments from libraries, significant cost savings can accrue per subscribing library. With sufficient bids (the threshold is around 300 libraries) books are then made available through OAPEN. At the end of 2015, a second pilot was presented with a collection of 78 books. Libraries had until February 2016 to register for this book collection. This pilot was also successful and in the course of 2016 78 books will be published in open access.[5] This KU-model makes a large collection of books available in open access within a rapid turn-round time. Some commentators argue that Knowledge Unlatched is a case of double-dipping. KU seems aware of this criticism and has agreed with the participating publishers that a reduction or waiver is used when the library indicates that a specific book is already ordered through another channel. This does require notification by the libraries, however.[6]

Significant challenges for open access books remain. For instance, in the current Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK, which covers the four-year period from 2015 until 2018 open-access-only books are not eligible for evaluation. Besides printed publishing formats only open access articles are eligible for the ratings of researchers. The REF determines the distribution of a great proportion of research funding. Ergo, an opportunity for a more structured form of financing of open access books in the UK is yet to be developed.

Also, in the UK, the HEFCE Open Access Monographs project was completed by Prof. Crossick. This evaluated the potential merits and challenges of open access for the scholarly monograph. This report complements the earlier Finch Report from 2012, where books were barely mentioned.[7] Its January 2015 report offered some important conclusions. For example, among others:

“Contrary to many perceptions, it would not be appropriate to talk of a crisis of the monograph; this does not mean that monographs are not facing challenges, but the arguments for open access would appear to be for broader and more positive reasons than solving some supposed crisis.”[8]

A ‘crisis’ might be too dramatic, but the fact that scholarly book publishing is in difficult and turbulent times, seems hard to deny. Sales of books on paper have been in steady decline since the 1980s.[9] Libraries are increasingly embracing the e-book and there seems a clear decline in the acquisition of the physical book by libraries. Crossick seems to require open access to be the sole answer this ‘crisis’ feeling, but it surely can simply be one contributor to a solution.[10]

The report also concludes that readers prefer printed books over the digital version. This should not be underestimated and would argue for the open access version to be subordinate to the print edition, which would not need to disappear.[11]

The continuing preference for printed books is confirmed by several studies and practice. Almost all publishers that have an open access publishing model for books use a ‘mixed model’ of online and print (+ e-book). In the OAPEN-UK pilot a survey among researchers examined the use of books.[12] By far the majority still prefer the paper book.

Figure 3: Survey on how researchers obtain a book versus how they got access. Source: OAPEN-UK Research Survey in 2012.

The HEFCE report also indicates that there is currently no single dominant model for open access books. All existing open access publishing models are still in a (sometimes very) experimental phase.[13] These models include fees per book (Book Publication Charge – BPC), charges by collections (Knowledge Unlatched), or simply just do it and hope for some income from the print edition (an example is Open Humanities Press).

When it comes to policy-makers and research funders the HEFCE report states:

“Policy will have to be developed in a context where it is unlikely that any one model for open access will emerge as dominant, and one in which an attempt to impose a single model through policy is unlikely to be feasible, let alone acceptable.”[14]

By contrast Austria has been active for almost a decade in funding open access books. The national research council there, the FWF, has been active since 2007 with an open access policy and appropriate financial support. Austrian researchers receive a subvention for costs in publishing books in open access.[15] This practice is now beginning to spread.[16]

Likewise, the Dutch Research Council, NWO, launched in 2010 the Incentive Fund for Open Access. This grew, following the successful results from the OAPEN-NL pilot mentioned before. And the University of Utrecht and Delft University both offer funds for open access books.

All these developments should hopefully lead to more examples of best practice and successes. The various studies referred to above have also led to two recent guides on book publishing in open access: the ‘Guide to Open Access monograph publishing for arts, humanities and social science researchers’[17] published by the OAPEN-UK pilot group and the ‘Open Access Monographs and Book Chapters: A practical guide for publishers’[18], published in July 2015 by the Wellcome Trust.

These manuals are intended to give the user a clear why and how? What editorial and technical issues must be taken into account? What are the different publishing models? Using research results gained in the various aforementioned pilots this has led to concrete recommendations not only for publishers, but also policymakers.

Many publishers in the humanities and social sciences are shifting in the direction of, or at least reorienting themselves towards, open access for books. But these developments are slow. There is currently too much risk of failure when it comes to for example the funding on both the side of publishers and researchers. We await more solid results from different open access publishing models. The traditional book on paper (still) matters but for the scholarly monograph open access increasingly offers wider and more efficient ways of distribution. It’s not either/or, but one and one makes two.

By Jeroen Sondervan.

This post has been previously published in Dutch.


[1] In 2014 universities in the Netherlands demanded open access in the contracts (‘big deals’) with major publishers (Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, Taylor & Francis, etc.). These negotiations only deal with journal articles.

[2] See press release of 11 March 2016 : (accessed: 11 March 2016)

[3] This is obviously a limited selection. There are many other examples.

[4] These figures are drawn from the annual statements of YBP Library Services.

[5] See for a comprehensive list of titles.

[6] More about double dipping in relation to open access books: (accessed: 20 March 2016 ).

[7] Finch report 2012:

[8] Crossick , G ( 2015). HEFCE Monographs and Open Access Project, 2015, p. 4..DOAB by year of publication012 cess publications

[9] See: Steele , C. ( 2008) ‘Scholarly Monograph Publishing in the 21st Century: The Future More Than Ever Should Be an Open Book. “Journal of Electronic Publishing [online] 11 (2), p. 4. DOI: and Thompson, J. (2005 ) Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States, Malden MA, Polity Press.

[10] For more about this ‘crisis’ and nuance in the HEFCE report: (accessed: 17 March 2016)

[11] Crossick, G. p. 32-33

[12] OAPEN UK research survey 2012:  (accessed: 7 March 2016).

[13] Crossick, G. p. 65

[14] Ibid, p. 65


[16] Ubiquity Press has presented a list in February 2016 with funds that support open access books.