Things are Happening in the Humanities. But You Need to be Patient

A few weeks ago, Peter Suber, one of the leading figures of the open access movement, published a blog post on the website of The American Philosophical Association, entitled: ‘Why Open Access is Moving so Slow in the Humanities’. In there, he sums up 9 reasons why this is the case and I will just mention a few below:

‘Journal subscriptions are much higher in the Sciences Technology and Medicine (STM), than in the Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS). In the humanities, relatively affordable journal prices defuse the urgency of reducing prices or turning to open access as part of the solution.’

‘Much more STM research is funded than humanities research, so there is more money available for paying any open access charges.’

‘STM faculty typically need to publish journal articles to earn tenure, while humanities faculty need to publish books. But the logic of open access applies better to articles, which authors give away, than to books, which have the potential to earn royalties.’

Sadness of it all is that this post is a slightly revised version from the original from 2004. Today we’re still dealing with almost the same issues as 13 years ago. One of Suber’s conclusions is that “Open access isn’t undesirable or unattainable in the humanities. But it is less urgent and harder to subsidize than in the sciences.”[1]

I fully agree with this conclusion. But did we achieve nothing for the humanities then? No, a lot of things have happened in the last 5 to 10 years helping the humanities to make a transition to open access. But we are not there yet.

Open Access Journals

Globally several humanities journals have made the flip from toll access (TA) to open access and several new open access (niche) journals have seen the light in the last couple of years. Currently 9,426 open access journals are indexed by the DOAJ, of which a substantial part is in the humanities. A majority of those journals however, and we must not forget this, don’t charge a dime to publish research in open access.[2] In many cases, and this is exemplary for the humanities, foundations, institutions, and societies are paying for publishing research.

The financial model for open access in the humanities is not an easy road. In my previous life as a publisher in the humanities I’ve developed a few gold open access journals, all financed with money from institutions or research grants. However, subsidies for a journal coming from different institutions is a fragile model. Some of the journals had the ambition to move towards an APC model. None have done it so far.

New kid on the block, but very successful, is the Open Library of Humanities, run by Martin Eve and Caroline Edwards. They proposed and have implemented a model, which is a library funded model. With enough supporting libraries they are able to publish humanities research with no APCs. Main goal is to unburden authors with all kinds of financial hassle.

Institutional publishing

Another trend is the renewed rise of institutional (library) open access publishing. Some examples are Stockholm University Press, UCL Press and Meson Press. They distinguish themselves from traditional university press in the way that they only publish research in open access.

Online research tools

Other interesting developments are the experiments with redefining online publishing. I think it’s safe to say that these experiments just happen in the field of media studies. Collaborative research, writing and publication platforms like MediaCommons and the recently launched Manifold are very exiting initiatives. They all experiment with new digital formats, writing and publishing tools, and data publications.

Open Access Books

Open access for the academic book is on the agenda since 2008 / 2009 with the development of, amongst others, the OAPEN platform. And with indexes like the Directory of Open Access Books, established in 2011, open access books become visible and findable. Two weeks ago, a new milestone was reached with 8000+ open access books being indexed by DOAB and published by 213 publishers.Schermafbeelding 2017-06-23 om 23.55.15

However, open access for books is still underrated. There is a lack of aligned policies. Also, the lack of funding options makes it still very difficult for (smaller) humanities publishers to come up with a sustainable model for open access books. The focus for open access funding still lies with article publishing in journals and the financial models that come along with it.

For this website, I keep track of funders (research councils and universities) that actively support open access book publishing in media studies. I do this since 2015, but up till now the options for funding can be counted on 4 hands maximum. But even in the field of open access books things are happening with projects like Knowledge Unlatched. This project looks at funding coming directly from university libraries, supporting the ‘platform’ or book package and not the individual publication.

So, the important question now is what types of sustainable business models are appropriate for open access publishing in the humanities?

I think one important thing to keep in mind is that if we keep comparing the STM with the HSS it will not getting us very far. Another problem is that (open access) funding policies are still very focused on a local or national level or simply only look at APCs/BPCs. We need to work on a better international alignment of open access policies (per discipline) with different stakeholders (funders, libraries, publishers).

The Dutch Approach: Open Science

In February of this year, the National Plan Open Science[3] was launched in the Netherlands. Towards 2020 this roadmap concentrates on three key areas:

  1. Open access to scientific publications (open access).
  2. Make optimal use and reuse of research data.
  3. Adapting evaluation and award systems to bring them in line with the objectives of open science (reward systems).

cover-os-eng2One of the requirements is that by 2020 all researchers working for a Dutch research university need to publish their work (journals and books(!)) in open access. So this includes the HSS as well. To accomplish this the plan is launched to align all Dutch stakeholders to meet these requirements.

During the launch all the important academic stakeholders (research funders and associations) in the Netherlands explicitly committed themselves to this job. In Finland, similar things are happening.[4] And in other countries discussions have started about open access and open science requirements and indicators as well. It’s of great importance to connect these initiatives together as much as possible.

Preprints… “what”?

One other thing that Suber also mentions in his blog and I’d like to bring into this discussion, are preprints. In the humanities depositing preprints or post prints is not so common as it is in the sciences. That is for obvious reasons; loss of arguments and research outcomes, scooping, etc. etc. But are all these reasons still valid?

As academic community, it’s important to share your research to improve science. In the HSS we are apparently in need for platforms that can quickly disseminate research, based on the popularity (also among humanities scholars) of commercial social sharing platforms like and Researchgate. Note that I deliberately call them social sharing platforms, because that’s what they are.

It’s important that we need to make clear to academics what the implications are when using platforms like and ResearchGate. Both examples are commercial enterprises and interested in as much (personal) data as possible. The infrastructure serves a need but it comes with a cost. We need to think of sustainable alternatives.

Preprint servers per discipline. Image credit: Bosman, J. & Kramer, B.

Back to the preprint discussion. In the humanities (thus for media studies), it is unusual to share research before it is published in a journal or book. But if everyone is so eager to share their publications in different stages of their research why is it still not common practice to share the work on a preprint server, comparable with ArXiv or SSRN (when it was not Elsevier property), and new servers like LawArXiv, SocArXiv, PsyArXiv, etc.

Will it ever become common practice in the humanities to share research in an earlier stage? Maybe this practice could help moving the humanities a bit quicker?

Who knows.






Header image credit: Slughorn’s hourglass in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. © Warner Brothers

Journal Subscription and Open Access Expenditures: Opening the Vault

For years, there was no overview of what the total amount being paid for journal subscriptions was per institute or on a national level, due to restrictions in the contracts with publishers (the famous non-disclosure agreements). The information on universities’ expenditures on subscriptions has therefore been secret information up to now.

With the transition towards open access and the related recent (re-)negotiations with big publishers to have an open access publishing option in their journals, there is a growing attention on the institutional and national expenditures. It is for several reasons that we need to have an insight in these costs to know what the cost-benefits would ideally be if we have a full shift to open access. But above all it should be standard policy to know what is happening with tax-money anyway.

In Finland, The Netherlands, U.K. and at some institutions in Swiss this data have been published publicly because in these countries several Freedom of Information (FOI), and Government Information Act (WOB – in The Netherlands) requests have been submitted, and above all, granted.

The following information is to give you a quick overview of the status and the available data:


In 2016 information on journal subscription costs paid to individual publishers by the Finnish research institutions has been released by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, and its Open Science and Research Initiative funded 2014–2017 (Academic Publishing Costs in Finland 2010–2015). Since this data is spanning all expenditures, Finland is the first country to release this data for all its institutions.

Schermafbeelding 2017-03-31 om 13.49.41.png
Total costs by publisher
More information on the dataset can be found here and here.

The Netherlands

In 2016, two requests for information have been submitted. The first request arrived on 28 April 2016, and requested the publication of the total amount of the budget that the university has spent annually on subscriptions to academic journals over the past five years and the purchase of academic books over the past five years.

This request has been granted in September 2016 and the subscription costs data has been released here.

Schermafbeelding 2017-03-31 om 13.07.51
Costs incurred by universities, 2015
In September 2016, all Dutch universities received a second request relating to the open access license deals. Since 2015 negotiations started with the big publishers about the implementation of open access into the existing ‘big deals’. Currently the Netherlands is the only country where this is happening on such a united scale. All higher education institutes are acting as one party towards the publishers. Normally the details of those deals are contracted as a non-disclosure agreement but this second request asked for publication of those open access contracts. Just recently it has been granted as well and now contract details  publishers such as Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, Taylor & Francis, ACS, Sage, Karger, Thieme, Walter de Gruyter, RSC, Emerald have been publicized. [1]

A list of the publishers’ contracts can be found here.


In the U.K. Stuart Lawson, Doctoral researcher at Birkbeck, University of London, has done some great work on getting insights in the journal subscription expenditures at U.K. higher education institutions. Not all instisutes are represented, but he managed to collect pricing data of 150 institutions with ten of the largest publishers from 2010-14. The raw data can be found here.

For the last three years (starting in 2014) for transparency reasons he systematically collects the APC expenditures data of several research institutes as well. This data can be found here.


In 2015, also after a FOI request, the ETH Zürich published an overview of the costs for journal subscriptions (2010-2014) with the three largest publishers, Elsevier, Springer and Wiley.

Schermafbeelding 2017-03-31 om 13.26.51There is some more data on the financial flows in Swiss academic publishing to be found in this report.

Image credit: Designed by Kjpargeter / Freepik

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.