Making Books Open Access: The Wellcome Trust's New Policy

"Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS) scholarship, by contrast, is created and consumed in fundamentally different ways, and sustainable Open Access publishing models in HSS need the flexibility to evolve in ways that will accommodate such scholarship's substantially longer half life. Similarly, the majority of Open Access publishing models to date have evolved in the context of journal articles; the impact of Open Access principles on the publishing of monographic length content remains more of an unknown."

That's a passage from AAUP's response to the OSTP in May, on the development of sustainable OA rules for federal funding agencies. The complete statement recognizes the potential for OA success with flexible models, and acknowledges the constant need to strengthen and expand scholarly communication at a time when many publishers, libraries, universities, and funders are experimenting with a myriad of new projects.

In early June, the Wellcome Trust, a UK-based funder of biomedical research, made news by announcing a plan to extend their existing open access policy beyond journal articles to books and book chapters developed by grantees into the more experimental territory outlined by AAUP. The new OA-book policy will apply automatically to new grants starting in October, and to any preexisting grants as of October 2014.

While much of Wellcome's funding goes toward STEM projects, they also back research in the medical humanities and "society and ethics"—including projects likely to be picked up by university presses. Wellcome reports that their medical humanities grantees, for example, have published work with California, Cambridge, Chicago, Ohio, Rochester, and Yale, among others, over the last few years.

The policy does come with some flexibility. It encourages CC-BY licenses—the most open of the Creative Commons licenses—but also accepts non-commercial and no-derivative options.

Cecy Martin, OA Project Manager for the Wellcome Library, explains the policy change:

The Wellcome Trust is a longstanding and vocal supporter of open access, but until recently monographs weren't included in our open access policy. This might have seemed strange, as while much of the research the Trust funds is in biomedical science—where journal articles are the primary research output—the Trust also supports research in the medical humanities. As with the humanities more broadly, it is often through books, rather than journal articles, that this research is shared and yet there was no requirement to make these books open access. As the Trust values all the research we fund equally, it seemed important for us to ensure that all its outputs can be accessed by everyone. Extending our open access policy to include scholarly monographs and book chapters seemed an obvious step.

One of the first thoughts which researchers and publishers might have had in June when hearing about the policy could have been, "That's all very well, but how are we going to pay for it?" The Trust accepts there is a cost associated with providing immediate and open access to research outputs which arise from our funding, and we have resourced our open access policy accordingly. We hope that with dedicated funding made available to pay for open access publishing costs, researchers and publishers will be in a position to focus on the benefits that open access can bring to them and the public.

It's important to note that the policy does not include all books and book chapters; trade books and text books, for example, aren't included—there's more about this in our FAQs. Academics write plenty of books with popular appeal which are already widely read, and the Trust fully supports this. Our policy only covers works aimed specifically at an academic research audience, which often they don't reach. One of the reasons for this is price; data from YBP Library Services show that the average price for an academic book in the life sciences is around $90. These prices tend to be prohibitive for individual readers, and even university libraries are having to be ever more choosy, so it is not surprising that print runs for academic monographs tend to be in the low hundreds, making academic books harder to find, and harder to publish.

Many university publishers, such as Amsterdam University Press, the University of Michigan Press, and ANU E Press make monographs open access. Indeed, Frances Pinter, founder of Knowledge Unlatched (a global library consortium enabling open access books), recently became the new CEO of Manchester University Press, clearly signalling that this publisher sees open access as the future. And when you look at the number of views open access books receive you can see why. As an example, Open Book Publishers report that Foundations for Moral Relativism by J. David Velleman was accessed by 1,800 readers from 46 countries in its first ten days. If your goal is to disseminate research to a wide audience then open access is the way to attain it.

So with that in mind, I encourage you to contact me to see how your Press and our policy could come together to increase access to research.

Eelco Ferwerda, Director of the OAPEN Foundation, says "I think it makes perfect sense. Generally speaking, we encourage funders to include monographs in their OA policies and book publishers to include OA books as a service to their authors." Ferwerda also acknowledges that "the transition to OA works slightly differently [for books] and also requires different policies, models, and platforms ... as the workflow for books is different, naturally so are the platforms needed to produce these books. I'd argue that we also need specific tools for discovery ... There are also specific issues that need solving: regarding quality assurance, double dipping, e-books next to OA books, etc. I should add that these differences are rooted in the tradtional media and as we make the transition to OA and develop new digital media, these old distinctions will become less relevant."