The MIT Press, one of the largest university presses in the world, plans to publish its entire list of monographs and edited collections for spring 2022 in open access. The move is a major development for the wider open access movement and a model that academics and librarians believe could be revolutionary for cash-strapped libraries, university presses and a declining number of academics.
The plan is based on commitments from more than 160 libraries and consortia whose commitments have helped MIT Press reach 50 percent of the participation threshold it set for its three-year goal. The press has extended the deadline for further engagements from additional institutions to June 30, 2022. MIT Press executives say enthusiasm for its Direct to Open (D2O) effort, launched in April, has been so strong that ‘They plan to share a white paper before the end of the year outlining how the model works so that other university presses can replicate it.
Amy Brand, director of MIT Press, calls D2O an indispensable alternative to traditional market-based business models. Sales of monographs today are generally in the range of 300 to 500 units, compared to 1,500 to 1,700 units per title in the 1990s, which means that publishing now requires internal subsidies from institutions or philanthropies. Much of this downward trend in purchases is due to the increase in the number of scientific journals and the high percentage of acquisition budgets they now represent, Brand said. The desire of librarians to purchase digital copies of the monographs only further eroded sales figures.
By forcing institutions to make up-front commitments to support its catalog, MIT Press is able to meet its revenue needs and then allow everyone else to access its work for free. Some observers have worried about the sustainability of the model if a small group of benefactors stop guaranteeing free access for everyone else. But Brand said the model was not “purely altruistic,” as paying customers will have access to hundreds of backlist books that aren’t openly available.
She said she was motivated to try out the model because MIT Press “wanted to be a pioneer” and “an inspiration to other presses on what might be possible to fix what was a very broken model. since a long time”. Brand said she plans to invite other publishers to join the D2O program.
“You can imagine a platform where a number of college presses have implemented this model and approach libraries as a collaboration,” she said.
Brand said the new model includes a provision in which MIT Press returns money to individual institutions if enough partners commit to create a surplus.
“It’s the dream, isn’t it?” Said the mark. “It creates more stability to have more partners.”
She said many libraries have already accepted three-year commitments. MIT Press plans to document the impact by sharing usage, number of downloads and other metrics illustrating how the open access model has benefited society as a whole.
A range of institutions, including colleges within large state university systems and smaller private liberal arts colleges, were among the more than 160 early entrants. These institutions include Bryn Mawr College Libraries, Caltech Library, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, Emory Libraries, George Mason University, Johns Hopkins University Libraries, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Library, University of Iowa Libraries, and University of Maryland Libraries. The press has also entered into collective action agreements with the Big Ten Academic Alliance, the Center for Research Libraries, the Greater Western Library Alliance, and the Northeast Research Libraries, among others.
Greg Eow, president of the Center for Research Libraries and former MIT librarian who sits on the board of MIT Press, said he believed early results show that the three main players in the publication cycle – authors, press and libraries – can work together and overcome cost pressures.
Eow said the D2O model is all the more vital at a time when humanities professors, university presses, and libraries all face serious financial challenges related to declining enrollment, the broader free movement. online access and university-wide budget restrictions.
“If you look at the three-legged stool of scholarly production – author, press, and library – every part of that stool is unhealthy,” Eow said. “The MIT Open Press is bringing these three stool legs together to find a sustainable way forward so that everyone can come out of this hole together. This is the promise.
Roger Schoenfeld, program director at Ithaka S + R, a non-profit organization that helps the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scientific record, called Brand a visionary. But he wonders how the model will hold up, given the inherent free rider problem in which a subset of institutions will support a larger non-paying population.
“Now that they have 160 participants and they have announced that they have reached that threshold, would another library raise its hand and say that we want to invest money in digital open access as well? Schoenfeld asked. “What motivates them to do it? He called the considerations involved “almost game theory.”
Rick Anderson, chief librarian at Brigham Young University, said several important questions were not asked in D2O’s “story”, including whether D2O support was the best way for a given library to use. its budget to provide access to knowledge. He said it will be essential for individual libraries to ask if D2O is aligned with their own institutional priorities. The more institutional funding a library plans to use to participate in D2O, Anderson said, the more important these issues will become.
Anderson said his biggest concerns with the model were its scalability and incentive structure. He questioned whether the D2O model could be sustainable if it became the dominant model among scholarly book publishers. Anderson said he likes the idea of a very diverse scholarly communication ecosystem that leaves room for many different publishing models, but D2O isn’t going to be truly revolutionary until the model is scalable.
Ultimately, D2O responds to the harsh reality that scholarly monographs are no longer in high demand, he said.
“From a somewhat crass standpoint, this is just another way of saying, ‘Not many people want to buy and read scholarly monographs,’ Anderson said via email. “Removing the subscription of monograph publishing from the competitive marketplace – in other words, removing the reader demand element completely from the publishing equation – and subscribing it with free will offerings from libraries solves some problems but will inevitably create new ones. For example, this raises the question of whether this could lead to the production of more and more books on increasingly obscure and marginal subjects. “
Allison Belan, director of strategic innovation at Duke University Press, said she would be watching closely to see if the MIT Press experiment proves to be sustainable. If so, Belan said it could be a new avenue for funding open access to scholarly books that are not fully focused on the fields of science, technology, engineering, and medicine. . To date, Belan said, funding and open access models have developed widely in STEM disciplines, where more money is generally available. Brand’s “innovative and very fascinating experience” could be particularly important for the humanities, said Belan, where it will offer an important new mechanism to ensure the opening of more scholarships.
But Belan said she was worried about what she called the “tragedy of the commons.”
She said shrinking library budgets could jeopardize the initiative over time. Some richer libraries have focused on supporting open access research, but that could change over time, especially as costs rise without commensurate growth in budgets, she said.
Regardless of how the model is emulated in the long run, Belan applauded the fact that it will attract more attention to scholarly monographs, which she characterized as highly specialized scholarships usually only reaching a small audience. She said it’s exciting to think about how the model might be applied to a variety of other forms of scholarship. But she wonders if there will be a time when the same pool of well-funded libraries can no longer pay for everyone.
“If this is emulated, how many different subscriptions to open [and] Can the promise of openness initiatives be supported by the same pool of value-aligned and well-funded libraries? ” she asked.