OAPEN-Springer Nature Interview on the occasion of reaching 1000 OA books – Part 1

Eelco Ferwerda

Wed 17 Jun 2020

Read this article at hypothèses.org

This interview will be published in two parts, we hope you enjoy reading the first part of this interview part 2 of this interview can be found here

Eelco Ferwerda, Ros Pyne, May 2020

Let’s start with taking a look at these first 1000 OA books. When did Springer Nature publish its first OA book?

Our first OA book was the conference proceedings Future Internet Assembly, published in 2011. At the same time Palgrave Macmillan participated in OAPEN-UK’s Matched Pairs Pilot, an early attempt to understand the impact of OA for books, in which we made some backlist titles available OA.

Both publishers – at that time still two separate companies – rolled out OA options across their monograph programmes in the following two years. In 2013, Fungal Disease in Britain and the United States 1850-2000, Palgrave’s first official OA book, was also the first OA book to be funded by the Wellcome Trust under their expanded OA policy.

What were the early challenges in setting up the OA books programme?

We had to look at every part of the book publishing process and consider how open access might affect it – and it did affect most of them! In the early days this meant publishing OA books required a lot of manual intervention.

To give a couple of examples of specific issues… Many authors early on had concerns that the APC/BPC model was tantamount to pay-to-publish; this misconception was particularly resonant amongst book authors because of the associations with ‘vanity publishing’. We had to demonstrate to authors that we were applying the same high standards and rigorous peer review to our OA books as we did for the rest of our books programme. We wanted to ensure that authors’ interest in OA would not prejudice reviewers’ expectations, so we put in place a guideline (which exists to this day) that external reviewers should not be informed if a book was to publish OA.

It’s always been fundamental to our approach to make our OA books as open and accessible as possible. One way in which we do this for our OA books is that we make every format of ebook that we offer (HTML, ePub, PDF, and MOBI for Kindle) available OA under a CC licence, in order to increase the opportunities for those books to be downloaded, shared, and re-used. I remember it being particularly complex to arrange free download of Amazon Kindle versions. We also realized we would have to mention open access in the blurb of the book, as Amazon and many other third-party providers did not have a place for us to indicate if a book was available OA.

Can you tell us something about your expectations when you started publishing OA books?

As a leading academic publisher, we always strive to be an innovative partner for our partners and authors. We launched our OA book programmes very much in the spirit of experimentation. We wanted to understand and learn from the reaction amongst the scholarly community, and start to seed interest in this new way of publishing.

Did you develop a long term plan for OA books?

We first started to seriously plan for the future of our OA books programme back in 2016. OA was starting to take off in the journals world in response to OA policies from major funders, Springer Nature had already signed its first transformative deals, and it was clear that academic publishing was on a trajectory towards open access. We wanted to play a part in ensuring that scholarly book authors could also benefit from this innovative publishing model and be part of the OA movement. We encouraged our commissioning editors to actively focus on signing more OA books, we invested in automating our internal OA books workflows so that we could scale up, and we started to think about how we could contribute to the policy discussions about OA books.

Over the years, Springer Nature has put a lot of effort in the OA books programme, doing research around usage, holding surveys among authors, introducing book metrics and retroactively adding DOIs to references. Can you tell us a bit about your motivations and goals?

Some of these developments, like our providing usage and citation stats for books and our inclusion of DOIs in references, are offered across our books programme and are not specific to our OA books. At Springer Nature we are firm advocates for the scholarly book and are always looking to improve our service to authors and readers and add value in the publication process.

We have run a number of research projects on OA books. These include our 2017 report The OA Effect, which found that our OA books achieve 7x more downloads, 50% more citations, and 10x more online mentions than our non OA books, and our 2019 survey, The Future of OA Books, which was the first to focus on the views of scholarly book authors on open access. We found that the majority of book authors think all scholarly books should be available OA, and that gold OA is their preferred model. We also have some exciting new research coming out later this year, developed with the COARD team at Curtin University, exploring the geographic usage of OA books.

Our core motivation in running these projects has been to increase the take-up of OA for books. When talking with researchers and policymakers about OA, it’s hugely powerful to be able to point to the download and citation benefits. Having a better understanding of researchers’ views about OA in the context of books helps us to shape our conversations with potential authors and also helps us understand what changes in the publishing and policy landscape might be needed to encourage more book authors to choose OA.

In keeping with the spirit of OA, it’s also been important to us that we’ve made our research freely available under a CC BY licence so that others in the OA books community can also benefit from it.

Which OA books are best represented in the list of 1000, and can you explain why? Can you see emerging trends in the OA books programme?

We publish OA books across a wide range of subject areas in both the humanities and social sciences (HSS) and science, technology and medicine (STM). We do see differences in the OA books portfolio: social sciences disciplines, as well as education, energy, environment and economics are particularly prominent there. Delving a bit deeper, we find topics and sub-disciplines aligned with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – development economics, sustainable development, climate change, renewable and green energy, migration and demography – are strongly represented in our OA books portfolio. Our 1000th OA book, which explores climate change as a public health emergency, is a great example.

Several of the OA books we’ve published on SDG topics have been very high-profile. Some recent highlights include The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, which defines nine mountain priorities with a particular focus on climate change; Achieving the Paris Climate Agreement Goals, which was published in association with the Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation and explores the critical question of how we can achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050; and Climate-Smart Food, which follows an average day’s worth of food and drink to see where it comes from, how far it travels, and the carbon price we all pay for it, to help us make better decisions about the food we eat.

Can you see a change in authors’ attitudes towards OA books?

Absolutely. It’s often said that open access humanities and social science researchers, and therefore scholarly book authors, don’t understand or engage much with open access. But I’m not convinced this still holds. Our 2019 Future of OA Books survey found that the majority of book authors agreed that all future scholarly books (monographs or edited collections) should be made available via OA. I don’t think that would have been the case five years ago.

In our survey we also found that junior researchers, researchers based in Europe and Asia, and previous OA authors had a more positive attitude towards OA. This might point to generational change, and to the positive impact of funders’ OA policies (which have so far been concentrated in Europe).

Authors do still have concerns. One interesting finding was that authors were concerned about the perception of quality of OA books – that is, even if authors are themselves convinced that OA books can be of high quality, they are concerned that OA books might be perceived more negatively by others, and that it might affect promotion and tenure.

Overall, though, I’m very encouraged by the shift in attitudes that we’ve seen over the years. I think all of us in the scholarly communications community can play a role in helping to normalize OA for books and changing perceptions. At Springer Nature, we’ve tried to put out clear advice to authors – a recent blog explaining the basics of CC licences was a big hit – and of course our commissioning editors worldwide play a hugely important role in talking to book authors of the benefits of OA.

End of part 1, to continue reading part 2 please click here