The great days of Open Access are past, but the age of the Open Book is just about to begin. Witness the trajectory of the Elsevier acquisition strategy, ever the most reliable guide to trends in academic and research markets. No major journal publishing investments there. Beyond the slackening of demand for more paid for journals, the thrust went first into social media and data via Mendeley, and then towards pre-print servers like SSRN, followed by repositories like BePress. What does this tell us? That the historical demand for enhancing reputation by virtue of coupling your renown to that of the journal that accepted you is giving way to the necessity, in a networked society, of getting quickly into the workflow of your discipline, regardless of where you may subsequently be published. Here Open Access proved a game changer that influenced, in most disciplines, less than 25% of the game. The mere fact, however that a game which was played according to many of the same rules since the 1660s could be changed, means that the next generations are fully entitled to make their own rules.
But while all this has been going on, what of the related worlds not subject to the imperatives of Green and Gold and mandates? By this I mean the world of book publishing in all disciplines, but particularly in HSS with its dependence on getting the full research answer out into monograph form, in a market that has an ever greater problem with buying books in research institutions, a growing problem over at least 50 years. What it is about HSS and books that makes its problems less attractive to public campaigns and political pressure we should leave until another time, but it really is fascinating for those interested in the history of scholarship to reflect that we have had to come through years of publishers saying that monograph publishing was untenable to what is now a concentrated attention on the facts of digital publishing as it impacts monograph production – that it is quicker, easier, cheaper and more effective than ever before, but the real problems remaining lie in circulation, discoverability and finding an appropriate business model.
The first person to demonstrate a practical business development that could march alongside the aspirations of academics and the constraints of librarians was Dr Frances Pinter with her Knowledge Unlatched (KnowledgeUnlatched.org) solution. By allowing librarians to “subscribe” to the opening of books in a proposal list to universal access. Now run from Berlin by Dr Sven Fund, this demonstrated her virtuosity as a publisher coupled with a real insight into the lives of researchers and the stresses within the scholarly communication system. In the past three years, in this infant marketplace neglected by publishers, it has grown appreciably, in a context where small commercial players (Cambridge Scholars) have begun to work on scholarly self-publishing, and a range of new University Presses, both in the US and in the UK, have created “pop-up” publishing for those who can afford it. And here lies a real threat to publishers with important book programmes in STM or HSS: the tools and processes get cheaper, the staff commitment becomes less significant (ex-librarians can do it brilliantly!), and the speed requirement, for reputational purposes, gets greater, so the need to get material into the scholarly workflow becomes more urgent.
All of which ignores a real problem on the road to open access self publishing, and it is fascinating to see how the team at Knowledge Unlatched have their teeth into this. The problem of self-publishing is discoverability. Adding metadata to ensure discovery and then placing that information in the critical junction boxes of a wired society to ensure that what is available is what is found becomes fundamental when simply “outing” content to the web results in loss of discoverability. Publishers have always known this, so the logic for Knowledge Unlatched in opening up its services as Open Services is inescapable, and will predictably lead to KU becoming a hub for this rapidly growing sector as well as a service to sector players. The data accumulation here becomes one of the important assets across the board in HSS and STM.
Predictably, now this market has kick-started, developments will move rapidly. The ability to use semantic enquiry across these texts, to cross search groups of them and to discover and explore them at sub-chapter and paragraph levels will help. Index compilation and the generation of custom-machine generated indices will follow, with automatic updating and cross-referencing , as well as linkage to related evidential data, clearly part of the trajectory. But this only happens if the sector has a hub and some standards, so the move of KU to create Open Services is really the first movement in the direction of a hub that we have seen, and one which, for that reason, is hugely welcome.
Originally published on davidworlock.com On 11th September 2017