Since November 2019, the COPIM project has been building community-led systems and infrastructures to support and develop open access (OA) book publishing. We’ve focused particularly on how to enable smaller and medium-sized presses to thrive in an open access world, following the principle of ‘Scaling Small’: that publishing communities can grow their capacity to publish open access books through intentional collaboration and mutual support, fostering resilience and bibliodiversity through cooperation and knowledge-sharing rather than individual initiatives seeking to grow larger at the expense of ‘competitors’.
Our initial period of funding, generously given by the Research England Development Fund and Arcadia, is now coming to an end, so we wanted to share: what have we built, how can publishers use it, and what comes next?
Where are we now?
COPIM has been an international partnership between different organisations: open access publishers, libraries, universities, and infrastructure providers. Over the course of the project, we have focused on six core areas:
- Revenue generation for OA book initiatives
- Business models that can ‘flip’ presses from non-OA to OA
- Powerful governance models for non-profit, community-led infrastructure
- Open metadata creation and the dissemination of OA books
- Experimental publishing: OA workflows that welcome novelty and experimentation
- Archiving and preservation of complex, long-form OA works
As well as generating a wealth of reports, conducting numerous workshops with different members of the scholarly publishing community, giving presentations and writing articles – all available on our Open Documentation site or via our Zenodo community – we have created:
- The Open Book Collective (OBC), a community platform and not-for-profit organisation registered in the UK which enables OA initiatives to seek library support for their publishing activities and libraries to find, assess, and fund them, as well as to easily integrate OA books into library catalogues; the Collective’s members also pay into a development fund that any press can apply to for support in improving their work;
- Opening the Future, a business model that enables non-OA presses to use library subscriptions to non-OA backlists to fund the publication of OA frontlist books. Currently in operation with Central European University Press and Liverpool University Press, the initiative has already funded the publication of thirteen OA books;
- A robust governance model for the Open Book Collective, to ensure that it remains community-led, serves its members (including libraries as well as publishers and OA infrastructure providers) and cannot be bought by a commercial company;
- Thoth, the open metadata dissemination system that enables presses to easily create rich metadata and export it in a wide variety of formats as demanded by different platforms, libraries and discovery channels;
- Rich pilot projects showcasing experimental books and publishing workflows with partnering presses Open Humanities Press, Mattering Press, and Open Book Publishers, and the Experimental Publishing Compendium (to be launched at COPIM’s end-of-project conference) to enable OA initiatives to embrace experimental book projects;
- Practical use cases for bulk-archiving complex OA books, and scoping out the Thoth Archiving Network: a network and workflow that would allow users of Thoth to easily upload their books to a distributed archiving facility hosted by member institutions for long-term archiving.
Presses and publishing initiatives can already use these infrastructures in different ways. The Open Book Collective has its own criteria for presses, projects and infrastructure providers that want to join, and a clear application process. Opening the Future is designed to be replicable by other presses, with a Toolkit, open code and template agreements with Jisc and Lyrasis. Thoth is now a non-profit, community interest company (CIC) and welcomes enquiries from presses who might want to use it. The Experimental Books pilot projects have been openly documented and can be adopted by authors and publishers, and the archiving workflows have also been carefully documented, while the Thoth Archiving Network is under development.
At the end of March, we were delighted to announce that Arcadia and Research England have between them committed £5.8 million (including the project partners’ own contributions) to a project that will significantly accelerate the work of the Open Book Collective, Thoth, and Opening the Future, as well as expand the Experimental Publishing Compendium and the Thoth Archiving Network, and develop technical protocols and infrastructure to enable presses to better integrate accessibility requirements into their workflows.
This project, called Open Book Futures, will run from May 2023 to April 2026. It will reunite many of the COPIM project partners while also bringing in new partners from around the world, and aims to deepen COPIM’s long-term impact and to make sure a wider range of voices have the opportunity to shape the future of open access book publishing. Full information including all partners can be found here. During the three-and-a-half years that COPIM has been in operation, we have seen an unprecedented growth in innovative OA initiatives and organisations created to advance OA book publishing, with new presses of different types (independent, university, library) springing up and models being developed to fund a shift towards OA. We have also seen increased interest in OA funder mandates that include books, such as UKRI 2024 and (potentially) REF-after-REF 2028 in the UK, with cOAlition S and the PALOMERA project in Europe paving the way for more such policies in future. This growth has been underpinned by recently developed or developing infrastructural support for OA book publishing, including not just COPIM’s infrastructural outputs, but others such as the Mellon-funded Book Analytics Dashboard project, Directory of Open Access Book’s Peer Review Information Service for Monographs, and DIAMAS, as well as emerging digital platforms that facilitate OA book publishing, including experimental publishing (e.g., Manifold, PubPub, Ravenspace).
However, we continue to believe that this expansion should not be driven by Book Processing Charges, which are fundamentally inequitable and often lack transparency. Neither should such an expansion come at the price of entrenching the dominance of a small number of large presses, threatening the bibliodiversity that is a crucial aspect of the academic book landscape. Nor do we want to see the infrastructure that supports OA book publishing wholly owned by a few commercial companies, a trend that has also accelerated in recent years as we read of prominent acquisitions by large companies such as the purchase of Knowledge Unlatched and Hindawi by Wiley, Ubiquity Press by De Gruyter, and the Emerald Group by Cambridge Information Group.
We hope that the work done by the COPIM project, now to be continued with Open Book Futures, will realise an alternative ecosystem that supports communities of scholars, small-to-medium-sized publishers, not-for-profit infrastructure providers and scholarly libraries, enabling community-led open access book publishing to be a significant force in the future of academic books.
The COPIM end-of-project conference will take place online on 20 April 3.30-8.15pm (BST), and 21 April 3-7pm (BST). Registration is free. Join us to find out more about COPIM and Open Book Futures: https://scalingsmall.pubpub.org/