A Plan S for Academic Books: Voices from the Community

16th December 2020News, Open Access, Open Science

cOAlition S will issue its policy on Open Access (OA) monographs and chapters in late 2021. As part of a strategy to gather opinions and OA book policy priorities from the OA books community to feed into this policy, SPARC Europe helped prepare a workshop with members of OPERAS, EASSH and DARIAH at the OPERAS Conference on 2 November 2020. With almost 75 attendees, this workshop focused on business models for OA books and brought together experts from the field before ending with a document sprint. The sprint allowed the community to engage online by reacting to cases made by the presenters and providing other additions.

Additional OA book policy workshops will be organised in 2021 by the OA Books Network. It will form the basis of feedback to cOAlition S to support them in their policy development for OA books. This collective effort will be shared with the community for comments in the Open Access Book Network before sharing it with cOAlition S.

The experts

Martin Eve from Birkbeck, University of London, began the November session by highlighting the crisis — or, at least, challenges — in the economy of the monograph. Recent work on the Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM) Project has looked at revenue management with a recent report published on the topic, with more COPIM documents here.  Eve further discussed a range of revenue models to unlock OA books since no single model exists: from book processing charges (BPCs) to institutional cross-subsidies, membership, crowdfunding, endowments, grant funding or sales, with several dominant ones being internal subsidies, membership, BPCs, grants and print sales. He shared his Opening the Future model, which is designed to convert university presses by bringing together Subscribe to Open, Membership and Subscription. The concept encourages university presses to sell a subscription to the backlist in order to use the revenue to fund an OA frontlist. Eve identified subscriptions as a key mechanism to fund an OA future. He also discussed cost models, seeing differing operating costs between publishers, and the need to reduce production and distribution costs and to lower barriers to entry for new publishers.

Eve also pointed out that a Plan S for OA books should take caution when using BPCs as the sole or primary source of funding OA books since it will not lead to a more systematic transformation, nor will it scale. However, he did see funders paying for BPCs as one way forward since it is easily accountable. Eve saw multiple opportunities for funders to support OA monographs and chapters by funding born-OA presses or transitioned presses, eliminating author-facing charges where possible and by supporting broader OA book infrastructure.

Agata Morka from the COPIM/OPERAS-P Project presented on how to make funding OA books work for European libraries by reporting on a number of workshops she had conducted with academic libraries in Poland, Germany, Croatia, Greece, Slovenia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. She reported on some of the important elements when making funding decisions on OA books such as knowing who makes the decisions, cost transparency, alignments with the institution’s mission, transparent governance, calling on recommendations from peer institutions, and whether OA book initiatives are community-led, non-commercial and/or open source. Related to a Plan S for OA books, she underlined the importance of funders supporting diversity in publishing, i.e. not just supporting large legacy publisher outputs. It was important for funding agencies and institutions to allocate funds to a range of business models to reflect the landscape. One can also capitalise on a demonstrable interest in collective funding for books, as long as the funding system is simple, transparent and takes regional needs into account. She also mentioned the idea of a one-stop shop platform that connects libraries, funders and publishers to fund, publish and educate on OA books.

Lara Speicher from UCL Press reported on the success of the UCL university press that aims to make the scholarly research it publishes as widely available as possible: publishing 50 books annually, with 163 OA books and 15 journals to its name so far, and over 3.5 million downloads. She noted that institutions could greatly benefit from supporting an OA university press to ensure their research reaches a global audience. Speicher saw it as an institutional opportunity to have an OA university press to support a wide range of OA activity and contribute to the overall strategic goals of the institution through its publishing activity.

When it comes to funding OA monographs, Speicher reminded the audience that monographs often require subsidy in traditional models, as well as in Open Access, and that this needs to be acknowledged in future plans for OA monograph mandates. UCL Press is subsidised by the institution, and Speicher pointed out that the costs for UCL Press are a tiny fraction of UCL’s annual income. Supporting UCL Press is considered as a valuable investment by the institution because of the global impact the Press achieves by making its books and journals freely available. Speicher reports that sales of UCL Press books are not necessarily impinged on by making material Open Access, referring to the most downloaded book with high sales numbers.

“With appropriate levels of funding, university presses are well placed to support a transition to OA monographs as mission-driven, not-for-profit entities that are embedded at the institution and, therefore, are closely aligned with the wider ethos and goals (but not to the exclusion of other types of publisher).”

Victoria Tsoukala from the European Commission discussed the case of monographs by referring to the new Horizon Europe (HE) regulation and the HE Model Grant agreement that will come into force in April 2021. The Open Access policy is the same for all publications, including long text formats. This means that peer-reviewed academic OA books stemming from Horizon Europe funding must be made immediately OA, i.e. at the time of publication, and must be deposited in a repository; no embargo is permitted. Enough rights must be retained by beneficiaries/authors to allow for immediate OA, including CC BY or CC BY NC and/or ND.

A Plan S for books needs to align with the Plan S principles. The European Commission supports full OA publishing and the transition towards it, as well as a systemic change.

“Support a healthy and diverse scholarly book publishing environment that is sustainable for funders and institutions in the long term.”

Horizon Europe project costs can be reimbursed for OA monographs and chapters in full OA venues, i.e. entirely Open Access. Tsoukala discussed her expectations of a cOALition S strategy for OA books/monographs and underlined that funders need to support full OA publishing and the transition towards it. They need to take a comprehensive approach and develop funding strategies with positive short and long-lasting effects. Furthermore, research funders need to look at a mix of funding models to do so, by paying BPCs, supporting transformative models and by sustaining collaborative/institutional/collective models, among others.

Koen Vermeir from the Global Young Academy called for the need to change the global OA system. In order to come to a meaningful, community-driven Plan S for academic books, Vermeir stressed that it was important for the community to consider what it needed for OA books, and how cOAlition S might contribute to that.

Vermeir pointed out some of the challenges of a Plan S for OA books, including maintaining fairness and equity between grantees and non-grantees, and that the policy needs to be scaled up to many countries. He noted that funding challenges exist since a variety of types of monographs and cost structures are in place. Books are also a source of income for some authors, unlike most journal articles. Plan S does not yet have a mandate to support infrastructure, which is also critical.

Vermeir proposed that a Plan S for OA books should focus on making important SSH content OA, taking into account different publishing timelines, underfunded disciplines, more fragile – even disappearing – disciplines, diversity publishing outputs, and less standardization in methods, styles and practices with no standardized reputation system. Funders could call for green OA if necessary, and gold or diamond funding where possible. Vermeir also pointed out that it was essential to have more data on the costs of OA books to inform decision-makers. Full price and service transparency is crucial going forward.

He concluded by saying that a valuable way forward might be to have a funding coalition for OA books universities, national research funders and others.


Further voices from the community

In the document sprint of the OPERAS event, other members of the OA books community highlighted additional points related to funding OA monographs and chapters:

On funding

One thing that is critical before a successful funding strategy can get underway for OA books is making the case for the value in OA books, since this is not always clear to funders.

Funding should be linked to policy: OA books are just as important as journals when mandating OA.

Significant gaps exist between small and medium-sized publishers and larger publishers. Information is lacking on their roles to support research, their business models and their challenges.

It is vital to promote bibliodiversity and multilingualism whilst accelerating Open Access to books since differences exist across countries, publishers and disciplines. Many monographs exist in languages other than English: the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) shows that over half of its books are published in these languages. It also reports a long tail of publishers publishing a few OA books. Furthermore, certain books have more of a national focus than others. Though challenging, this diversity needs to be considered when designing funding strategies, programmes and policy actions. Promoting bibliodiversity brings additional challenges with it, however, since the need to connect and ensure interoperability between all sizes of players is real. A common joined-up technical and funding sustainability strategy is therefore key.

Gaining more understanding on how national funding agencies are supporting OA book publishing across Europe would be advantageous to identify opportunities and to help develop appropriate strategies based on practice. We also need more in-depth information on the costs of OA monographs in different areas of SSH since this impacts financial models.

An issue still exists around how authors are evaluated and how funding decisions are often made based on where authors publish rather than on what they publish, even by some national research funding agencies. This results in authors being bound by the business models of those venues to achieve their goals. If the BPC is the only way to fund an OA book, this then results in exclusion as seen with article processing charges (APCs) in journals. In the case where BPCs exist, funders need to demand transparent pricing and levels need to be capped.

Support for a model that builds on existing subscription budgets for instance, such as the Opening the Future model, or Subscribe to Open in the journals space, could be more promising, especially in terms of scalability. Funder financial support for these kinds of developments would help to show an alternative trajectory.

Many OA monographs are still without revenue. How can this be stimulated for more self-sufficiency? Another participant doubted whether this was a major issue to transitioning to OA.

The current focus is on the unit of output (BPCs) rather than on the services or infrastructure that support it. This needs to change since, for example, funding the operational costs of infrastructure is vital and membership models can support this.

Clearer paths to funding: OA monographs are necessary in themes such as scholarly society research series and in areas that address societal importance.


On other aspects of OA books


  • Institutions can mandate OA books as well as funders.


  • More clarity is needed on the issue of rights management and self-archiving policies amongst book publishers: these are unclear or lacking even among the larger legacy publishers that have elaborate policies for journals.
  • Complex legal issues exist relating to OA (transformative agreements, third-party rights)
  • As regards open licensing:
    • make CC BY the default and other licences the exception, and justify its use
    • consider disincentivising publishers from asking for more funds to make material openly licensed. Studies on how Creative Commons licenses impact sales revenue would be desirable.
    • in OAPEN: currently 39% of material is CC-BY-NC-ND and 24% CC BY
    • consider a reward system for open licensing


  • Could the current EC OA publishing platform integrate OA book publishing workflows?

Research data

  • cOAlition S should discuss how to recognise the value of open research data and what peer review is necessary.


SPARC Europe will be synthesising this community feedback for cOAlition S to support its policymaking on OA books.


Please continue the conversation

SPARC Europe – together with The Open Access Books Network – looks forward to discussing other policy topics that are important to accelerate access to OA monographs with your help. If you are not yet a member of the OA Books Network, please join to be in this loop!