As part of our research into new business models in Open Access publishing we are interviewing managers at various scholarly publishers about the answers they find to the challenges posed by the current reconfiguration of the academic publishing market. While there seems to be an emerging consensus that APC-funded Open Access publishing in journals is the way to go for STEM fields, an issue that frequently comes up is the sustainability of that very model for the humanities and social sciences.

The monograph is still perceived as the gold standard of humanistic inquiry, yet research grants in the humanities are much less generous than in STEM fields. This makes coughing up the roughly 10-15.000 EUR it costs to produce a book a rather nontrivial task. And with this figure we are not even speaking about profits for the publisher. Consequently, most publishers are currently viewing their activities in OA monograph publishing as experimental and are not expecting any profits from those initiatives in the foreseeable future.

However, Knowledge Unlatched, a new initiative by ex-Bloomsbury Academic executive Frances Pinter, seeks to tackle this problem.

While in London my colleague Armin Beverungen and I sat down with Lucy Montgomery, Research Director at Knowledge Unlatched, who explained to us that the initiative seeks to reconfigure the market through developing an innovative business model that establishes a library consortium and creates a set of incentives for both libraries and publishers to work together for funding the continued publication of humanities and social sciences monographs in an Open Access mode.

In a nutshell, Knowledge Unlatched would act as an intermediary between a global library consortium and individual academic publishers. The latter would approach Knowledge Unlatched with titles they would like to see published in Open Access. Knowledge Unlatched would then regularly send out a list of titles to libraries which would opt in to fund the unlatching, that is, the publication in Open Access, of certain titles. The titles so funded would be released with a Creative Commons licence by the publishers which retain the right to sell special editions and extra services around the titles. The libraries which fund the unlatching of books are then eligible for discounts from the publishers. The result: a model for funding OA monographs that reconfigures the market so that authors are somewhat relieved of the trouble to fund their publications, libraries have more say in which publications are available for their clients, and commercial publishers are still able to make a profit.

But let Frances Pinter explain the idea herself in this video. Watching it is 15 minutes well invested (and it features ice cream!).

It is exciting to see initiatives out there which think beyond the current APC paradigm and experiment with new business models. Personally, I am really looking forward to the results from the pilot which will be launched later this year.

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Helge Peters

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As a full-time research associate at the Hybrid Publishing Lab, Helge is currently investigating scholarly communications and learning environments with a focus on business models and digital technologies. He holds a BA in Strategic Communication and Planning from the Berlin University of the Arts and an MA (dist.) in Media and Communications from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

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