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International Open Access Week 2020: What can a university press do to drive open access?

Open Access Week is an opportunity to celebrate, discuss, and push forward open access throughout the scholarly community. This year’s theme is “Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion” so, to kick off the week’s conversations, we’re taking a look at the open access (OA) publishing taking place at Oxford University Press (OUP) and how the Press is working with researchers, societies, and libraries to support and develop the wider OA landscape.

OUP is the largest university press publisher of OA content. We published our first OA research in 2004 and launched our first fully OA journal—Nucleic Acids Research—in 2005. We now publish 80 fully OA journals and have published 115 OA books. We also offer an OA publishing option on over 400 journals in our publishing portfolio and, since 2004, have published more than 70,000 OA journal articles.

Why is OA so important for a university press?

OA publishing makes research free to read and easier to re-use and build upon. Put simply, open access to research is a public good. This is especially important to OUP as OA publishing supports our mission to further the University of Oxford’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. As a university press, we’re embedded in the scholarly community and can use this position to drive OA publishing forward through cooperative action and compromise, working alongside our library customers and our society publishing partners.

One of the crucial aspects of our role as a publisher is to ensure the continued quality and academic rigour of research published through an OA model. All of the research we publish in our journal portfolio undergoes a rigorous peer review process where subject matter experts read and offer feedback on research methodology and findings, before offering an independent judgment on the quality of the work. This reflects the formal process that all our scholarly books undergo, with Delegates of the University ultimately determining whether a book is accepted for publication, after comprehensive review. This is vitally important in a context where misinformation is rife and researchers are under enormous pressure to deliver their findings rapidly.

How is OUP working to build OA publishing?

As well as assuring the quality of each individual piece of research, at OUP we are creating more high-quality outlets for OA research. This year saw the launch of our flagship OA journal series, Oxford Open. The series is underpinned by shared principles of open research, and now includes Oxford Open Materials ScienceOxford Open Immunology, and Oxford Open Climate Sciencewith more titles on the horizon. Alongside this, we are working with our society partners to identify titles that would benefit from moving to a wholly OA model and supporting their transition. More than two thirds of the journals we publish are owned by learned societies and we want to make sure that the accelerated transition to OA is sustainable for them and their members. For scholars in developing countries, we offer fee waivers in our fully open access journals to ensure an equitable route to publishing.

Another of the important ways in which we work within our community towards greater open access is in working closely with funders and policy makers for mutually beneficial outcomes. By meeting with funding bodies and those shaping the future of research policy, we are able to offer an important perspective as a department of the University of Oxford and as a publisher in our own right. These conversations are an important opportunity to make sure the voices and positions of the learned societies we partner with are heard alongside those of large publishers. We cannot all move at the same pace and an inclusive and considered approach is important.

What is next for OA publishing at OUP?

One of the areas of focus for the OA debate at the moment is defining the future of the OA book. As the world’s largest university press, we have a sizeable academic monograph programme and a growing OA books programme, which began almost 10 years ago. However, increasing OA books publishing is not as simple as just adopting a model that has worked for journals. A lot of work is underway at OUP to understand and adapt the existing model to the complexities of the book publishing process and ensure that the outcomes support book authors. Working collaboratively with funders, policy makers, industry bodies, and research institutions is the best way to achieve this. (Look out for more on this later in the week!)

Another area of nuance in the debate is subject area. Many of the initial forays into OA publishing took place in STM publishing. Open access to research is important for those working in the humanities and social sciences as well, but the context needs to be recognized. At OUP, we publish a varied list in humanities and social sciences and a large number of academic monographs, a format often published predominantly by university presses rather than larger commercial publishers. Generally, there is a comparatively lower volume of research published in humanities and social sciences, which given that existing OA business models tend to operate on a per article basis, means that journals in these areas would find a rapid switch to a fully OA model challenging to manage financially. Equally, monographs, which are a core part of scholarly discourse in humanities and social sciences, increase in scholarly value over a number of years as future research draws on them. This means that the sales life of a monograph is long. Immediate OA jeopardizes these longer-term sales, with negative consequences for the financial stability of monograph publishing. There’s also a question of appropriate licenses for re-use in humanities and social science disciplines, where the nature of content is different, and where secondary images, quotations, and artwork (which authors will need to acquire permissions for) are often used to illustrate arguments.

Meanwhile, the OA world is also complex to navigate for university librarians whose budgets are more stretched every year. The advent of Read & Publish deals in the last few years has meant institutional and, in some cases, national-level agreements to redirect funds previously earmarked for subscriptions towards the payment of OA publishing fees. OUP has 11 such agreements in place, including the first of its kind in Mainland China. By working closely with colleagues at institutional libraries and national consortia, we are able to reach fair and equitable agreements that further OA publishing without putting undue pressure on one area of the scholarly community—be it publishers, authors, or librarians.

There is still considerable work to do to continue the transition to OA and make sure this, like other areas of the scholarly communications ecosystem, is as equitable and inclusive as possible. As a university press, we are committed to continuing to drive this change forward.

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