Sunday, March 08, 2015

The OA Interviews: Alison Mudditt, Director, University of California Press

As the open access train rolls towards the future more and more traditional scholarly publishers are jumping on board. When and how they do so is not an easy decision—as Wiley’s Alice Meadows pointed out recently on the Scholarly Kitchen. Nevertheless, OA is now inevitable, so the plunge has to be taken sooner or later.

The University of California Press made its move in January, launching two new open access programmes—Collabra and Luminos.
Alison Mudditt

Collabra is a mega journal that will initially focus on three broad disciplinary areas (life and biomedical sciences, ecology and environmental science, and social and behavioural sciences), and then expand into other disciplines at a later date. Collabra is expected to publish its first articles in the next month or so.

Luminos is an open access monograph publisher that will publish its first book this autumn.

What is the context in which UC Press’ move needs to be seen?

The key challenge open access poses for publishers is how to develop a workable business model. After all, since OA requires that research publications are made freely available, the traditional subscription model no longer works. Understandably, therefore, publishers have concluded that the costs of producing OA journals and books will have to be recovered at the author’s side of the process (via author-side fees) rather than at the reader’s side (via subscriptions). 

The question therefore is: how can this be done in a way that it is both workable and sustainable? Today there are two primary ways of attempting to do this—the article-processing charge (APC) and the membership scheme.

In the former case, the onus for finding the funds needed to pay to publish falls on authors. This means that if they cannot persuade their institution or funder (assuming they have one) to pay the bill, they may have to pay it themselves. (Most OA publishers advertise fee waivers, but it is not entirely clear how many researchers benefit from these, especially those offered by commercial publishers).

In the latter case, the author’s institution takes on the responsibility—by bulk-buying APCs (publication rights if you like) for all its researchers. Normally, this means the institutional library will pay subscription-like annual fees to a number of open access publishers. For authors this has the benefit of making OA publication services free at the point of use, although there are variations on this model—e.g. here and here

And as large subscription publishers like Springer ramp up their open access activities we are seeing new-style big deals emerge whereby libraries pay a single annual fee that covers both access to the publisher’s paywalled content and publishing rights for researchers who want to publish in their open access journals.

These new models have their critics, and OA advocates frequently point out that the majority of OA journals today do not charge a publication fee. The implication is that there are other, better, ways of funding open access. Nevertheless, as large commercial subscription publishers increasingly move into the open access space (offering OA journals and, increasingly, OA books), the tide is currently moving strongly in the direction of author-side pay-to-publish models. 

Today, therefore, unless their institution has a membership scheme with the OA journal  in which they want to publish, authors looking to embrace OA still face the challenge of finding some way of paying the publication fee. This can be very difficult, particularly for researchers who have little or no funding (as UCLA behavioural and evolutionary ecologist Peter Nonacs describes here).

Those who work in subjects where the monograph is the primary vehicle for communicating research find themselves in a particularly hard place. Consider, for instance, that where a commercial publisher like Springer charges $3,000 to make an article open access (and non-profit OA publisher PLOS charges between $1,350 and $2,900) the cost of publishing an OA book can be as much as $17,500 + taxes (which is what Palgrave Macmillan charges). Clearly, this poses a huge challenge.

In the hope of addressing this issue Knowledge Unlatched—a not-for-profit organisation coordinating a global consortium of libraries to share the costs of making books open access—has pioneered a library consortium approach. 

The model used here is not unlike the membership schemes used by OA journal publishers, but what libraries pay depends not on the number of texts their researchers publish, but on how many other libraries join the consortium. Basically, publication costs are shared between institutions on a per title basis. Knowledge Unlatched estimates these costs at around $13 to $60 per library, per book. Clearly, time will tell how successful this approach proves.

Variations on a theme

So what is UC Press bringing to the party? Essentially, while embracing the two primary author-side payment models, the Press has introduced some interesting innovations. Let’s describe its approach therefore as variations on a theme.

The first point to make is that as a non-profit publisher subsidised by its host university, and with its own foundation, UC Press has been able to set Collabra’s APC at $875. This is not only significantly lower than what commercial publishers charge, but considerably lower than PLOS ONE, the pioneering mega journal launched by non-profit publisher Public Library of Science in 2006. PLOS ONE charges $1,350 per paper.

Moreover, only $625 of this fee will go to Collabra, with $250 being pooled in what the publisher calls a “Research Community Fund”. This fund is then used to pay editors and reviewers a fee for their services. Explaining how it works to Scholastica, UC Press’ director of digital development Neil Christensen said, “[O]n a quarterly basis we look at activities: Reviewer A had X many decisions, Editor A had X many decisions, and for each decision there is a point value. You take the total sum of the money in the pool and then divide it by the total sum of the points that have been generated for that period, and then allocate the money based on how many points or value each individual has contributed.”

It is this novel feature that has attracted most attention for Collabra (see here and here for instance). But in fact the more interesting aspect of Collabra’s model is that editors and reviewers are invited not to take the money they have earned, but to give it away—either by donating it to the Collabra Waiver Fund, or to their own institutional open access fund. By doing so, they can help researchers who do not have the money needed to publish make their work open access too.

What this does is draw out attention to the fact that scholarly publishing is essentially a communal and collaborative activity, and one that works best when scientists and scholars are able to share their findings in as frictionless a way as possible. While the Internet has made it technically much easier to share research, current models of open access have made it financially harder (since authors now need money to pay to publish). As noted, this is especially difficult for those in subjects with little in the way of funding. With Collabra, UC Press is proposing that a possible way of mitigating this new obstacle is to invite researchers to share the costs of open access publishing amongst themselves in an equitable way.

And with this same aim in mind, Collabra plans to “pair” different research fields. As Mudditt explains below, “One of Collabra’s core innovations is to test the thesis that we can use income from fields with higher research funding to support those with little or no funding. As such, this requires us to publish both in fields that have substantial funding (such as the life sciences) and those that have far less (in this case, social and behavioural sciences).”

The same community-focussed approach is also inherent to the Luminos model. While its publication fee ($15,000) is comparable to that charged by other publishers, UC Press will subsidise the fee through a library membership scheme (research libraries are being asked to pay an annual fee of $1,000 in order to “directly support researchers in getting vital work into the world” and to “help ensure access to this work is open and free to everyone”). The publishing costs will also be directly subsidised by UC Press. As a result, it is expected that the cost to the author will be halved to around $7,500. UC Press assumes that in most cases the author’s institution will pay the subsidised fee, but it has also created a Luminos fee waiver fund for those unable to obtain institutional support.

And in a similar collaborative spirit, UC Press is working with the California Digital Library (courtesy of a $750,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) to develop a web-based open-source content management system to support the publication of open access monographs in the humanities and social sciences. When complete, the system will be made available to the wider community of academic publishers, especially university presses and library publishers.

So far as licensing goes, UC Press has decided to directly emulate what other OA publishers are doing. All the papers published by Collabra, for instance, will be licensed under a CC-BY licence—as they are with PLOS eLife, PeerJ, and F1000Research. And authors publishing with Luminos will be able to choose from a range of Creative Commons licences, as they can with Knowledge Unlatched. When asked on the Scholarly Kitchen blog about the latter decision, Mudditt explained that research undertaken by UC Press (and by Knowledge Unlatched) had “unearthed significant concerns from authors about losing control of their material.”

In summary, while UC Press’ OA programmes could be described as variations on a theme, they come with some interesting innovations. These innovations remind us that scholarly communication works best when it experiences as little friction (both technical and financial) as possible. They also remind us that communicating research is essentially a communal and collaborative process. And since for some authors open access introduces financial obstacles that did not previously exist, it follows that the research community needs to come up with new non-discriminatory ways of sharing the costs of scholarly communication.

It is also possible that today’s author-side pay-to-publish OA models may not prove workable in the long term. The OA membership schemes being introduced by large journal publishers, for instance, seem destined to recreate the dysfunctional market conditions that subscription publishers are accused of creating with the big deal. As such, it is not currently clear that open access will solve the affordability problem that caused many to join the OA movement in the first place.

But the good news is that if publishers like UC Press continue to experiment, and to innovate, both the accessibility and the affordability problems may eventually be solved.

To find out more about UC Press’ open access plans please read Mudditt’s answers to my questions below.

The interview begins …

RP: UC Press is launching two new open access initiatives: Luminos, which will publish scholarly open access monographs, and Collabra, a new OA mega journal. Are these initiatives part of UC press, or a separate financial entity? Your Collabra FAQ seems to imply the latter, and refers to UC Open Press?

AM: Both initiatives are a core part of UC Press in all ways: financially, strategically, and as a core way of fulfilling our mission to add visibility and impact to transformational scholarship. UC Open Press is not a separate entity or even an imprint—it is simply an umbrella under which we can gather these and any future OA programs.

RP: Is this UC Press’ first toe in the OA waters?

AM: Although UC Press has experimented with a handful of OA books in the past, these programs are our first serious foray into OA. We feel the timing is right for both projects and for UC Press to make a meaningful contribution to open access.

We have been exploring the launch of a mega journal for a couple of years. With Collabra, we knew we needed to build on what has already been achieved in open access publishing—and then go further. The model we have developed addresses, head-on, systemic problems that have not yet been solved around the recognition of peer review and funding APCs for disciplines without large grants.

We were spurred to develop Luminos both by the challenges we see in the current monograph model and the growing need for an approach that better disseminates scholarship and supports increasingly digital research from the social sciences and humanities.

We believe Luminos can expand global reach and better utilize digital technologies to enhance and support the monograph. These disciplines are, of course, some way behind the sciences in both their understanding and acceptance of digital and OA models, but we believe they are at a critical inflection point and ready for an evolution and extension of the current model.

RP: What does mega journal mean in the context of Collabra: cross disciplinary, volume publishing, PLOS ONE-style ‘lite’ peer review? None of these things? All these things plus more?

AM: All these things plus more, although we do not like the phrase peer-review “lite” for this type of peer review. There is nothing “lite” about being selective for accuracy, methodological and ethical soundness, and credibility. It’s simply less subjective.

RP: Why have you opted for the mega journal model? Is it just that you feel this to be the most cost effective way of publishing scholarly journals on the Internet today, or were there other considerations? If so, what were these?

AM: The mega journal approach offers us simplicity and flexibility—important considerations for a university press with relatively limited resources.  Collabra is about sharing value and we knew it would be simpler and more effective to build and share that value across a single infrastructure.

That said, we are also looking to foster development of smaller community journals under Collabra. One of our goals is that, for example, an ecologist author, editor, or reviewer will feel part of "Collabra Ecology."

We have shied away from characterizing any facet of our open access program as pilot or experimental; UC Press knows that open access is a critical part of our publishing strategy moving forward. That said we also know that Collabra will continue to evolve and believe the mega journal approach will afford us maximum flexibility and agility as the journal expands and develops.

RP: In a piece published in Inside Higher Education Neil Christensen, director of digital development at UC Press, stressed that it is non-profit, and said that too many university presses have tried to scale down and imitate the strategy of successful commercial publishers. “Maybe what we’ve discovered is that’s not the way to do it? With Collabra, let’s try to work out a model that works for us. It may not work for other publishers, but, hey, that’s not our headache.” Can you expand on this a little?

AM: Absolutely. Business models that work well for big commercial publishers work for them because they don’t work well for other publishers. That a handful of publishers have amassed thousands of journals sharply illustrates this dynamic.

It’s no secret that UC Press and other non-profit and mission-driven publishers have lost journal relationships to larger commercial publishers and we knew we needed to find a new way forward.

Collabra’s model speaks to publishers, libraries, funders, and researchers who are seeking more cost transparency and greater recognition of the critical role that the academic and scientific community plays in journal publishing. In our model, the people who do the fundamental work of peer-review are recognized for this and are able to decide where to place that value.

Our extensive research—and the very positive response to Collabra since its launch—suggests that these goals resonate deeply with many.  Whether or not this model works for all publishers, we hope it will inspire further discussion and redevelopment of the publishing value chain.

Business models

RP: On the Scholarly Kitchen Rick Anderson said of Collabra that it has “a business model that relies partly on library memberships and that provides payment to peer reviewers and editors, payment which they may opt to accept or to pass along, either to their local institutions’ OA subvention funds or back to Collabra to support its own APC waiver fund.” Can you say more about the business models and pricing, both for Collabra and Luminos? I assume the membership scheme refers only to Luminos?

AM: Yes, Collabra is funded exclusively by APCs and by the waiver fund. We have sought to keep the APC as low as possible and have been completely transparent about what this covers (see here). A key innovation is that editors and reviewers are paid, albeit a relatively small amount, for their work on the journal.

Here’s how it works:

ditors and reviewers receive points for all submissions with which they are involved—regardless of whether a given article is accepted or rejected.

-  Senior Editors receive 1 point per submission they oversee.

-  Handling Editors receive 3 points per submission they accept/reject.

-   Reviewers receive 3 points per submission on which they recommend a decision.

A $250 share from each accepted article APC of $875 is pooled in the Research Community Fund. Points are totalled and converted into a share of this fund every payment period. Since the fund is supported by APCs, people’s share of it will vary depending on article acceptance levels during each payment period.

Editors and reviewers decide what to do with their shares. They can receive them electronically as cash. Or they can elect to pay forward to the Collabra Waiver Fund or pay forward to an institutional Open Access fund which will then funnel back into the research community to support more OA funding. There’s a virtuous cycle we believe this model can engender.

The funding streams for Luminos are a little more multi-faceted as these disciplines do not have grant funding, but we have taken a similar community-based approach. Again, we have sought to keep publication costs as low as possible. Our baseline cost is $15,000 (this rises with longer titles and/or those with greater complexity, such as heavy illustration or multimedia elements).

We estimate that we will be able to cover a significant portion of these fees (between $7-8,000 per title) through revenue from the library membership scheme (see here), the sale of print copies, and an ongoing subsidy from UC Press. The remaining amount—starting at $7,500—will be recovered through a charge to the author (which we assume will typically be funded by their institution, although there are other sources).

RP: In an interview on the Scholastica blog Christensen says, “We’re saying, ‘let’s try and do what’s already being done in terms of APCs only do it at a lower price and recognize that the academy has a role there in generating value.’ Let’s pay part of that APC back to the academy and let them decide what to do with it.” Are you convinced that APCs are the inevitable long-term financial model for open access publishing, and so the issue is only one of getting the pricing formula right, or are you open to the possibility that the APC may disappear in the near future, to be replaced by something else?

AM: I don’t think that any of us should be utterly convinced of any financial model for OA and indeed, I think it is highly likely—not to mention desirable—we will end up with a much more mixed economy of funding sources for OA. There is increasing concern that APCs (particularly the high ones charged by some publishers) are eating into funding for the research itself, and then there are of course the fields that don’t have research grants to fund APCs.

We are still in the very early days of OA and as it grows and matures, I imagine that APCs funded by research grants will be supplemented by other sources of funding including a variety of institutional funding models and philanthropic support. I don’t think it’s productive to look for any single model to answer all problems, and too many discussions reach for premature conclusions.

Right now, Collabra utilizes a low APC that underpins its OA publishing mission. Should a better way emerge that allows Collabra to pursue our non-profit mission to advance knowledge, share value, and drive change, then we will explore it.

RP: Can you say something about UC Press’ finances? The Press receives a subsidy from the University of California, and it has a Foundation that accepts donations, but can you share with me the headline figures for the last financial year, and say to what extent these numbers were dependent on the University and the Foundation, rather than earned revenue? What would be the implications if the University did not provide a subsidy, and there was no Foundation?

AM: UC Press is in a strong and stable financial position and in the current year will cover over 90% of its expenses through earned revenue. However, like many university presses, we receive a subsidy from our home university, currently about $2.5M (a significant portion of which is designated specifically to support the work of UC faculty).

Alongside university subsidy, we are also fortunate to have additional support from the UC Press Foundation via existing endowments of $15M and active fundraising in support of new initiatives such as Collabra and Luminos.

External sources of support are critical for university presses all of whom at some level share a mission to publish work of scholarly, intellectual, or creative merit, often for a small audience of specialists. UC Press runs an effective and efficient non-profit publishing business, but without University funding and outside philanthropic support we would make a significant loss each year.

That said, since I arrived at UC Press the organization has been able to build an investment fund from its annual surpluses generated through a combination of strong financial management and new efficiency and cost reduction measures.  We did so recognizing the need to innovate and have used the funds to kick-start new programs, including the initial launch of our OA initiatives.

Our expectation is that in the long-term these programs will operate on a cost-recovery basis. However, we also recognize that investment can accelerate progress for both Collabra and Luminos, and, therefore, the UC Press Foundation is working to help secure additional capital for these publishing programs.

RP: You recently announced that, along with the California Digital Library, you have received a $750K Grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop a “web-based, open source content and workflow management system to support the publication of open access (OA) monographs in the humanities and social sciences”.  Could you not use an existing open source system like Open Monograph Press? What is lacking in OMP that UC Press plans to develop?

AM: The big difference between what we are trying to do and what OMP currently does is that while OMP can manage tasks, metadata, and finished documents required in the production process, it doesn't contain any functionality for authoring or revision in a web-based visual editor, nor does it include any functionality to do automated transformations to EPUB or print-ready files.

In OMP, all production still needs to be handled in desktop tools like Word and InDesign. We don’t just want to manage monographs as documents in the system—we want to migrate more of the authoring, revision, and output process to the web.

This is really the big leap—we want to move more of the authoring, revision, and production process to the web, where it can be better automated and more collaborative.

RP: Presumably you will not need to develop your new system before publishing monographs with Luminos?

AM: No. The technology we need to publish is already in place via our partnership with Ubiquity Press. The Mellon grant is to support development of a CMS that will help us to make title development from authoring through review, editing, and production more efficient, but it will not be a hosting platform. Until this has been developed, Luminos titles will be produced through our current systems.

Authors and waivers

RP: The Inside Higher Education piece says of Collabra, “In its first phase, the journal will pair research from faculty in life and biomedical sciences and ecological and environmental sciences—disciplines where research grants are easier to come by—with research from faculty in social and behavioral sciences. The second phase includes a similar pairing: computer science and medical and health sciences with the humanities.” What does “pairing” mean here?  And why are you doing it?

AM: One of Collabra’s core innovations is to test the thesis that we can use income from fields with higher research funding to support those with little or no funding. As such, this requires us to publish both in fields that have substantial funding (such as the life sciences) and those that have far less (in this case, social and behavioural sciences).

This is what we mean by pairing. We’re doing it because we believe it’s better for value to be shared amongst researchers than amongst shareholders, and we want to demonstrate that it is possible to do so.

RP: Can you say something about the profile of the authors you expect to attract, both for Collabra and Luminos? In particular, will you be encouraging authors from the Global South to publish with you? Do you expect them to be attracted to your offerings? If so, why?

AM: We hope to attract a wide range of authors from at various career levels and from different institutions and geographies to both programs. We will ensure we have wide editorial representation and we hope the ground-up, low publication charges and community spirit of both programs will resonate with all authors.

And of course, each program has a waiver fund which will help to support authors without the ability to fund publication through other means.

RP: Can you say how the APC waiver program works, and how researchers will be asked to demonstrate need and eligibility?

AM: Authors from HINARI category A countries qualify for waivers, and so can authors from other countries who show evidence of no institutional funding. We’re just in the process of finalizing these policies for both programs, and will have these available by late March.

It’s worth noting that although we use the term “waivers” (a term that people are accustomed to), technically we aren’t waiving publication charges but rather sponsoring waived APCs with funds from the Collabra Waiver Fund. Our publication charges are so low that there is no margin built in to afford waiving fees.

RP: Neil Christensen has said, “If—a year from now—the waiver fund runs dry because the editorial team has decided not to put money into it or we can’t find funders, then it runs dry. We don’t have any plans for the press to use its own money to seed it again. The idea is that it should be able to carry itself.” Does this imply that we might we see the waiver programme phased out at some point?

AM: It’s theoretically possible, but we don’t believe it’ll happen. We’re confident Collabra will attract funding and that some Collabra value will be paid forward to help sponsor future authors.

There is significant value in journal publishing, but much of it is not shared with the right people. We’re re-routing value to more deserving people, and we believe that a growing number of people will support this when given the opportunity.

RP: You have stressed that UC Press is a non-profit publisher. As I understand it, both you and Neil Christensen have spent most of your careers with commercial publishers (including time with Sage, Blackwell, Taylor & Francis, Nature and Wiley). Should this strong commercial background be viewed as a strength or a weakness when it comes to managing a non-profit university publisher like UC Press, and why?

AM: I don’t think that there is any inconsistency here. Those of us who have joined UC Press from the commercial world have done so because we believe passionately that university presses play a critical role in scholarly communication.

That said, I think that we bring some of the discipline and focus of the commercial world, both of which are essential if university presses are to be sustainable in a dramatically changing marketplace.

And to continue to serve our mission effectively, we have to be able to invest. We do not have the constraints of answering to shareholders, so we can run an efficient and effective business in which decisions are rooted in long-term vision, not short-term shareholder concerns.

RP: When can we expect the first articles and monographs to be published by UC Open Press?

AM: We currently anticipate that Collabra will open for submissions around the end of March. Of course, when the first Collabra article will publish will depend on how quickly articles go through the review process. We estimate that the quickest will take somewhere between 2-4 weeks, so that would give us published articles sometime in April/May. We are happy to report that we have already received enquiries from people wanting and waiting to submit!

With regard to monographs, we have already signed nearly 10 books for the Luminos program, and we expect to publish our first titles in early fall 2015 with approximately 8-10 titles published by the end of the year.

RP: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

1 comment:

Paul Craig said...

Happy that UC is moving in this much needed direction. Very clear interview! Hurray for Luminos and Collabra