Publishing Your Philosophy Book with Open Access
Some academic publishers offer authors of monographs an “open access” option. For a fee, the publisher will make a version of the text available online, free to anyone.
Nicholas Shea (University of London) recently published his book, Representation in Cognitive Science, with Oxford University Press, and chose open access (you can view it here).
I recently published an open access book with OUP, using grant money to pay for the substantial open access fee. This isn’t something OUP has done much in philosophy, and it’s certainly an experiment for me, so I want to make up my mind about whether it’s a good use of funds.
Given that the book would be on Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) anyway, the biggest advantage is for people whose universities don’t subscribe to OSO, e.g. in resource-poor settings. There’s also an advantage to having a portable pdf that you can read when you’re offline.
The cost approximates to four open access journal articles, so getting an eight-chapter monograph sounds like a reasonable value. On the other hand the money could instead pay for a conference or a couple of workshops. And it’s a route that’s only open if the author can find some research funds to pay the fee—which of course is more expensive if taking advantage of the reputational and editorial benefits of a major publisher like OUP.
So there are arguments either way and I’m trying to see what people in the profession think.
Readers, what do you think about the value of choosing and paying for open access publishing? And if you have ideas for/experience with obtaining funds for the express purpose of paying open access fees, please share them. Thanks.
Related: “What Is the Best Type of Open Access for Philosophy and Other Humanities Disciplines?“, “Open Access Philosophy Textbooks“
I’d love to hear from folks who’ve published with dedicated open access presses as well, including recommendations for specific presses. Was your book marketed well? Were you happy with the outcome? How was the referee process? This press seems to have published a lot of philosophy books: https://www.openbookpublishers.com/section/38/1Report
“Given that the book would be on Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) anyway, the biggest advantage is for people whose universities don’t subscribe to OSO, e.g. in resource-poor settings. There’s also an advantage to having a portable pdf that you can read when you’re offline.”
You’ve omitted to consider another great benefit of (most) pdf’s: searchable text!Report
I’m planning to do this as well for my book that’s under contract with Oxford. Subsequent to arranging a normal contract with Oxford, I applied for and received a grant form my university specifically to fund the open access. The monies were available through my institution’s participation in the TOME project: https://www.arl.org/focus-areas/scholarly-communication/toward-an-open-monograph-ecosystem. A good number of other universities are participating as well; if you are interested in going this route, definitely check to see if yours is. Making the book open access is going to require changing the original contract. We’re in the process of that now. Oxford still publishes the hardcover as planned; but they also release a free digital version.
I’m very curious to hear how things are going for Nicholas Shea. I’m sure everything is negotiable in the end, but a few things to think about for others: my understanding is that the book remains free online forevermore. This might give you pause if you plan to fund your child’s education through book royalties. (But who among us has such plans?) I’m willing to sacrifice the tens of dollars I might have made on additional royalties for the freedom of having the book instantly accessible to anyone, anywhere–and of being able to email a nice PDF of it to whomever I wish without worries…and for them to be able to email it to others, and so on. I’ve talked to some in other disciplines (English) who have published open access and been happy about it for these kinds of reasons.
A question that still seems unsettled: will libraries still buy the hardcover? And should I care? More generally, are the libraries that pay for Oxford Scholarship Online still invariably buying the hardcover as well?
Anyhow, if people can think of compelling reasons not to do this, do share. It’s not too late to turn this ship around.Report
For many (most?) books in academic philosophy, I’m guessing it’s not worth paying ~$20K to make the PDF freely available to all. Many of the same university libraries will buy copies anyway, and few readers at other universities/no university will read the book regardless.
Of course, it’s hard to know whether your book will be one of the exceptions. So maybe it’s socially optimal for everyone who has the grant money to pay for their book to be OA. Maybe a lot of that money will prove to be “sunk”, but a little of it will go a long enough way on the few books that prove to be hits to make the broader practice worth it.
I don’t see how to determine the answer without knowing the numbers involved.
(Publishers surely know some of these numbers. They’ve presumably set the OA fee above their expected loss—by a lot if they’re one of the nasty ones, hopefully by just a bit for non-commercial ones. But even so, they may only have a guess at how much book-readership will be increased by making PDFs freely available to all.)Report
“Many of the same university libraries will buy copies anyway, and few readers at other universities/no university will read the book regardless.”
Well, publishing Open Access tends to increase both readership and citations as the text is more completely and easily indexed by search engines and databases, and accessible without having to to through a library or use a campus-/proxy-internet connection: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/home/open-access-papers-gain-more-traffic-and-citations/2014850.article .
In that regard, maybe Nicholas Shea could ask OUP for some statistics on how often his book has been downloaded / read, as compared to related OUP books in his field?Report
Yes, such data would be helpful. Though it would be better to hear how OA books compare in general at OUP to their otherwise similar books.
Downloads as a measure can be problematic for such comparisons. But maybe looking at downloads geographically would still be informative.Report
OA is the way academia should be going so I’m glad the author has chosen to publish his book under OUP’s OA option. I do still worry that traditional publishers’ concessions to the OA movement are primarily just for appearance’s sake. For example, a traditional press offers an OA option and looks good and progressive for doing so, but also knows that when it comes down to it, few authors will want to or will be able to pay the apparently substantial fees. At any rate, I bet that new dedicated OA presses will be provide the biggest sources of change. So I hope someone figures out how to bless an OA press with some of the reputational magic that places like OUP have all to themselves to hurry things along.Report
Also, is there a good list of OA monographs in philosophy somewhere (that is not just the catalog of a particular publisher)?
(Ben Blumson and David Velleman each have written some really good books that were published OA. I believe those are the only OA books I have read in philosophy. Would love it if there was more out there that I didn’t know about.)Report
No. Just get a PDF of the book and upload it to LibGen.Report
I think that OA is a great thing, and that it will be getting more and more common. But I do have a worry about it. One of the reasons it is getting more common is that more and more grant agencies are requiring that published work which comes out of the grant be published in an OA format. The intention here is good, to be sure, but it is not clear that the effect is. The costs of OA publishing are then written in to the grants, and the various publishing houses have little incentive to keep their fees reasonable. OUP is the least of my worries here. Rather, it is the big multinational academic publishers which are making out like bandits. And the worst of it is, given that many of the granting agencies are sources of public money, that this creates a direct pipeline from tax dollars to the multinational publishers. So much as there are many very good things about OA publishing, I do believe that there are important problems within the system that remain to be worked out.Report
Agree that this is a worry, but is it that much different from the status quo? Publishers already charge very high prices for monographs which libraries go on to buy with tax dollars.Report
I think the outcome of this sort of OA is greater inequality: the rich get richer, the poor stay poor. Far too many smaller or poorer universities won’t pay the OA fees for their faculty, who typically also won’t be getting the big grants either. But most of all, I’m astonished anybody would pay $20K to publish a book. Why not just self-publish through Amazon or similar? Oh, right, because of the prestige factor — which means, apparently, that the philosophy profession has just put an economic value on it. Whoever’s paying that money could use it for something far, far more valuable. That could fund a young person who otherwise could not go to college, or feed who knows how many hungry mouths, the list goes on. I find this all deeply unethical. Perhaps I’m just naive.Report
Halfway agree with you, but is having one entity pay for high OA publication fees really more unethical than having all university libraries pay high prices for academic monographs. Seems about the same to me.Report
Having lots of university libraries pay distributes the costs in ways that don’t exclusively privilege the richest and hurt the others. (And the Oberlin open access project follows this idea.)Report
Thanks. I’ll look into the Oberlin project. It still seems like the costs add up and are bad for smaller universities either way. They can buy 200 monographs at $100 a piece for the library or they can pay 20k for one faculty member to publish one monograph as OA with a high prestige press. Neither option seems too great, but maybe the library spending is preferable.Report
There are reasons other than prestige to publish with a press like OUP. They are likely to make sure the book is well edited and, most importantly, to have it read carefully by experts who will provide constructive criticism, enabling the author to make the book better than it would otherwise have been. Possibly much better. They will also publicize the book so that interested potential readers will find out that it exists. Perhaps, instead of paying $20,000 to the publisher, authors could pick four experts and pay them each $5,000 for feedback, then self-publish. Maybe that’s the future.Report
That might be true, but I doubt that’s the primary incentive to publish with an OUP-like press. In my own case, the reason I’d like to publish in a top journal is not because they will make my paper better than it would be otherwise. I might have particularly base motives though. Maybe good advertising is a more significant motivation it comes to books though.
But yeah it’d be great if we could figure out how to provide quality feedback on OA manuscripts on the cheap.Report
I agree with Eric completely. Author fees for “open-access” publication by commercial publishers are an abomination. The original vision for Philosophers’ Imprint (as explained on our “About” page) was that the OA-sphere would be funded by universities directly — not through middle-persons — and that the withering away of commercially published journals would provide the necessary savings. The Imprint eventually had to retreat to a compromise model, by charging a small submission fee to fund copyediting, typesetting, and hosting.Report
I have had excellent experience working with Open Book Publishers, in Cambridge, UK. I believe that they have done no less to market my books than the traditional academic publishers I have worked with (Cambridge and Oxford) — but that’s because I don’t believe that *any* of these publishers has ever done significant marketing, beyond including my books in quarterly catalogs. I would be delighted to learn that I’m wrong on that score — for example, if any readers have ever seen an ad for one of my books, or even seen them stocked in bookstores not associated with universities where they are used in courses. I never have. The main disadvantages to OA publishing of books is that journals generally do not review them and, to my knowledge, the APA doesn’t tend to schedule author-meets-critics sessions on them. (Again, I’d be interested in hearing about exceptions). Admittedly, I didn’t publish my first OA book until I had been in the profession for 30 years and could rely on being known to some extent. I wouldn’t recommend OA for a first book by a junior colleague.Report
My comment below was supposed to be a reply.Report
Just to clarify, the way author-meets-critics sessions get organized at the APA is totally decentralized and basically up to the individuals on the program committee. This is not to say that anyone has organized a session on an OA published book, but just to say that there’s certainly not even an implicit policy against it/there is nothing stopping individual committee members from organizing one.Report
The worries about the reviews and AMCs are reasonable, but seem to be easily solvable (independently of what we do about the other issues with OA publishing, including many raised elsewhere in this thread).
It would be helpful to hear from journal editors and the APA about whether they have policies which preclude reviews, sessions and the like on OA published books, and if so, why those policies exist. In the event that they do not have explicit policies against them, they may still suffer from certain biases against OA publishing, but we as a community can of course help mitigate those by recommending these books for reviews, sessions, etc.Report
I didn’t mean to suggest that there were policies against reviewing or scheduling sessions about OA books. I have no information on that score. I agree that it would be good to hear from journals about it.Report
Yes, Open Book Publishers is very attractive! I don’t think any presses do any marketing anymore – you gotta do it yourself. That’s perfectly fine with me. I’m all in favor of open access – just not when the payment structures are so elitist. (I’ve made my own philosophy of religion textbook entirely open access — you can just download it from my website. Many schools are under pressure to use open texts – I entirely support that. The cost to put it on my website? Almost nothing.)Report
Thanks for publishing OA—hopefully you will be a trendsetter.
Not sure about journal reviews, but NDPR has a review of Ben Blumson’s book which was also published by Open Book Publishers. I get the sense that his book has been generally well received by people in that niche area gravitating around depiction. It was also his first book which is encouraging, but he did already have a tt-job and a strong publication record.
Sorry — I should have mentioned that NDPR is an exception to my statement about reviews. Yes, they have also reviewed an OA book of mine. (Of course, they are themselves part of the OA movement!)Report
Fair enough. Well, it looks like Roberto Casati wrote a review of Blumson’s book that was published in The Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
So they at least don’t have anything against publishing reviews of OA books, not sure if they are representative though.Report
I am delighted to hear this. Thanks for pointing it out.Report
My first book was recently published by Open Book Publishers (OBP). So far, it has been reviewed in CHOICE, NDPR, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, and Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances. Last year, it was the subject of a four-review symposium by the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, the digital arm of the journal Social Epistemology. Six more reviews have been promised by, and presumably will eventually appear in, Acta Baltica Historiae et Philosophiae Scientiarum, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Isis, Metascience, Science & Education, and Studies in Science Education.
Note that OBP does not charge authors a publication fee. They are committed to removing financial barriers for both readers and authors. As a not-for-profit social enterprise, they encourage authors to secure a publication grant where possible. They are also grateful for any donations.
If you look at the OBP pages for David Velleman’s (or other) books, you will find quantitative data for views, downloads and print-copy purchases, as well as geographical information (where available) on where the books have been accessed and how many times.Report
This is a bit off-topic but partially related… what I find a bit baffling are the crazy prices of philosophy books, particularly for kindle editions with zero marginal cost of production.
I just read a review of a book, thought it sounded interesting and looked it up: it is available in hardback at £58 and kindle at £60. For a 230 page book published in 2006! And this is not unusual. I don’t work in philosophy or have access to a university library… I don’t mind spending money on books but I have to draw the line somewhere (esp when, being honest, some percentage of such books one buys one never really gets into).
I’d be fascinated to know how many of these copies publishers sell. Very very few, if any, I would think. I get why small print run hardbacks are expensive but really don’t understand why kindle editions can’t be priced at a level that someone might actually pay.Report
My guess: There is no marginal cost to selling a digital copy, but the total costs to publish a book are what they are and they have to be covered. Since the basic financial strategy for academic presses is to charge high prices to libraries and a few scholars, they need to keep the print prices high to get their money back. Even in the trade market, I think digital sales only account for 20% of total sales so if academic presses were to slash digital prices to try pick up a bit of extra money from interested general readers, they risk angering their core market which then begins to demand lower prices as well.
A related story that inspires my guess: when Amazon introduced the Kindle and Kindle editions, trade publishers were interested in the new market, but Bezos wanted to unilaterally set a flat price of $10 for all Kindle books. Publishers feared that the low price would make people either abandon the print market or drive print prices down to low and unprofitable levels. So most of the big publishers sat out until the Kindle contracts allowed them to set their own digital prices. And we are still see higher prices for ebooks than we might have hoped for as consumers. (I believe I got this story from the book The Everything Store.)
Personally, I’m annoyed when I see an ebook priced for anything over $10 and I just shake with rage when I see one over $40. For me, the worst thing about high digital prices is that I have to use text-to-speech software. So my options are: pay the super high kindle price or get a cheaper used print edition and scan the whole thing myself or file a request and wait for months for the relevant institutions and agencies to add the book to a digital text library.Report
Many thanks to Daily Nous for hosting this discussion. It’s really helpful to hear what philosophers think of the pros and cons – plus to get some new ideas, like paying referees directly for reading a manuscript. Maybe before too long an open access book publisher will pull off what Phil Imprint has for papers.Report