Sven Fund, de Gruyter

Innovative partnership to pilot open access monograph publishing

What is it?

In an experiment in the publishing and financing of monographs, scholarly publisher de Gruyter has teamed up with the Topoi Excellence Cluster (a collaboration of Ancient Studies scholars) to publish the series Topoi Berlin Studies of the Ancient World.

As well as being published in printed book form, selected titles from the series are available as open access ebooks on the website. The series is a pilot project on how to combine open access with the support of professional publishers in the publication of current research.

How is it a success?

As an ongoing pilot project, the success of the Topoi project itself remains to be seen. However, it can certainly be viewed as a success in terms of trialling new ways of thinking about open access, particularly in partnership with a conventional scholarly publisher.

In the pilot scheme, various methods have been tested, ranging from immediate publication in both print and open access versions to time-delayed free access to digital versions.

The experiences of conventional publishers suggest that books generate 90% of their sales in the first half year after publication and so de Gruyter has assumed that a certain percentage of print copy sales in the series will be lost to the open access component. In the trial, the extent of openness was varied – for example, making a whole monograph open access and then a few chapters of a collected work – in order to test the assumptions about drops in book sales. The deal agreed between de Gruyter and Topoi is that if the publisher reaches profitability and it is higher than assumed under the initial assumption of losing 20% of sales, then the partners will share that profit 50/50 so that there is no incentive for either party to find another business model.

Sven Fund

“A lot of people in publishing are surprised by the model and it is interesting that, at least in the German publishing sphere, it still seems to be a very unusual situation where a publisher comes up with a business model that is not bound to a certain closedness of content,” says Sven Fund, managing director of de Gruyter. “But we don’t mind whether people pay us via the library site after we have produced a product or before, we just mind if they pay us or somebody else for it. Traditionally, there are so many print subsidies anyway in the market, especially in humanities, why make a big thing out of it? As long as my costs are covered and my profit is being paid for, why should I make it more difficult?”

In this case, the funding for the experiment was provided by the German Research Foundation, DFG, which provided the opportunity to pilot a model in which clear and transparent processes are more important than 100% security of outcome.

For Fund, the project has offered the opportunity to test the waters regarding publisher involvement in open access in the humanities and, as de Gruyter is one of the market leaders in classic publications, to avoid seeing a potentially valuable series go to a competitor.

De Gruyter has also benefited by gaining new partners, attracted by the Topoi model. One of these is MIT Press’s Darwin Workshop Reports. Again, the funding was in place and the main concern for MIT was how best to distribute the reports given that they cross disciplines and cover a wide range of topics.

“In our case that range is not a problem because it would be open access and we would just link the reports with our content in the fields where it is interesting, but in a traditional publishing programme it is extremely difficult to really position a very generic series. MIT had the additional money and so we got them on board with the same model as Topoi. Now we are in discussions with two other partners in the same situation where the issue is not a lack of money but very much a lack of distribution or a concern that the publisher might position a certain publication too narrowly,” says Fund.

“I think publishers are just better at doing publishing than other people,” he adds. “People come from the open access field to us and ask us to publish a journal, offering 5,000 or 10,000 euros a year. If you ask them why, they say that they do not know how to do long term preservation, how to do the hosting in a way that really makes sense to libraries, how to get indexed and so on. They are trying to buy our skills and we are happy to sell them – I have never believed our business to be anything other than service. That’s what we do. I never had the idea that the publisher owns the content and somebody buys content from them – that is simply not true. I think we are selling a service to customers and, in a way, also to authors. We help them in fostering their careers and their research. I think we are the missing link between the library and the academics.”

Author, Books, Business models, Germany, Publisher, Publisher


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