Bloomsbury Open Collections – reflections following our pilot year

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This is a guest post by Ros Pyne, Global Director, Research and Open Access, Bloomsbury to share outcomes of the pilot year for Bloomsbury Open Collections and reflect on what has been learnt so far.

This post – and all guest posts on the OASPA blog – represent the views of the authors and not OASPA.

In March 2023, we launched Bloomsbury Open Collections, a subscribe-to-open type model for scholarly monographs. Our aim was to provide a route for Bloomsbury books in the arts, humanities, and social sciences to publish open access immediately on publication without the need for author-side fees. We were motivated by our long-term commitment to transition more of our scholarly books to open access, and to increase equity in our approach to open access. 

We ran the first year as a pilot. We were aiming to raise enough funds to make a collection of 20 titles open access, the offer included a backlist component as a benefit for participating libraries, and in selecting titles we prioritised authors based in the Global South and excluded those who already had access to funding for BPCs. We chose a collections model rather than title-by-title in part to make a more substantial intervention, but primarily to set up a collective-action approach: that is, many libraries have to act collectively in order for titles to convert to OA. However, we committed to making half the collection open access once we had achieved 50% of our funding target. We originally didn’t have the 50% threshold – it was all or nothing – but we added it based on feedback from librarians we consulted prior to the launch who told us they wanted more of an assurance that their funds would go towards supporting OA. If you’re interested in the fine details of how we structured the model, I’d encourage you to take a look at our website and FAQs.

In its early iterations, at least, Bloomsbury Open Collections would only be able to cover a small subset of our monograph programme (~1200 titles per year). We fixed the collection size at 20 titles: big enough to be a meaningful intervention, but small enough to be able to retain subject coherence and keep costs affordable for participating institutions. We therefore wanted to focus our efforts where we could have the most impact. We are known for our African Studies and International Development publishing, via the Zed imprint, and saw a strong ethical argument for expanding open access in these areas. Institutions in many of the countries that are the subject of research published on these lists are less likely to be able to afford as many of our books as they might like. We regularly publish authors from the Global South on these lists, and would like to increase their representation further, but local access is a key issue for many, and the open access fee model is prohibitive. Zed seemed an ideal fit for a collective-action, no fee approach to open access. 

So, did we achieve our goals? How did our authors and institutional customers respond to this offer? What influenced institutions’ decisions to take part? What have the implications been for us as a publisher? And what will we do next? In the spirit of transparency and openness, we’re sharing some reflections and insights from this first year.

Pilot outcomes

We achieved 50% of our funding target for our pilot Open Collection. As a result, we will be making 10 frontlist titles in African Studies and International Development open access over the next year. When determining which of the original set of 20 titles will publish open access, we have prioritised authors based in the Global South. 

Does this represent success? Clearly, we did not achieve our aim of making our full African Studies and International Development collection available open access, but there are some definite positives and we have also learnt a lot. We will be making 10 monographs OA that otherwise would have been published behind a paywall. We have enabled OA for Bloomsbury authors for whom it would not have been possible under a fee model, and, as these titles are all additional to our existing OA programme, we will also increase the proportion of our research titles that we publish OA in 2024. We will have enabled open access for more authors based in the Global South (17 of a total 58 authors involved in the pilot), helping to amplify their voices and secure worldwide access to their work without requiring fees or fee waiver requests from these authors. And while the effect in this first year may be relatively small, accumulations of small changes add up over time. We start here. 

Authors

We received enthusiastic responses from authors whom we invited to be involved in the pilot. They told us that they “could not agree more […] regarding the need to publish more books open access if we want for academia to become more inclusive and accessible” and that they were “excited to have [their] work included in this important and consequential initiative”, that “the increased visibility and accessibility it offers [made] it an easy decision”. 

A small number of authors were initially more cautious. They were not based at universities and were less familiar with open access; their concerns were not about the pilot per se, but more standard misgivings about open access such as concerns about availability and promotion of print editions. Following conversations with our editor, they, too, signed up.  While book authors’ understanding of open access has improved significantly in recent years, there is still more work to be done here, especially as new approaches  reach a wider range of authors who may be less familiar with open access.

Institutions

Our focus on equity and on authors who were structurally disadvantaged by OA fee models was well received by institutions. Boaz Nadav Manes, University Librarian at Lehigh University, told us he was “excited about supporting this new Bloomsbury OA initiative, primarily as it is focused on collections that may be relevant and available as open access to a broad community in the Global South. Support for scholarship produced by diverse researchers located in different areas of the world enriches our perspective and is aligned with our strategic mission to develop more inclusive collections.”

Sixty libraries ultimately signed up, at a cost of £1000 or £1400 each, depending on their size (most were larger). We had offered a lower price for further education colleges, but none participated in our pilot year. 

89% of participating institutions were based in the USA or the UK. The subject we chose played a part in this: libraries in Australia and elsewhere in Europe told us they were supportive of the model in principle but their institutions did not have a sufficient focus on African Studies to justify participation.

The readiness of institutions to engage with a model of this kind varied substantially. Some had already established criteria and internal working groups for assessing new OA models and signed up quickly; others expressed interest early on but took many months to navigate internal approval; some were new to models of this kind and had many questions for our sales team. 

Consortia played an important role: 10 universities signed via Jisc and 13 via LYRASIS. Both have been strong supporters of equitable approaches to funding open access for monographs. Jisc commented that they “have been experimenting with and highlighting Diamond OA agreements for monographs and are working with commercial publishers to evidence Diamond as an alternative to the Book Processing Charge (BPC) model.” They noted that under the Bloomsbury Open Collections model “supporting libraries have guaranteed access to the whole 20 titles in the Collection once published, including those that will be published behind the paywall, making the decision to participate […] much easier.”

Bloomsbury

From a digital perspective, we were already a ‘mixed-model’ publisher, in that we were making some monographs open access via a fee while also offering a sales model. Bloomsbury Open Collections added a third approach. Meanwhile, we also had to navigate uncertainty in terms of timings about when we would hit the 50% threshold that would enable us to confirm the first batch of titles as going OA. 

Developing and implementing the Open Collections model involved almost every internal team, and running three business models simultaneously adds cost and complexity. Open access transformation requires change across an organisation, in people, culture, systems; we, like many other scholarly book publishers, are still in the early stages of this work.

What next?

Although we didn’t hit our full target, we think it’s a worthwhile approach, and we’re pleased to be making 10 additional titles open access in a way that spreads the cost and helps even the playing field. As a publisher we now have a better understanding of what it takes to make collective-action open-access models successful not just with our customers, but also with our authors and within our organisation.  

We are committing to Bloomsbury Open Collections and to continuing to focus on developing more equitable approaches to OA for books. While from a practical point of view we don’t yet think it’s viable to offer this model across our whole monograph list, we do intend to offer further Open Collections and to press ahead and expand to additional subjects in 2024. More on that to come!

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