Full circle with Open Access Monographs

After a previous guest post where he developed an interesting forecast related to academic publishing, Ronald Snijder is back with his thoughts on Open Access monographs. You can reach him at

Full circle with Open Access Monographs


When I look at publishing academic books in Open Access, the story surrounding it tends to go a full circle, starting and ending with technology.

Technology is disrupting. Publishing in Open Access could only become an option because information technology enabled us to create files in a format – PDF – that could be used for printing and also be widely read on a screen. And the Web made it possible to publish those files without a lot of hassle. It made it possible to think about books that are free as in beer.

Of course, technology did not stop there. Apart from the ‘traditional’ web channel, we can access content from a mobile device. The number of available channels is not just increasing for the readers; those who make OA monographs available can now use several platforms such as repositories, the Google Books or other platforms like OAPEN[1]. Using the right channels also influences the availability: will my precious books be found in all the search engines?

Technology may also be changing our definition of what a monograph actually is. When you add moving pictures, sounds, complete databases, is it still a book? When it is updated regularly, possibly as a result of an online collaboration, can we still speak of a monograph? Some may also question the academic status of a monograph, compared to articles. Books are too long to read, too slow to write. Or maybe not. Personally I do believe that monographs have merit, and that making them freely available is beneficial.

But how beneficial are they, and for who? This is something that I would like to explore a little further in the future. Open Access monographs may have a scientific impact, as barriers are removed. Pricing barriers may be important for scholars in developing countries. Full access may enhance research, by making the contents fully searchable. Making monographs accessible may help to carry their ideas to places beyond the academic circles. All this may happen right now, but on what scale? Open Access should not be just a believe system, it must be backed up with facts.

This leads to another question that is much easier to answer. How can Open Access be sustained? That is simple: through money and power. Funders of research can also fund Open Access publishing of the results. Libraries and publishers could adjust the way they operate; universities could mandate that all research must be made freely available. Sustainability also means that the digital monographs must be preserved, which is a technical issue. So this story ends where it started: technology.

If you like, you can look at a more visual representation underneath or here.

[1] Disclosure: I am employed by Amsterdam University Press, an academic publisher with a large portfolio of books. Furthermore I am deeply involved in OAPEN, aimed at Open Access publishing of monographs.


2 comments on “Full circle with Open Access Monographs

  1. jannekeadema1979
    March 21, 2011

    Hi Ronald, thanks for your interesting post. A few comments. First of all, I wonder if you are not contradicting yourself by stating that Open Access publishing could only be possible due to technological advances, where you also state at the ending of your post it can only be sustained by pushing through institutional and economic constraints or barriers, namely by convincing funders and publishers of the sustainability of publishing in an open way. The development of Open Access publishing seems to me a story of slowly changing communication cultures, not so much of technological constraints. Furthermore, you write technology is disruptive. I agree, but technology also reproduces. As you show with your example of PDF, although digital technology has the potential to explore more interesting formats and forms for the monograph (as you rightly mention in your post), online publishing in many respects is a reproduction of print forms, both in outlook (PDF) and in practice (research practices are only slowly adapting to the possibilities of online publishing).
    Finally, why do you think monographs still have merit, and why do you think it is beneficial to publish them online?

  2. Ronald Snijder
    March 21, 2011

    OK, I’ll try to answer your questions one by one.

    Regarding your first comment: no, I don’t think I was contradicting myself there, but I may have formulated it better. I think that technology – IT in this case – made something new possible. It became possible to make books and articles available without bothering to print them on paper, by placing them on a website. And information on the web tends to be free – at least for the people reading it. So, an infrastructure emerged where it became possible to publish in a digital format. But… the beer may be free but the brewery still must be paid, even if it is a new model with new and interesting stuff. In short: IT made new things possible, but you need money to keep it running.

    You commented that technology is disruptive and mimics the past at the same time. Yes, that’s true. At the one hand, there is a new paradigm: digital instead of paper. At the other hand, we still want our new documents to be like the old ones – see the page numbers on a Kindle.

    And the merits of monographs? It enables an author to go a lot further. For instance, one of the books that have struck me is ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond. By exploring the environmental differences in great detail as the main reason for European and Asian dominance, the book did offer – to me at least – an answer that I could relate to.

    And freely online? Two reasons: it removes barriers so the book can reach as many people as possible. Secondly, it enables searching the contents. Ideally, you can search – and connect – all books. That will be another disruption!

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