OPEN REFLECTIONS

The Monograph Crisis Revisited

books-falling_lLast week, on the 22nd of January, the report Monographs and Open Access, written by Geoffrey Crossick for HEFCE, was released. I would like to respond to the specific way in which the monograph crisis is described and represented in this report. I want to do so by emphasising the multiple dimensions as well as the political aspects of this crisis, which, arguably, have been downplayed in this report to HEFCE. In this report and in the news items that emerged out of it (such as this article in Times Higher Education, and this blog post by Crossick) it is stated that the monograph crisis is ‘somewhat of a myth’ (from the report), it is ‘hard to sustain’ (from the blog post), and even more, ‘claims that monograph publishing is in crisis are exaggerated’ (from the THE article). The report comes to this conclusion based on a very specific and, I would argue, one-dimensional description of the crisis (dismissing it mainly based on the growth in monograph title output of 4 large commercially operating British publishers). I would like to offer a different vision on what the monograph crisis is; a crisis that I—and, as I will show, many with me—would argue is unfortunately still very much a reality.

How does the report to HEFCE describe the monograph crisis? And based on what reasons and evidence does it dismiss it as ‘somewhat of a myth’? Crossick starts with describing the monograph crisis as ‘a crisis which might be threatening the existence of the monograph and endangering effective research communication in the arts, humanities and social sciences.’ (9) In Crossick’s description of the crisis a few things stand out however. Let’s look at these in more detail.

  1. Crossick bases his conclusion of the apparent absence of a crisis on the fact that the number of new monograph titles published yearly by the 4 largest publishers in the UK has been growing from 2004 to 2013.[1] Based on this fact, the report argues ‘Monograph supply and production appear to be in reasonable health’. (26)

There are a few caveats to be made here. I will mention 4. First of all, the monograph crisis does not in first instance refer to the amount of titles that are being published; it refers to the kinds of scholarly books that are (increasingly not) being published, e.g. specialised, alternative, experimental and ‘first’ monographs (I will get back to the latter more in detail later). Secondly, the monograph crisis applies mainly to the (declining) amount of books being published by not-for-profit university presses, whose mission, more so than the 4 publishers listed by Crossick (all commercial, trade or market-based), is to focus on publishing the kinds of books that miss a clear marketable value (i.e., again, specialised, alternative etc. monographs). Thirdly, the number of monograph titles that has been published has been growing all through the period of what has been called ‘the monograph crisis’, which can be traced back to the 1970s (more about that later too). And finally, the monograph crisis—as Crossick acknowledges, but doesn’t see as overly problematic—is mainly caused by declining library budgets for monographs (due to cuts and rising serials prices), which means that libraries are no longer able to buy all the books they need. Let me explain these 4 caveats more in detail underneath.

books-falling1First of all, let’s have a look at the underlying cause of the monograph crisis, i.e. the serials crisis (which, unfortunately, isn’t mentioned in Crossick’s report). The serials crisis refers to the steep rise in subscription prices of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) journals published by commercial publishers since the mid-80s. This rise in prices of periodicals squeezed the budgets of research libraries. As Harvard’s Robert Darnton has very clearly argued: ‘the escalation in the price of periodicals forces libraries to cut back on their purchase of monographs’ (Darnton 2010). This has been confirmed by, among others, Colin Steele (Emeritus Fellow of the Australian National University), who states that the serials crisis has led to ‘the reduction in library acquisition budgets for monographs and the decline in acquisitions of material from many smaller publishers and learned societies’ (Steele 2008). This, as Darnton again notes, has led to a situation where, ‘faced with the decline in orders from libraries, university presses have virtually ceased publishing in the fields for which there is the least demand’ (Darnton 1999). Therefore, as Darnton concludes, ‘The crisis concerns the workings of the marketplace, not the value of the scholarship’ (Darnton 1999). Sanford G. Thatcher (emeritus director of the Pennsylvania State University Press and of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP)), already warned about this situation in 1995[2], and similarly did Stephen Greenblatt (then president of the MLA) in a now famous open letter to MLA members in 2002.[3] Let me reiterate what this all means again by quoting from a recent article I co-wrote with Gary Hall:

This drop in library demand for monographs has led many presses to produce smaller print runs; focus on more commercial, marketable titles; or even move away from monographs to concentrate on text books, readers, and reference works instead. In short, conventional academic publishers are now having to make decisions about what to publish more on the basis of the market and a given text’s potential value as a commodity, and less on the basis of its quality as a piece of scholarship. (…) This in turn means the HSS is, in effect, allowing publishers to make decisions on its future and on who gets to have a long-term career on an economic basis, according to the needs of the market – or what they believe those needs to be. (Adema and Hall 2013: 149)

Let’s return to Crossick’s argument for a bit though. Although print runs and sales of specialised monographs thus stagnated or declined, at the same time, as Crossick also notices, presses have been publishing more titles. This can however be seen as a logical outcome of the shifting library acquisition budgets and the reduction in sales per title. For example, an AAUP study found that the number of monographs produced had increased by 51 per cent from 1978 to 1988, the beginning of the monograph crisis (Bailey 1990). Darnton explains why this happened: ‘Publishers had responded to the pressure by increasing output (and prices, too), while holding down costs (mainly by squeezing more work from their staffs, hence a noticeable decline in the standard of editing)’ (Darnton 1999). Jennifer Crewe (Columbia University Press) corroborates this: ‘We are publishing more and more academic books, and fewer and fewer are being bought’ (Crewe and Williams 2004). Let me quote from my thesis (in process) to again explain this situation, which Thompson has characterised as ‘a greater ‘throughput model’[4]:

This period [1980s and 1990s] also saw the growing penetration of commercial market forces into university press practices. Academic publishing was forced to start to adhere to a business ideology more and more (Greco, Albert Nicholas et al. 2006: 62). According to Thompson, a ‘new climate of financial accountability’ arose for university presses around this time, which strengthened their uncertainty towards the nature and purpose of a university press (2005: 109). To a growing degree they were expected to break-even and to reduce their dependence on their institutions (Thompson 2005: 88–89). In a sense the ‘mission’ of the university press was breached in this situation. One of the results of this development was a ‘higher throughput model’, where publishers had to publish more and more titles in order to attain the same level of revenue. The growth in titles over the years did not necessarily mean the presses were doing well, however: they may have been publishing more titles but they were making less profit per title (Thompson 2005: 125). Besides, as Gary Hall has argued, the increase in titles didn’t necessarily mean more ‘new’ research was being published, as many scholarly books were ‘merely repeating and repackaging old ideas and material’, with publishers focusing on more marketable overview publications, such as readers and introductions targeted at students (2008: 6).

So, to reiterate, the growth in title output of monographs does not necessarily mean that ‘monograph supply and production are in reasonable health’: not for publishers, making less profit per title, and neither for libraries and scholars, where this means that the decline in sales of monographs means access to and dissemination of this kind of specialised research is increasingly limited. Decreased library sales also lead to what Thompson calls ‘increased selectivity’ or list diversification, where publishers were changing the kinds of books they were publishing, focusing on titles that would be able to garner more sales in specific (more popular) fields or subjects (Thompson 2005: 125).

Specialised Research

To go back to what in my vision the monograph crisis refers to: to the fact that specialized research in the humanities is finding it harder to find a publishing outlet, and, related to that, to the fact that publishers are increasingly determining what gets published based on its market-value instead of on its scholarly merit. Again, lets turn to Robert Darnton who excellently describes the decline in the publication of specialized works, which we already noted above:

Another rule of thumb used to prevail among the better university presses. They could count on research libraries purchasing about eight hundred copies of any new monograph. By 2000 that figure had fallen to three or four hundred, often less, and not enough in most cases to cover production costs. Therefore, the presses abandoned subjects like colonial Latin America and Africa. They fell back on books about local folklore or cooking or birds, works that fit into niches or could be marketed to a broader public but that had little to do with scholarly research. (Darnton 2010)

At the same time Darnton has also noticed how the pressures on publishers to publish titles that would sell well let to a saturation of the market with voguish and marketable titles:

Many presses tried to find a way out of the impasse by concentrating on subjects currently in vogue: books about gender, sex, feminism, homosexuality, lesbianism, women’s studies, African-American studies, postcolonialism, and postmodernism of all varieties. The main section of the spring catalog of Routledge, a commercial press with an academic bent, includes 258 new books in twenty-seven fields. Of them, thirty-seven concern gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, thirty-nine belong to a field that Routledge identifies as cultural studies, and twenty-six are in history. Of course, intellectual fashion can be a stimulus rather than an impediment to learning. But books on voguish subjects threaten to squeeze more conventional scholarship off publishers’ lists. The question remains: Can an author with a worthwhile monograph—something solid but not sexy, the kind of book that flourished twenty years ago—expect to get it published? (Darnton 1999)

John Willinsky (Public Knowledge Project) severely questions the efficiency of scholarly publishing in this respect. Even though there are disciplinary differences, and titles in some fields might be growing or are stable, this cannot mask the inability of university presses to ensure they will be able to serve the publishing interests of scholars across the disciplines (Willinsky 2009). The British Academy also notes that this creates problems of a systemic nature in a 2005 report: ‘Thus even if major academic publishers can sustain some support of less popular titles across their lists, they cannot sustain large numbers of low-sales titles, however highly esteemed, in specialist fields’ (British Academy). Willinsky therefore concludes that ‘The limited economic viability of the monograph puts the university press in a position of restricting, in effect, what is studied and, as such, acts as a check on academic freedom and scholarly judgment about what historical work is needed’ (Willinsky 2009).

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This situation puts question marks at the functioning and the underlying economics of the current system of publishing and the mission of university presses to publish those works that the commercial presses cannot provide an outlet for. At the same time, as already noted above, due to internal and external forces, university presses increasingly need to work according to market rules too. As Sanford Thatcher has remarked in this respect:

The market for books of traditional literary criticism has now shrunk to the point that it is no longer possible for a small, unendowed press like Penn State’s to continue publishing such works. (…) This is a sad admission for a publisher like me to make, as I have always believed it to be the primary mission of university presses to publish monographs. But, more important, it should be a signal that something is badly amiss in our system of scholarly communication, which relies on such publications to make the process of tenure and promotion work. (Thatcher 1995)

First Monographs

This situation has further consequences, unfortunately, one which I already hinted at in the beginning of this post: next to specialised monographs, a specific sub-set of specialised monographs in particular is finding it hard to get published, namely ‘first monographs’ or monographs based on theses. This directly relates to the ‘publish or perish’ imperative, where a monograph is increasingly needed for a scholar’s career development, to attain the first full time position or tenure. Publishers thus play an important role in a scholar’s career advancement: ‘Like it or not, they function as a funnel in the process of professional advancement; yet they can publish only a few of the manuscripts they receive. The authors of the rest of those manuscripts may never make it to the next stage of their careers’ (Darnton 1999). The difficulties doctoral students face in getting published are also observed by Colin Steele in Australia: ‘no matter how strong or serious their scholarly achievement, (…) academic presses simply cannot afford to publish their books.’ (Steele 2008). Again, this is seen as a systemic condition, related to the current economic situation of libraries and university presses (Greenblatt 2002).

Above, I have tried to shortly set out the complex and multi-dimensional aspects of what the monograph crisis entails: there is a lack of dissemination and access to specialised monographic research in the HSS, due to pressures on library monograph budgets (internally by cuts, externally by the rising prices of periodicals) which is again constraining what presses publish (leading to a higher throughput model of marketable and voguish titles) to the further detriment of the dissemination of and access to specialised scholarship. As I have tried to show, the growth in titles of the 4 commercial publishers mentioned by Crossick does not disproof the existence of a monograph crisis, as—again—the problem lies not in the amount of titles that gets published, but in the kind of titles.

Library Acquisitions

Lets now get back to Crossick’s report and the further evidence he presents for his dismissal of the monograph crisis. Crossick acknowledges that specialised monographs (which he calls ‘niche books’) are having a hard time in the current climate: ‘Publishers report that it is harder for what they see as niche books to get published, and the concept of a niche may be broadening as the global market becomes ever more important for large publishing houses.’ (22) Let’s see what Crossick has to say about the access to and dissemination of these specialized, or niche monographs.

  1. Crossick argues, based on aggregated SCONUL figures, that ‘book purchases as a whole have remained stable in cash terms for the last decade’, although he acknowledges that ‘book budgets are being increasingly dwarfed by expenditure on journals’ (24)—he doesn’t mention the serials crisis however. Yet Crossick then comes to the following conclusion: ‘University libraries are, nonetheless, undoubtedly a significant customer for academic monographs, and if libraries were no longer to buy monographs we might indeed face a crisis. But libraries are still buying books, even if their purchasing and access models are changing.’ (25)

If we take a closer look at these SCONUL figures however (that is, at Crossick’s description of them, as he does not actually provide these figures), it shows that they say nothing about the actual access to and dissemination of specialized monographs, let alone of monographs more in general, as these figures include ‘textbooks, hard-copy special issues, and many other non-serial purchases’ (24). Again, these figures do not disproof the existence of a monograph crisis, were, as we have noted previously, the pressures on publishers has led them to move away from (specialized) monographs to more marketable titles, concentrating on text books, readers, and reference works instead. A large proportion of the SCONUL book purchases might thus have included the latter. Libraries are indeed still buying ‘books’, as Crossick states, but whether they are still buying the same amount of (specialised) monographs cannot be concluded from these SCONUL figures. Even more importantly, figures from only UK and Irish based academic libraries will surely not be enough to dismiss a crisis of global proportions?

Global Crisis

For another rather awkward conclusion made in the report, is a dismissal of the monograph crisis based solely on the ‘British situation’:

  1. Crossick bases his argument for the monograph crisis being ‘somewhat of a myth’, by focusing on the British situation in specific. As he states: ‘The project asked whether talk of a crisis of the monograph was justified. The picture for the UK that has emerged does not suggest that there has been a decline in the position of the monograph in this country. The numbers of monographs being published continues to grow. There is evidence that libraries are feeling more constrained in their ability to purchase monographs, but they and academics remain the principal market for the growing number of monograph titles that are appearing.’ (4)

First of all, as Crossick is of course well aware, monograph publishing and scholarly communication in the humanities in general is a highly global phenomenon. Focusing on one nation in specific just doesn’t make much sense here, especially with respect to the dismissal of a crisis of global proportions. The 4 ‘British’ publishers mentioned by Crossick are all international companies, with offices in many countries. They publish books by academics from all over the world. Furthermore, British academics similarly publish with ‘non-UK based’ publishers, such as American and European university presses, for example. What does a national perspective signify exactly in such a context?

Even if we go along with the conclusions of this report, i.e. that there has not been a significant decline of the position of the monograph in the UK, it can be argued that this is because the monograph crisis and its effects are not felt uniformly everywhere. The UK is one of the most affluent countries in the world where it concerns institutional monograph funding and acquisition. This does not dismiss the fact that access to and dissemination of specialised research in book form is hard to come by for academics in countries and institutions that are less well-off financially. Doesn’t this situation not rather signify that only rich countries and affluent universities and institutions are now able to buy and produce (specialised) monographs?

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What does this mean for scholarly communication in the HSS if it only reaches academics in elite universities in the north and west? In this respect it is important to recognize that the monograph crisis also extends to and effects developing countries, and that open access is seen by some as a potential solution to the so-called ‘digital-divide’. In The Access Principle (2005) John Willinsky argues that ‘a commitment to the value and quality of research carries with it a responsibility to extend the circulation of this work as far as possible, and ideally to all who are interested in it and all who might profit by it’ (2005: xii). Surely, this would include scholars in developing countries? Shouldn’t they have similar access to research literature and a right to fully participate in it—which becomes difficult in a situation where publishing routes are closed to many authors in developing nations and access to specialized (book) literature in libraries is limited? Willinsky remarks in this respect that there is a ‘print divide that has hindered the full participation of the global academic community in research and scholarship’ (Willinsky 2005: 108). Rethinking what ‘effective research communication in HSS’ entails in this respect is crucial, especially when, as Crossick seems to imply, a monograph crisis is seen as ‘hard to sustain’ as long as the position of the monograph in the UK is at least stable. We therefore need to, as Willinksy has argued, ‘question [our] assumptions about what constitutes an adequate circulation of [our] and others’ work’ (2005: 109). Wouldn’t this mean extending the basis on which knowledge circulates and gets produced to a global basis? Beyond the 300 copies of the average monograph sold to wealthy western university libraries? Ronald Snijder’s research on the benefits of open access books for developing countries is important in this respect, where he has concluded that: ‘Open Access publishing enhances discovery and online usage in developing countries. This strengthens the claims of the advocates of Open Access: researchers from the developing countries do benefit from free academic books’ (Snijder 2010).

Chronic Illness

Another problem mentioned by Crossick, although this is more a matter concerning the rhetoric of ‘crisis’ I would argue, is that the term crisis is not a valid term to use for the current position of the monograph:

  1. Crossick, based on Thompson, argues that it is not right to speak about a crisis in monograph publishing, where ‘The change that has taken place is over a much longer period than the sense of a current or recent crisis would allow’. (21)

First of all, for me, the fact that we are indeed talking about an ongoing situation, only makes the problem more urgent, where warnings about the condition of the monograph have been issued for decades now and it is apparently still not seen as a serious problem. Let me start off by again quoting for my thesis, which argues that the crisis is indeed an ongoing development, starting at the beginning of the 1970s:

This growth-boom ended rather abruptly at the beginning of the 1970s, followed by the economic recession of the 1980s, which marked the beginning of what we now know as the serials and monograph crisis (Thompson 2005: 98). Greco has analysed a large collection of sources, based mainly on research papers from the 60s until the 90s from the Journal of Scholarly Publishing, that talk about a first crisis in scholarly communication at the beginning of the 70s, extending into the present. He narrates how the rise of commercial scholarly publishing at that time was luring commercially interesting scholars away from university presses, making it even harder for the latter to sustain themselves (Greco et al. 2006: 58). In their description of the start of the crisis, Harvey et al. note that universities were facing severe budget cuts at these times, which mostly meant that their presses were the first things to be cut, in the form of declining university subsidies. Library budgets were also cut, while publishing (warehousing, distribution etc.) costs went up. (Harvey et al. 1972: 196). This lead to a situation in which presses were—and still are—forced to change the books they publish, to the detriment of specialised scholarly monographs in the humanities (Harvey et al. 1972: 198). The serials and monograph crisis only became more pronounced in the 1980s and 1990s. Increasingly, the focus of the debate on the crisis in academic publishing became the impact it was having on the tenure review process, and on the future of early-career scholars.

In this respect, it might be interesting to note what Sanford Thatcher has suggested related to this problem in 1999: ‘it may be useful to offer some historical perspective on this so-called crisis. It has, in fact, been with us for so long now that maybe “crisis” is really a misnomer—”chronic illness” may be a more accurate description’ (Thatcher 1999). Nonetheless, Kathleen Fitzpatrick has made a strong argument pertaining to the fact that this ‘chronic illness’ has worsened during the last decade, supporting the argument for the monograph crisis being a ‘current or recent crisis’:

Though the notion of a crisis in scholarly publishing came into common circulation well over a decade ago (see, e.g., Thatcher 1995), the situation suddenly got much, much worse after the first dot-com bubble burst in 2000. During this dramatic downturn in the stock market, when numerous university endowments went into free fall—a moment that, in retrospect, seems like mere foreshadowing—university presses and university libraries were among the academic units whose budgets took the hardest hits. And the cuts in funding for libraries represented a further budget cut for presses, as numerous libraries, already straining under the exponentially rising cost of journals, especially in the sciences, managed the cutbacks by reducing the number of monographs they purchased. The result for library users was perhaps only a slightly longer wait to obtain any book they needed, as libraries increasingly turned to consortial arrangements for collection-sharing, but the result for presses was devastating. Imagine: for a university press of the caliber of, say, Harvard’s, the expectation for decades had been that they could count on every library in the University of California system buying a copy of each title they published. Since 2000, however, the rule was increasingly that one library in the system would buy that title.2 And the same has happened with every such system around the country, such that, as Jennifer Crewe (2004, 27) noted, sales of monographs to libraries were less than one-third of what they had been two decades before—and they’ve continued to drop since then. So library cutbacks have resulted in vastly reduced sales for university presses, at precisely the moment when severe reductions in the percentage of university press budgets subsidized by their institutions have made those presses dependent on income from sales for their survival. (The average university press, as we’ll see, receives well under 10 percent of its annual budget from its institution. We can only imagine what will happen to that figure in the current economic climate.) The results, of course, are that many presses have reduced the number of titles that they publish, and that marketing concerns have come at times, and of necessity, to outweigh scholarly merit in making publication decisions. (Fitzpatrick 2011: 3–4)

Hard Evidence

A further point made by Crossick with respect to his dismissal of the monograph crisis relates to the fact that there is no ‘hard’ evidence for a crisis:

  1. Crossick follows Thompson here, saying that ‘a crisis of the monograph became an established belief in the 1980s, but it is difficult to pin the decline down with anything other than anecdotal evidence and it would appear that many of the stories about falling print runs and sales are plausible but hard to back up with evidence’ (21).

Let me first emphasise again that there is evidence for a monograph crisis (although maybe not the kind Crossick has been looking for as he seems rather fixated on national print runs and sales). I have gathered a small selection here as an addendum to this blogpost and you will be able to find more if you follow the bibliography added to this post. If we follow Crossick’s logic however, he himself can hardly be seen to provide any hard evidence against the monograph crisis either. He talks about SCONUL figures—which he doesn’t provide—but these don’t distinguish between monographs and other types of books, and they only provide figures for UK and Irish universities; he gives figures for 4 British commercially operating book publishers, when we are talking about a crisis that mainly affects specialised monographs published by not-for-profit university presses. And even we dismiss the critique against these figures I have provided above, taken together they seem hardly enough evidence to conclude that the monograph crisis is a myth. Furthermore, Crossick does not shy away from the use of anecdotal evidence himself to defend his case when he writes: ‘The Council of University Classical Departments told the project that “monograph publishing is in excellent health in our disciplines…Production runs may be smaller, but the volume of new monographs published each year seems to be increasing. Talk of a crisis seems unjustified.’ (21) Anecdotal evidence, we might add, which is based on growth in title output in a specific field, which, as I have shown above does not dismiss the existence of a systemic crisis.

Open Access as an Opportunity

Finally, and this is where Crossick’s motivation to describe the monograph crisis in a specific, rather one-dimensional way, perhaps become a bit more clear, let’s review a last reason why Crossick does not feel comfortable to engage with talk of a monograph crisis too much:

  1. Crossick argues that open access should not be seen as a response to a crisis but as an opportunity: ‘None of this means that monographs are not facing challenges, but the arguments for open access would appear to be for broader and more positive reasons than solving some supposed crisis.’ (4)

Crossick actually bases this response on one of the OAPEN reports that I have co-authored. As he writes:

It has been suggested, in a thoughtful and valuable report from OAPEN-NL (Ferwerda et al, 2013) in the Netherlands, that the growing interest in open access for monographs is less to do with the benefits of open access and more with the declining position of the conventional scholarly monograph. Other reports support such a conclusion (Steele, 2008; OAPEN-UK, n.d.; OAPEN-UK, 2013). The picture for the UK that has emerged from the work for this report, while not an entirely rosy one, does not suggest that there has been a decline in the position of the monograph in this country and, as a consequence, the arguments for open access would appear to be for broader and more positive reasons’ (14)

First of all, the OAPEN-NL report does not conclude that there are no additional reasons to engage with open access for monographs. Indeed, it lists a selection of other potential benefits that open access to books can bring on the page before the sentence that Crossick references (page 16). The OAPEN-NL report thus does not downplay the other motives behind the movement for OA in the HSS, it rather emphasises the urgent need felt by those in the HSS to find a solution to the monograph crisis and to explore alternatives to a system of scholarly book publishing and communication that is no longer viable.

Although I find the suggestion that there are apparently ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ reasons to engage with Open Access, quite problematic in this context, let’s explore why Crossick actually has to dismiss the monograph crisis exactly because he does not want to engage with the ‘negative’, messy, political and disruptive aspects of open access that have been a substantial part of its development in the HSS all along. Because this would involve an exploration of the underlying economics of scholarly publishing and the power and profits made by commercial publishers in this system, which can be seen as one of the major reasons behind the monograph crisis. For many open access advocates in the HSS, open access is seen as a potential solution to a publishing model that as a whole is no longer viable . It will be hard for Crossick to engage with this kind of critique, as his report is set up from the outset on the basis that we need to ‘go with the grain’ and ‘sustain and enhance’ the way the production and communication in the HSS is currently set up:[5]

Any future policies for open-access monographs must ensure that, far from damaging the way that people produce and communicate research in the arts, humanities and social sciences, they sustain and enhance it. These are disciplines in which the UK has a very high international standing and one that greatly exceeds what the size of the country and investment levels in research might lead one to expect. The willingness of the arts, humanities and social science community to engage with the work for this report has been both impressive and reassuring. The report concludes that it is important that this engagement continues, because there is much to be gained by working with the grain, and much to be lost by not doing so. (7)

Acknowledging that this system is no longer a viable and efficient means of communicating and accessing information in the HSS, and that this is for a large part due to the excessive commercialisation of publishing, is a step Crossick cannot make as he has already invested in sustaining the system as it currently set up in this report, which includes the maintaining of its present stakeholders. For acknowledging the existence of the monograph crisis would mean pointing blame to (commercial) publishers, allies that Crossick clearly does not want to alienate. This might also explain why the fact that certain specialised ‘niche’ books are having trouble being published in the current climate (as Crossick also notices) and thus access to them is diminished, is apparently seen as a less important factor in determining the existence of a monograph crisis than the growth in title output of 4 of the largest publishers in the UK is. Does this mean that in Crossick’s vision there is no crisis as long as the current economy of (book) publishing in the UK is not harmed? As I see it, and many with me, we need to battle this crisis, not in first instance to sustain a system that protects the position of (commercial) publishers, but to make specialised research as widely available as possible, to as many people as possible, and this might involve asking hard questions about the way the system currently functions, and what the specific politics and economic of those involved are.

Addendum I: Conservative Humanities

This conservative vision of ‘going with the grain’ and keeping all stakeholders involved also shows itself in some further aspects of this report, which I will only briefly explore here. One of them is the outright dismissal of green open access for books (were gold open access can be seen to protect the interests of publishers[6]) were apparently we need a ‘published version’ or better said ‘the specific lay out provided by a publishers’ version’ of a monograph, as this is seen as essential for proper scholarly communication:

There are material characteristics associated with the printed book, its layout, design and non-verbal content that often make it significantly more than the text alone, and these characteristics are part of its ability to communicate and shape what it is that is communicated. It will be important for systems of open access to acknowledge these key aspects of the book. This means that approaches which make available a version other than the published version (e.g. the author’s accepted manuscript) will be less acceptable and, in all likelihood, less successful than they are with respect to open access for journal articles. (33)

And

In addition, models that depend on documents other than the published version of record being freely available in other venues (as is common in so-called ‘green’ open access for journals) may lead some authors to feel concerned about what might be missing in the free version from the intended form, function and content of their work. (38)

The report similarly characterises (book) authorship as something highly individual and personal, neglecting the collaborative, communal and processual aspects of knowledge production—as those in the digital humanities and open access movement in specific have emphasised—which are also an inherent part of (humanities) scholarship:

This is one reason why academics feel a strong sense of identity with the books they write. It may simply be because of the amount of time and effort that goes into researching and writing a monograph, but it is certainly the case that an academic author can also develop and articulate through writing a book what might be seen as a personal and distinctive voice. This is often presented as a defining feature of academic writing in the humanities and social sciences more generally (Blanplain, 2008); indeed it has been argued that non-English- speaking authors choose to publish in their native language because their “thinking may be deeply intertwined with their language expressions” (Huang and Chang, 2008, p.1824). The self-contained nature of the book may serve in some way as the physical embodiment of the deep patterns of thought and understanding that emerge from a sustained period of research on a single topic; in a very real sense, the book is a part of the author’s identity. (15)

Surely this ‘individual approach’ toward monographs does not hold sway if we are to include scholarly editions, edited collections and exhibition catalogues—inherently collaborative works—to the category of monographs, as Crossick does in his report? Finally, as already mentioned above, the report is highly suspicious of experiments with the material form of the book in a digital environment. We shouldn’t ask too complicated questions about the form and function of the monograph, or about reuse in that respect, as the focus should be on replicating the material features of the printed book in the digital realm, in order that the ‘core scholarly requirements’, and the quality of effective scholarly communication is ensured:

Nonetheless, the arguments reported here about the importance of the monograph, both as a form of research process and expression and as a research output, mean that those concerned about the quality of research in the arts, humanities and social sciences should note the danger that the way that the digital environment is used might provide reasons for it to weaken; an outcome that would not in the long term be good for research and its communication. (16)

The key issue is that the digital version must itself meet the core scholarly requirements flowing from what has been called here the materiality of the book to ensure that it is not a significantly inferior product for the purposes of effective scholarly communication. The open access version must be sufficient for the academic requirements identified in this report, so that the print version will be for those who want, for whatever reason, the physical object. (36)

Addendum II: Evidence

As Kathleen Fitzpatrick has stated, to no avail unfortunately as far as the report to HEFCE is concerned:

To backtrack for a second: that there is a problem in the first place is something about which I hope, by this point, anyone reading this doesn’t really need to be convinced; “crisis in scholarly publishing” has become one of the most-heard phrases in certain kinds of academic discussions, and organizations including the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), publishers such as Lindsay Waters and Bill Germano, scholars including Cathy Davidson and John Wil- linsky, and, perhaps most famously, past MLA president Stephen Greenblatt have been warning us for years that something’s got to give. So of course the evidence for this crisis, and for the financial issues that rest at its heart, extends far beyond my own individual, anecdotal case (Fitzpatrick 2011: 3).

Several Association of Research Libraries (ARL) figures and statistics are available showing the decline in library expenditures and the rise in library expenditures for serials and the decline in monograph expenditure, for example (update 08-02-15: do see the critique on these figures as mentioned in the comment by Kevin Hawkins underneath)

http://www.arl.org/storage/documents/eg_2.pdf

http://www.arl.org/storage/documents/monograph-serial-costs.pdf

Martin Eve, in his book Open Access and the Humanities (2014) mentions various studies based on these statistics from the ARL showing that ‘the cost to academic libraries of subscribing to journals has outstripped inflation by over 300% since 1986’ (Eve 2014: 13, 154). Eve mentions the following studies: University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign, ‘The Cost of Journals’, University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign, 2009 www.library.illinois.edu/scholcomm/journalcosts.html; Björn Brembs, ‘A Fistful of Dollars: Why Corporate Publishers Have No Place in Scholarly Communication’, bjoern. brembs.blog, 2012 http://bjoern.brembs.net/2013/08/a-fistful-of-dollars-why- corporate-publishers-have-no-place-in-scholarly-communication/; Martin Paul Eve, ‘Tear It Down, Build It Up: The Research Output Team, or the Library-as-Publisher’, Insights: The UKSG Journal, 25 (2012), 158–62 http://dx.doi.org/10.1629/ 2048–7754.25.2.158.

Greco and Wharton estimate that the average number of library purchases of monographs has dropped from 1500 in the 1970s to 200-300 at present (Greco, Albert N. and Wharton, Robert Michael 2008). Thompson estimates that print runs and sales have declined from 2000-3000 (print runs and sales) in the 1970s to print runs of between 600-1000 and sales of between 400-500 nowadays (Thompson 2005).

Update 08-02-15: Frank Hellwig pointed me to the graph in this report (p66) on how research library budgets are being eaten up in German libraries: https://idw-online.de/de/attachmentdata37340.pdf

Robert Darnton provides many figures:

When this problem first dawned on me as chairman of Princeton’s library committee in the 1980s, the price of journals had already increased far more than the inflation rate; and the disparity has continued until today. In 1974 the average cost of a subscription to a journal was $54.86. In 2009 it came to $2,031 for a US title and $4,753 for a non-US title, an increase greater than ten times that of inflation. Between 1986 and 2005, the prices for institutional subscriptions to journals rose 302 percent, while the consumer price index went up by 68 percent. Faced with this disparity, libraries have had to adjust the proportions of their acquisitions budgets. As a rule, they used to spend about half of their funds on serials and half on monographs. By 2000 many libraries were spending three quarters of their budget on serials. Some had nearly stopped buying monographs altogether or had eliminated them in certain fields (Darnton 2010).

Librarians who buy these subscriptions for the use of faculty and students can shower you with statistics. In 2009, Elsevier, the giant publisher of scholarly journals based in the Netherlands, made a $1.1 billion profit in its publishing division, yet 2009 was a disastrous year for library budgets. Harvard’s seventy-three libraries cut their expenditures by more than 10 percent, and other libraries suffered even greater reductions, but the journal publishers were not impressed. Many of them raised their prices by 5 percent and sometimes more. This year, the publishers of the several Nature journals announced that they were increasing the cost of subscriptions for libraries in the University of California by 400 percent. Profit margins of journal publishers in the fields of science, technology, and medicine recently ran to 30–40 percent; yet those publishers add very little value to the research process, and most of the research is ultimately funded by American taxpayers through the National Institutes of Health and other organizations’ (Darnton 2010).

Another rule of thumb used to prevail among the better university presses. They could count on research libraries purchasing about eight hundred copies of any new monograph. By 2000 that figure had fallen to three or four hundred, often less, and not enough in most cases to cover production costs. Therefore, the presses abandoned subjects like colonial Latin America and Africa. They fell back on books about local folklore or cooking or birds, works that fit into niches or could be marketed to a broader public but that had little to do with scholarly research. And graduate students fell victim to the notorious syndrome of publish or perish (Darnton 2010).

Until recently, monographs used to account for at least half the acquisitions budget of most research libraries. In 1996-1997, however, 78 percent of the acquisitions budget in the library of the University of Illinois at Chicago went for periodicals, 21 percent for monographs. Syracuse University’s library spent 75 percent on periodicals and 17 percent on monographs. The library at the University of Hawaii spent 84 percent on periodicals and 12 percent on monographs. (The numbers don’t add up to 100 percent, since there are other categories of expenditures.) The decline in the purchase of monographs among large research libraries over the last ten years comes to 23 percent. If the transformation of library budgets continues at this rate we can wonder whether new work in the humanities and social sciences will survive in book form (Darnton 1999).

The second aspect of the crisis threatens academic life at a particularly vulnerable point, the budgets of university presses. According to a rule of thumb among editors in the 1970s, a university press could count on selling 800 copies of a monograph to libraries. Today, the figure is 400, often less, and not enough in any case to cover costs. Publishers can no longer be sure of selling books that would have been irresistible to librarians twenty years ago. Volume 1 of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, published in 1959, sold 8,407 copies, mostly to libraries. Volume 33, published in 1998, has sold 753 copies (Darnton 1999).

Alarmed by the drop in demand, the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) commissioned Herbert Bailey, the retired director of the Princeton University Press, to do a study in 1990. Contrary to expectations, he found that the number of monographs produced had increased by 51 percent from 1978 to 1988. Publishers had responded to the pressure by increasing output (and prices, too), while holding down costs (mainly by squeezing more work from their staffs, hence a noticeable decline in the standard of editing) (Darnton 1999).

Steele provides evidence from an Australian perspective:

The rise of the large STM publishers has had dramatic effects on the budgets allocated to monograph purchases by universities, and inter alia, on learned societies and their budgets. When this author arrived at the Australian National University in 1976, the ANU Library acquisition budget was roughly 50:50 in terms of the ratio between serials/standing orders and monographs. When I left in 2002 the ratio was roughly 83:17 serials to books. This trend was also reflected in the other major Australian university libraries (Steele 2008).

And there are also figures from a British Academy study supporting the monograph crisis:

Monographs have remained non-e for a range of reasons ranging from reader preference for hard copy to HSS faculty dedication to ‘real’ monograph publication as an academic status marker. Monograph numbers have remained surprisingly high given that prices have risen substantially and library budgets have been under severe stress. The widely-predicted collapse of scholarly publishing has not yet occurred and continues to lie ahead just around the corner. But a crisis does seem to be very near. In the 1960s and 1970s, far fewer monographs were published than now, with routine global sales of 1500 or more. But these sales levels were not sustained, and a declining sales step-curve has been evident throughout the past quarter- century, with a vicious circle of declining sales driving higher prices driving declining sales. Individual publishers have responded by issuing more and more individual titles, but with lower expectations of each. Global sales can now be as low as 250 or 300 in some fields. At some point in the 1990s, the UK academy ceased to be a self-sustaining monographic community: the subjects that have survived and/or thrived in this context have been those (like economics or linguistics or classics) with international appeal (The British Academy 2005: 70–71).

Willinsky discusses the ARL figures:

Before explaining how the Open Monograph System will work, let me set out in more detail why the present and future prospects for the monograph call for new approaches to scholarly publishing. Nothing speaks more plainly to the declining presence of the monograph in scholarly life than a review of library expenditures over the last two decades. From 1986 to 2004, the number of books purchased annually by the leading U.S. research libraries increased by only 1%, a figure which needs to be compared to a 51% increase in the number of journal titles purchased by these same libraries (ARL 2007). That the market is unchanged for books over the last two decades adds up to far fewer opportunities for the scholarly community as a whole to write books, given the increase in faculty members over that period. While price is always an issue, the book has seen a modest increase, up 78%, compared to the 180% increase in journal prices, resulting in a further loss of the book’s place in the library budget (ARL 2007). The shift in spending on books is also reflected in how libraries spent twice as much on books as they did on journals in 1969, while by 2006, journals were gobbling up three times as much of the library budget as books for these same libraries (Fry/White 1975, 61; ARL 2007) (Willinsky 2009).

In terms of individual title sales, Eileen Gardiner and Ronald G. Musto, directors of the ACLS E-Humanities Project, report that between 1980 and 2000, a monograph’s average library sales plummeted from around 2,000 copies in 1980, to 1,000 in the late 1980s, to 500 in the 1990s, to a little more than 200 in the early years of this century (2004). Affirming these numbers, John Thompson declares that this two-decade decline in monograph sales, “more than any other single factor . . . has transformed the economic conditions of scholarly publishing” decidedly for the worse, in terms of this genre’s future (2005, 94) (Willinsky 2009).

Thatcher on the situation at Penn State Press:

Our sales figures for works of literary criticism suggest that the answer is, fewer people than ever before. Since 1985, the Penn State Press has published 150 books on literary criticism, making it one of the leading scholarly publishers in this field. We cannot be sure exactly how many people have read those books, but we do know how many have bought them. Of the 150 titles, 65 per cent have sold fewer than 500 copies and 91 per cent have sold fewer than 800. Only 3 per cent (generally those dealing with American literature or gender issues) have sold more than 1,000 copies (Thatcher 1995).

There are many more figures, statistics and ‘anecdotal evidence’ available than I have mentioned here. These are just a few examples.


[1] As the report states: ‘Data on new titles were provided for this review by the four largest publishers of monographs in the UK and, although no more than a significant indicator of larger publishing trends, the results for these four major publishers are revealing. They show very significant growth in the numbers of new monograph titles being published by them year-on-year: 2,523 new titles were published by these four publishing houses in 2004, rising to 5,023 new titles in 2013.’ (21) The four publishers consulted were Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Routledge (Taylor & Francis) and Palgrave Macmillan.

[2] ‘Data show that libraries—traditionally the market on which university presses rely the most—have reduced their purchases of monographs by 23 per cent since 1985. One reason is that an ever-increasing share of library budgets has been allocated to adding, or just sustaining, subscriptions to journals. This is especially so in the sciences, where 30,000 new journals were created in the 1980’s and prices have escalated much faster than the rate of inflation. And there also is some evidence that scholars themselves no longer purchase as many books as they once did.’ (Thatcher 1995)

[3] ‘Responding to the pressure of shrinking budgets and of skyrocketing costs for medical, scientific, and technical journals, libraries have cut back on the number of books that they purchase. And university presses, suffering severe financial losses as a result of this shift in library purchases and a general decline in book sales, have cut back on the number of books they publish annually in certain fields.’ (Greenblatt 2002)

[4] This quote from a sales manager that Thompson uses is quite illustrative:

Presses that had previously grown by producing more monographs found themselves in an uncontrollable situation. The best analogy I can think of is like a mouse on a treadmill were they were running faster and faster and faster just to stand still. Because what was happening is the next year they produced 10 percent more titles going up from, say, 150 monographs to 165. But instead of the revenue growing by 10 per cent as it had done previously, the sales, the units sold to the libraries were dropping by 10 per cent. So they were having to produce more and more titles to produce an income that was at best flat or still declining. (Thompson 2005: 125)

[5] This is something that Gary Hall has similarly noticed, as can be read in this insightful blogpost here:

How has this (mis)understanding of the monograph crisis occurred? Is it a simple mistake? (Given the membership of the Expert Reference Group and the list of international experts consulted for Monographs and Open Access, it would be surprising if it had gone unnoticed.) Or does it have something to do with the fact that redefining the monograph crisis in this way has the effect of shifting the focus away from the policies and practices of those publishing companies that are responsible for the rising costs of journal subscriptions: i.e. precisely the state of affairs that is regarded by many as being one of the major causes of the monograph crisis, and therefore as something that needs to be taken fully into account if the issue is ever to be adequately addressed?  Is this the light in which the conclusion of the report’s summary, which emphasizes the importance of ‘working with the grain’, and of ensuring that any future policies for open-access monographs ‘sustain and enhance’, rather than damage, how people currently produce and communicate research in the arts, humanities and social sciences, is to be read?

[6] For example, the implementation of gold open access with ‘author-side’ fees for the open access publishing of journals—where an article processing charge (APC) will be needed to cover the publishing costs—as is currently the recommended model for journals in the Finch report, can be seen, as I have written in my thesis, as a strategy that is ‘maintaining and favouring the system of communication (or ecology, as the Finch report calls it) as it is currently set up. In this gold APC system, the publishers’ profits will be sustained, where in green open access, depositing of articles in repositories will not require an APC. This has provoked Stevan Harnad to conclude that ‘The Finch Report is a successful case of lobbying by publishers to protect the interests of publishing at the expense of the interests of research and the public that funds research’ (2012).’

Bibliography

Adema, J. (2015) Knowledge Production Beyond the Book? Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture. Thesis in Progress. Coventry University

Adema, J. and Hall, G. (2013) ‘The Political Nature of the Book: On Artists’ Books and Radical Open Access’. New Formations 78 (1), 138–156

Bailey, H.S. (1990) The Rate of Publication of Scholarly Monographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences 1978–1988. New York: Association of American University Presses

Crewe, J. and Williams, J.J. (2004) ‘Editor as Ambassador: An Interview with Jennifer Crewe’. Minnesota Review 61 (1), 207–221

Darnton, R. (1999) ‘The New Age of the Book’. The New York review of books. 46 (5), 5

Darnton, R. (2010) ‘The Library: Three Jeremiads’. The New York Review of Books [online] 23 December. available from <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/dec/23/library-three-jeremiads/&gt; [27 January 2015]

Eve, M.P. (2014) Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future. Cambridge University Press

Ferwerda, E., Snijder, R., and Adema, J. (2013) OAPEN-NL. A Project Exploring Open Access Monograph Publishing in the Netherlands: Final Report [online] The Hague: OAPEN Foundation. available from <http://apo.org.au/sites/default/files/docs/OAPEN-NL-final-report.pdf&gt;

Fitzpatrick, K. (2011) Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. NYU Press

Greco, A.N., Rodríguez, C.E., and Wharton, R.M. (2006) Culture and Commerce of Publishing in the Twenty-First Century. Stanford University Press

Greco, A.N. and Wharton, R.M. (2008) ‘Should University Presses Adopt an Open Access [electronic Publishing] Business Model for All of Their Scholarly Books?’. in Chan, L. and Mornati, S. (eds.) Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Electronic Publishing, ‘ELPUB2008. Open Scholarship: Authority, Community, and Sustainability in the Age of Web 2.0’ [online] held 2008 at Toronto. 149–164. available from <http://elpub.scix.net/cgi-bin/works/Show?149_elpub2008&gt; [4 March 2014]

Greenblatt, S. (2002) Call for Action on Problems in Scholarly Book Publishing: A Special Letter from Stephen Greenblatt [online] [28 May 2002]. available from <http://www.mla.org/scholarly_pub&gt; [27 January 2015]

Hall, G. (2008a) Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Harnad, S. (2012) ‘Finch Report, a Trojan Horse, Serves Publishing Industry Interests Instead of UK Research Interests’. [19 June 2012] available from <http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/904-Finch-Report,-a-Trojan-Horse,-Serves-Publishing-Industry-Interests-Instead-of-UK-Research-Interests.html&gt; [20 January 2014]

Snijder, R. (2010) ‘The Profits of Free Books: An Experiment to Measure the Impact of Open Access Publishing’. Learned Publishing 23 (4), 293–301

Steele, C. (2008) ‘Scholarly Monograph Publishing in the 21st Century: The Future More Than Ever Should Be an Open Book’. Journal of Electronic Publishing [online] 11 (2). available from <http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3336451.0011.201&gt;

Suber, P. (2012) Open Access. MIT Press

Thatcher, S.G. (1995) ‘The Crisis in Scholarly Communication Chronicle of Higher Education’. Chronicle of Higher Education 3 March, B1–B2

Thatcher, S.G. (1999) ‘Thinking Systematically about the Crisis in Scholarly Communication’. in The Specialized Scholarly Monograph in Crisis: Or How Can I Get Tenure If You Won’t Publish My Book?. ed. by Case, M. Washington DC: Association of Research Libraries

The British Academy (2005) E-Resources for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences – A British Academy Policy Review [online] The British Academy. available from <http://www.britac.ac.uk/policy/eresources/e-resources.cfm&gt; [28 January 2015]

Thompson, J. (2005) Books in the Digital Age : The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States. Cambridge UK ;;Malden MA: Polity Press

Willinsky, J. (2005) The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship. MIT Press

Willinsky, J. (2009) ‘Toward the Design of an Open Monograph Press’. Journal of Electronic Publishing [online] 12 (1). available from <http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3336451.0012.103&gt;

7 comments on “The Monograph Crisis Revisited

  1. Kevin Hawkins
    January 30, 2015

    Excellent critique. You might be interested in this recent blog post, which explores the second ARL graph you cite:

    http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2014/09/26/guest-post-elisabeth-jones-on-monograph-costs-and-urban-legends-whats-wrong-with-this-picture/

    As you can see, there are some problems with the data underlying this graph. Jones speculates in her comment on the blog post that “Purchasing did decline, but expenditures stayed flat because the prices went up.”

  2. Geoffrey Crossick
    January 31, 2015

    Let me first of all acknowledge that this blog makes some interesting points in relation to the idea of a ‘monograph crisis’, drawing on literature with much of which I am, of course, familiar. As author of the report to which you are responding I am, however, concerned that readers who haven’t seen the report might imagine that the existence or otherwise of a monograph crisis is one of its main concerns. It is only about that in passing – maybe 3 or 4 pages in a report of 70 pages (plus annexes) that is really concerned with other issues. Although I concluded in those few pages (in the five-page section on ‘Trends in monograph supply and readership’) that I could not see that the word ‘crisis’ was an accurate description of the situation facing monographs in the UK today, I fully recognised that there were real problems. What I doubted was whether longstanding problems had reached an acute stage that might lead one to call it a crisis. I did so by considering not just publication patterns from the four biggest UK publishers of research books, but also such information as could be obtained on library purchasing and other behaviour, academic patterns of using and obtaining monographs, discussions with early career researchers, and so on. In my view it is a balanced presentation that does not present all aspects of the monograph as rosy, recognises longstanding and more recent problems but does not conclude that there is something that warrants the term ‘crisis’. I should point out, however, that the notion that report does not recognise a range of issues – the challenge to library budgets, the cost of serials, the fact that publishers make market-based decisions much of the time, the issue of the first monograph, the fact that in some areas of work it is more difficult to be published than others – is simply not the case.

    The report to HEFCE is about the monograph and open access. In that perspective, it only matters whether we call the current situation a crisis or not if we believe the existence of a crisis to be the principal reason for moving towards open access requirements for monographs (as has already happened in the UK with respect to journal articles). My main argument in this long report is that open access should be seen as a way of delivering major benefits to scholarly communication and scholarly collaboration. We don’t need to decide that there is or isn’t a crisis for the monograph to believe that open access, if the difficulties identified in the report are overcome, would be a major step forward for those disciplines in which the monograph is important.

    I do, however, point to a major crisis that will come if monographs do not move to open access over the next decade: in a world where researchers expect to obtain their scholarly literature digitally and increasingly by open access, the monograph will find itself marginalised over time if it doesn’t move in that direction. And, as i argue, the digital monograph behind pay walls could go the way of the music album, with individual chapters (the equivalent of individual tracks) being purchased, as is already happening. Were that to occur, the significance of the monograph as a way of communicating and (by thinking through writing the book) undertaking research would wither. The analysis in the report of the reasons why the monograph is so important in many disciplines has already been widely welcomed. I’m sure that you and I would insist on the need to maintain that core aspect of research in many disciplines, and the most important monograph crisis is the one that will appear if it is not available digitally and open access in a decade’s time.

    These seem to me so much more important reasons for wanting to see open access for monographs than the existence of a current crisis, which is why the discussion of the arguments for a crisis make up such a very small part of the report. It is, indeed, an area where hard data is not easy to come by, which is why data from all over the English-speaking world is so often used to make the case for a crisis. My report was for the UK funders of research in universities and was about the benefits and challenges of introducing open access for monographs in the UK. This is something that you see as a source of weakness, but in my view it enabled me to focus on actual experiences within specific institutional and other contexts which enabled a sharper picture to emerge, albeit for one country. And as a historian I’m very aware of the weaknesses as well as the benefits of national approaches: on this occasion a primarily national analysis informed by an international context seemed to me the right one as well as the one that sought in the commission. I therefore tried to draw on UK experience wherever possible, including the very important OAPEN-UK survey of academics, consideration of library experience and purchasing where SCONUL data was not sensitive enough but where a good deal emerged from discussions, and widespread consultation with academics, learned societies and subject associations and so on. Like you, however, I did on occasions reach for examples from other countries. But the blog that you wrote draws almost exclusively on data from other countries, when I was talking about the UK. The report recognises the importance of the international context, above all for publishers where big players are increasingly global, and I have a section of the need for UK policy makers to consider the international context in which policy is made and their implication for mobility of researchers, research collaboration and so on. Nonetheless, on many issues each country is distinct and data are therefore not automatically transferable: the existence of smaller not-for-profit publishers, especially smaller university presses; university funding regimes and their impact on libraries; the rapid expansion of student numbers as a driver of the number of research-active staff; the way academic careers are shaped; research evaluations system, and so on. Each of these differs between countries and each is important for research and monographs. A country’s experience has to be situated in an international context but it is not therefore the same as that of another country. The distinctiveness of the UK position (as one could say for other individual national positions) compared with other countries is something that I signal frequently in the report.

    If I was asked what my report is about I’d say that it was, firstly, its firm analysis of why the monograph is so fundamental to many disciplines and why research and dissemination must move over time to digital and open access in order to protect that importance; and, secondly, an identification of the many challenges that will have to be overcome if that is to be achieved – technical challenges, the need for flexibility in licensing, the very significant difficulties that I identified over third-party rights, the implications for learned societies and universities, the international policy context, and the need to develop effective and diverse business models for open access monographs (where I certainly do not say that author-side payment as with gold open access for journals is a viable future). And much else. I don’t expect everybody to agree with all that the report says, but I have been reassured by the early responses which have stressed that it is a serious, balanced and thoughtful exploration of a difficult subject. There are so many good reasons for moving towards open access if the problems can be overcome, as well as a big looming crisis for the monograph in a world of digital dissemination of research that will dwarf anything that may exist now. My report is intended to be a contribution to the discussion of those bigger issues. I hope that people will read it as a whole and not assume that it is about whether we should call the current situation a crisis, which is a minor part of the report.

    This response is long enough already – an indication of the interesting questions you raise – and it makes good sense for me to let the debate continue without further interventions from me. But I would like to correct one serious misunderstanding of the final words of my report. You and Gary Hall have both seen a conservatism in my call to policymakers to ‘work with the grain’, as if I meant that commercial and institutional interests had to be protected. Here is what I wrote at the end of the report. ‘In the course of the work for this report I have been impressed by the willingness of the arts, humanities and social science community to engage with me. It is important that this engagement continues, because there is much to be gained by working with the grain, and much to be lost by not doing so.’ I am calling for policymakers to engage properly with the openness as well as the concerns of academic researchers when shaping policy. That is what I mean by ‘working with the grain’, and I regard it as essential.

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