OA Week 2020 Interview: OpenBPC – Transparency Around Open Access Book Transactional data

Amidst a year filled with turmoil and change, the International Open Access Week makes it annual return (19-26 October, 2020). Its theme is ‘Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity & Inclusion’.

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As part of the Open Access Week, 2020, the Open Access Books Network (OABN) would like to zoom in on a few developments in the open access books world through a series of interviews. As part of this first interview Agata Morka (OABN) spoke with Max Mosterd (Knowledge Unlatched) to learn more about the OpenBPC initiative.

A Blog Article by Agata Morka (OABN) and Max Mosterd (Knowledge Unlatched).


Agata Morka: Could you give us a sort overview of your initiative in 2-3 sentences as an introduction? How would you describe your initiative to someone who knew nothing about it?

Max Mosterd: The initiative promotes transparency as to what publishers get paid for making their ebooks Open Access (OA). Thus far, it is limited to payments made by Knowledge Unlatched. This public dataset is free to access and also to re-use the information for any purpose.

What is the main goal/ambition of the project and why?

The objective is to drive Open Access book publishing forwards. We believe at Knowledge Unlatched that having access to current price points for making books Open Access can help inform policy, funders, publishers and research organisations. As more funders join the initiative and share the prices paid, the corpus will become more representative. It is certainly not all the information needed to drive more Open Access publishing, and there are caveats regarding the data, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

What is the biggest problem you are trying to solve and how?

The biggest problem we are trying to solve is to make sure policy makers and research organisations can better inform their decisions to promote OA book publishing and translate this into policies. There is a lack of information about what is paid to make books Open Access, and this is making it challenging to inform budgeting and negotiations. Having this information for a large amount of OA books will drive awareness and start conversations that are needed to support future developments.

However, with the open database, there are also challenges to identify what the payment really encompasses. For example, we included some nuance regarding front-list books and backlist books. It makes sense that books that have been published for a longer time period (backlist) are priced lower because these have accumulated a significant number of sales over their paywalled lifetime. In contrast, a front-list book would be ‘born OA’ if you like – this means that no sales have been accumulated when the book is made OA, and the BPC will be required to offset at least the foregone opportunity of generating ebook sales.

As such, it makes sense to take this element into account as it has probably the most significant effect on prices paid. Therefore, we decided to flag books as backlist or front list so that any average price can take this factor into account. There are other challenges, such as the different types of books (trade vs. scholarly), which online formats are made OA (all vs. pdf-only) as well as the third-party rights that had to be acquired.

What one thing would best help you achieve your goal?

More funders and organisations joining the initiative!

As an organization how do you respond to this year’s OA week theme, “Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion”?

Absolutely, we fully support the theme and I would argue that we are actively responding by the work we do and how we do it. Probably most importantly, Knowledge Unlatched supports the so-called diamond OA model, which translates into a more seamless publishing route for researchers from anywhere because this does not involve any author-facing charges. As importantly, this applies to any researcher – be it a researcher whose institution is financially supporting our models or not (and this maximises inclusion into OA publishing).

What question do you wish we had asked but didn’t, and why?

Perhaps this one: What are some of the challenges we face with the openBPC project? It is important to mention the caveats when it comes to pricing data, as it is easily misinterpreted – but I elaborated on this in one of earlier question responses.

Written by Agata Morka and Max Mosterd

Edited by Tom Mosterd and Pablo Markin

The public OpenBPC dataset can be found here. To learn more about OpenAPC, please click here. The press release originally announcing this initiative can be found here.


Featured Image Credits: Livre ouvert, France, May 23, 2015 | © Courtesy of Thierry Leclerc/Flickr.

Tom Mosterd

Community Manager, DOAB / OAPEN

1 Comment

Go to the profile of Pablo Markin
Pablo Markin about 2 months ago

Indeed, the effect of processing charges on book publishing in Open Access remains under-researched, so that a publicly available data set providing information on these fees can contribute not only to policy discussions or decision-making but also to empirical studies concerning their effect on access- and budget-related barriers for organizational constituencies, e.g., libraries, individual stakeholders, such as readers or researchers, and book authors in different countries, which is not unrelated to the present theme of the Open Access Week.