My journey towards fair open access book publishing

by Michael Brüggemann

global communication
https://unsplash.com/@Duangphorn Wiriya

As a former journalist I have always had an appreciation for the value of the written word. I have also always considered it an honour and a privilege to be published. I regarded authors to be the rightful owners of their text. In my world, you may give away texts as a present to your friends or to the scientific community or you may sell them. My idea of fair publishing did not include having to pay a private company to get published whilst losing the copyright of my work. Yet this, at least in Germany, for many years used to be the world of book publishing for many authors: some academic presses would charge for publication and appropriate the author’s copyright whilst failing to provide substantial ‘added value’ to the text such as peer review and thorough editing, proofreading and text formatting services. As a PhD student I felt I had no choice but to accept this world of predatory publishing.

Now, as a professor, in contrast to the situation of a freelance journalist, my written work is paid for by the public through my full-time employment at my University. Therefore, the public should have free access to my work. I am willing to pay for the true costs of publishing. To this day, some publishers of academic books do not provide high quality services in terms of layout, print and binding of academic books. In Germany, most publishers do not provide a peer review and some do not even provide a careful editing of academic books. The costs of the actual services provided seem much lower than the 10,000+ Euro (Dollars and sometimes even Pounds) that many commercial publishers demand for open access publishing of a book. I was particularly shocked by the terms offered even by high-ranking ‘University presses’ that also demand excessive fees from authors of open access books. I learnt that some of them are, in fact, commercial enterprises with an interest in maintaining the profitable old business model that also draws millions of Euro out of the public funds of University libraries.

I found only very few open access book publishers with moderate or no fees that also seemed to ensure a strict peer review process, and make books available online and in print in a professional way. When I searched in early 2017, I found only one publisher that provided what I consider a fair open access model that raises moderate fees only from those authors who are able to secure funds for open access publishing: Open Book Publishers, an independent and non-for-profit press created by a team of academics at Cambridge University. As they did not yet feature books in my area of research, I gathered fellow researchers to set up our own open access book series with Open Book Publishers: Global Communications. The Series focuses on the current transformations in public communication and journalism from a transnational perspective. Please find more information here.

Our book series, of course, represents only a small step in the much larger quest for alternatives to the kind of predatory publishing described above. Although the options for fair open access are limited thus far, they are continuously expanding and initiatives like ours may also motivate some commercial publishing houses to engage more in fair open access. Therefore, when you publish your next book, take the time to look at the terms of the contract you are signing and take into account that your book belongs to you, your University and the public. And no one else.

This contribution appeared in the ECREA newsletter: https://ecrea.eu/Newsletter/6947008