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OAPEN-UK Focus Group Findings

What do publishers, authors / readers and institutional representatives think the major challenges, issues and opportunities are in a move to OA HSS monograph publishing?

We are in our first year of OAPEN-UK; the titles have been selected and are available online and before Christmas we kicked off the research plan with our first round of focus groups. So far we have held three focus groups; one with HSS monograph publishers, one with HSS authors / readers and one with institutional representatives including libraries, repository staff and research managers. In February 2012 we are holding the next round; one for research funders, one for e-book aggregators and one for learned societies (see events).

In the focus groups, the stakeholders discuss and identify what they consider to be the most significant issues and challenges that will arise in moving to an OA monograph publishing model for HSS monographs. They are interactive sessions, with a ready supply of post-it notes and sticky dots, with which they categorise potential barriers, opportunities and key questions into technical, attitudinal, financial and administrative fields. Participants then agree the top priority issues and discuss these together.

One of the most fascinating things that often arise in focus groups is hearing how different stakeholders perceive each other. It is quite hard to resist saying ‘no that not quite true’ but in order not to influence anyone, Ellen Collins and I have sat quietly and just listened. Some of the emerging themes from the first three focus groups in my mind are:

Consistency: this word came up frequently in the publisher and institutional focus groups when discussing best practice, standards, metadata and preservation of OA monographs. It also arose when participants discussed what is meant by OA – just online or downloadable or full re-use and at what level a creative commons licence is applied – at the book level or at a component level?

Reward and recognition: this (predictably) came up in all three focus groups in terms of author royalties, prestige in being published and career progression. What would be the reward in an OA environment and how this might change away from royalties or the impact as measured by the REF towards other models such as usage was discussed.

Business models: a major part of discussions by the publishers and the institutional representatives featured little in the author / reader focus group, although there was recognition by the authors that they didn’t discuss it and that this is probably because they are divorced from the real costs of scholarly material provided by their libraries. Whatever the model, the publishers were very clear in stating that they need to make a profit.

Responsibility: in an open access model, who does what and does it have to be the same people as who were doing it before? All the focus groups talked about this and whether in a new model, academics, repositories and libraries could take on some of the roles that have traditionally been up to the publisher or how the publisher may take on more roles in terms of overlay services to support income generation. Interestingly, both the publisher and the institutional representative group mentioned national shared service infrastructure to support open access monograph discoverability and preservation – noting that someone will have to take responsibility and it may be easier therefore if it is shared.

National v international: what was clear in all three groups was the awareness that issues are often at a local level, that in an open access model, it has to work at an international level also. Publishers publish authors from across the globe and authors want to be published by publishers who are based outside the UK. Whatever the model, the need for infrastructure and funding models to take account of this was made apparent by the groups.

Cross stakeholder: I have added this one in as an observer as it was very clear that there is greater need for cross stakeholder engagement. Perceptions and attitudes can be very strong and can often be based on assumptions. Over the course of OAPEN-UK we will be holding cross stakeholder focus groups and workshops to explore some of the issues highlighted by these focus groups, but sharing knowledge and helping each stakeholder to better understand how and why they work in a particular way is going to be key to making open access scholarly monographs a possible future.

I am looking forward to seeing what the research funders, e-book aggregators and learned societies have to say in the next round. In the meantime, please do read the write-up’s of each focus group for a much more comprehensive understanding.