Open-access scholarship seeks to disseminate knowledge to the widest possible audience without charging fees to the end users. Yet there are costs to cover is the open-access repository is to be sustained after initial investment (often supported by grant funding). Some systems allow any user to view and read one page at a time, but either prevent downloads entirely or sell PDFs to recover some costs.
CCS’s startup period (2013-2015) is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. A major goal, however, is to determine whether such a series can become financially sustainable without grant support. There are three aspects to the search for sustainability.
First, we aim to determine how far costs can be reduced by developing best practices. Editors will work without compensation (as editors of journals usually do). Design costs will be reduced because one series design will be adopted, with a standard series cover. Copyediting will be performed, but the cost will be reduced by insisting that the author take responsibility for adhering to guidelines and checking the consistency of final files. CCS will try both contracting with a professional compositor and doing composition in-house to discover the costs and advantages or pitfalls of each workflow. We will pay a standard fee to our distributor to ensure that the book and epub versions is listed with major vendors, but will not engage in other marketing.
Second, we aim to determine how much revenue can be generated to offset costs. In the startup phase, we’ll use an embargo of up to 24 months during which open access will involve only a free page-view mechanism. During the embargo, the work will be available by Print On Demand (at a reasonable price, around $30-40 for most books) and in various epub formats (for about $20). After the embargo period, a free PDF will be downloadable at the open-access repository, but the POD and epub versions would still be available.
Third, we plan to test out the so-called “author-pays” model. This model has had some success in other disciplines, but is generally greeted with scepticism in the humanities. It is true that in the sciences the page fees (paid by grants) can be very large, and some academic publishers have offered their authors the option of making a work available by open access for the payment of many thousands of dollars (the price point is so high that it is unlikely that any author will pay it). We hope that we can keep costs (and other revenue) to a level where the prepayment for a work would normally be on the order of $2500-$3000. In the startup phase, the grant provides a backstop, and it will be possible to publish with either a smaller amoung of prepayment or none at all in many cases, but we hope that academic institutions, funding institutions, and authors with available research funds will come to accept that the prepayment model is the best solution for the long-term health of university budgets and for the maximum impact of academic scholarship.
It may be conceded that there continues to be misunderstanding about the prepayment model: the first things that occurs to many scholars is “vanity publishing,” and that is why rigorous peer review, an editorial board of known stature, and a careful handling of the startup phase are so important for this project. Similarly, there is sometimes resistance to this model because humanities scholars feel they have little research support. There are, however, some scholars with research funds under their own control, and publication subventions exist at some institutions (through funds controlled by Deans or Librarians, who on some campuses are taking responsibility for facilitating open access to faculty scholarship). Our project aims to begin the gradual shift in perceptions and practices, with grant funds insulating junior scholars and those without resources from the request to seek institutional support.
What this means to the author
CCS will evaluate each submission without regard to financial considerations. Only after acceptance will senior scholars be asked to make some effort to determine whether funds for subvention can be obtained (from personal research funds, departmental sources, deans, libraries, or granting agencies). Even a partial subvention will be welcome, and any subventions received will be applied to the production of additional open-access works after the Mellon grant has expired.