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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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I have a letter in today’s Times Higher Education repying to Marilyn Deegan on open-access books. The full, unedited version of the letter is in my institutional repository or below.

Dear Sir,

In her ‘Open access monograph dash could lead us off a cliff’ (Times Higher, 27th July 2017), Marilyn Deegan attacks a series of straw arguments about open access for books that have little basis in policy reality.

First, Professor Deegan assumes that open access leads to the abolition of print and cites Sukanta Choudhury as saying that this would disadvantage scholars in areas with poor internet. Two of my monographs are open access. Both are available in print. The Crossick report recommended that print should remain. HEFCE’s mandate signal says that print should remain. Nobody in UK policy discussions around OA books is saying that we should ditch print. (One might also note that the global South has been a pioneer of OA in other disciplines. The SciELO platform for journals, for instance, is a truly remarkable product of South America.)

Second, Deegan assumes that Book Processing Charges are the way in which OA for books will be implemented. Again, no recommendation or assumption to this effect actually exists. The Crossick report and HEFCE’s own annex on the mandate state that a range of models will be necessary for the economics of OA books. The proposed mandate is pluralistic in models, not authoritarian. Further, there is also enough money allocated through QR, AHRC, and EHRC budgets to achieve the REF mandate (at a market-average level), were there the political will and incentive to spend ~1% of those budgets in this way, by my calculations.

Third, a Creative Commons license is unlikely to have any effect on the right to “mine” books, as Deegan claims. This is already enshrined as a valid exemption in UK copyright law and does not require a different license. Further, the risk of “appropriation” is exaggerated. Deegan acknowledges that the original source must be cited.

Fourth, Deegan seems surprised that I admit that there are economic challenges in implementing OA (for books and journals). Yet this is a consistent theme that I have reiterated in my writings for many years.

Finally, Deegan writes that OA will kill publishers and the monograph. Yet, the Academic Book of the Future report in which Deegan was involved claims that monograph sales have fallen from an average of 100 to 60 per book in the UK over the past decade (para 239). We seem to be doing a pretty good job of killing it as it stands. Are we, then, in fact, killing humanities readerships of long-form material for the sake of saving what is left of a publishing model where we sell just 60 copies of a book, often at rates that few can afford?

I do not call those who have qualms about OA books “Luddites”. But I do question which side is really trying to defend the humanities and its potential public display of value, in an era of consistent threat to our disciplines, when these types of argument are made that have little basis in the UK’s actual, ongoing implementation work for the monograph mandate.

Yours faithfully,

Martin Paul Eve Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing Birkbeck, University of London