Open Access Monographs: Current UK University Press Landscape


The Open Access monograph publishing landscape has changed enormously in the last decade, with many new publishing entrants and initiatives. Open Access awareness is an essential requirement for all academic publishers. Open Access has so far mainly been adopted by STM (scientific, technological and medical) journals. While Open Access monographs have had a much slower acceleration – for a variety of reasons which will be explored later in this article – there have been a number of encouraging developments. This article will review the progress of some of these advancements and the challenges that still face Open Access monographs.


Benefits and Challenges of Open Access

Providing freely available online scholarly monographs means that anyone anywhere in the world can read them regardless of their ability to pay or their institutional affiliation. This model grants access to an untapped audience that would otherwise find it very difficult to purchase expensive print books, often sold in hardback and mainly to university libraries. Even if the physical copies were affordable they are not necessarily available in many parts of the world.

Publishers such as Open Book Publishers, which launched in 2012, report that their Open Access books regularly have 400 readers per title every month. UCL Press reports downloads of just over 1,000 per title per month on average across 200 countries.  In contrast, physical scholarly monographs often sell less than 500 copies in their entire lifetime.

Many authors consider reaching a wide readership a priority and therefore opt for Open Access publication when they can. The benefits apply not only to authors but also to their institutions, with increased visibility and impact for both. However, charges for Open Access monograph publishing with a commercial scholarly publisher (the BPC, or Book Processing Charge, the monograph equivalent of the APC for journal articles) can be as high as £13,000 – prohibitive for many. Therefore, the majority of authors still prefer to publish in the traditional model with a long-established publisher, despite the high retail prices and relatively limited circulation.

While the statistics for Open Access readership and dissemination are undeniably encouraging, the main challenge for Open Access monograph publishing is how to fund it sustainably in the long term. The key challenge for publishers is how to replace the print sales revenue they would otherwise receive, which in the Open Access model is potentially reduced or removed (although there is not enough evidence yet to prove this conclusively). Various funding models have emerged: funder pays, institution pays (either by paying a Book Processing Charge to another publisher, or setting up its own press), library subscription, grants, some print sales revenue or often a combination of all of the above. No single solution has yet been identified and stakeholders continue to explore all the options.


University Presses

UCL Press launched in June 2015, and was the first fully Open Access university press to launch in the UK. Since then several other universities have also started new Open Access university presses or platforms: Westminster University Press, Cardiff University Press, White Rose University Press, and most recently, the Humanities Digital Library launched by the School of Advanced Study (University of London).

Existing university presses have also been taking steps in Open Access.  When OAPEN (the European Open Access monograph platform) first launched in 2008, Manchester University Press was among the first (and only UK university press) to put monographs on its platform. Liverpool University Press launched its Modern Languages Open online journal in 2015. Additionally, several university presses offer a Gold Open Access publishing option at a cost to the author, their funder or institution.


Academic-led Presses

Other Open Access publishers launched from around 2010 onwards, several of them led by academics: Open Book Publishers (mainly monograph publishing), Open Humanities Press (also mainly monographs), Ubiquity Press (monographs, journals and publishing services to university presses) and Open Library of the Humanities (journals publishing based on a library subscription model). These are mission-based presses, run by “scholars who are committed to making high-quality research available to readers around the world” (Open Book Publishers).


Other Initiatives

Knowledge Unlatched, launched in 2013, has developed a crowd-funding model that connects libraries with publishers to make their books available as Open Access publications. Publishers are invited to submit titles for consideration to a library panel, and libraries are then invited to pledge a fee to support selected titles to be ‘unlatched’. Knowledge Unlatched has been growing every year since its pilot round and has increased the titles it supports from 28 books to over 350 in 2016. Knowledge Unlatched has subsequently launched a research arm and journals programme.

Ingenta Connect, a searchable journal database, has launched a new Open Access platform. Ingenta Connect hosts over 13,000 publications and has over 1.4 million users. The journals it hosts are mainly subscription based but some are already Open Access, and Ingenta Open will provide its existing user base with an entirely Open Access area, featuring not only Open Access journals but also publisher pages and monographs. JSTOR launched a similar initiative at the end of 2016 for Open Access monographs, and such developments show that mainstream publishing platforms are aware of the need to develop Open Access services as demand grows and funders increase their Open Access requirements. 


UK Policy

Open Access policy also continues to gather momentum. In 2015 HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) announced that “to be eligible for submission to the post-2014 REF, authors’ outputs must have been deposited in an institutional or subject repository. Deposited material should be discoverable, and free to read and download, for anyone with an internet connection. The requirement applies only to journal articles and conference proceedings”. The next REF (Research Excellence Framework) – the assessment programme by which Higher Education Institutions are judged and the basis for funding allocation – is due to take place in 2021, and for now, monographs are not subject to this mandate.


Funder Policy

Many research funders mandate Open Access contractual conditions for the projects they sponsor. This includes the European Research Council, AHRC, Cancer Research UK, Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. Many of these specify the use of part of their award towards Open Access publication, making central funding available to the research project or in block grants given to institutions.



While Open Access monographs are developing more slowly than journals and are currently facing more challenges, they are undoubtedly gaining momentum. Models that a few years ago might have been considered impossible, such as library crowd-sourced funding or institutions starting their own Open Access publishing ventures, have got off the ground with positive results. How Open Access can be funded sustainably on a large scale in the longer term remains to be seen, but many stakeholders are taking positive steps in the right direction.

The most important evidence reported by Open Access publishers is the widespread usage of Open Access books. Many academics feel disillusioned with the low circulation and high retail prices of traditional scholarly books, and want to ensure their research reaches the widest readership possible. Open Access achieves this, and for many is therefore seen as the optimum method for disseminating scholarly research.       


Lara Speicher

Lara Speicher is Publishing Manager at UCL Press, the university press for University College London, where she has set the Press up from scratch with UCL colleagues. UCL Press is the first fully open access university press in the UK, and it launched with its first books in June 2015. Since then, UCL Press has published over 25 books and seven journals and has plans to expand its programme in the coming years. UCL Press publishes scholarly monographs, textbooks and journals in a wide range of subject areas, with particular strengths in anthropology, archaeology, internet studies, built environment, architecture and history. Lara comes from a publishing background and previously held editorial roles publishing history, art, architecture, literature and popular science at British Library Publishing and the BBC.