Knowledge Unlatched moves into second phase

Knowledge Unlatched moves into second phase

Knowledge Unlatched, the Open Access scheme for humanities and social science books run by publisher Frances Pinter, is entering a second pilot phase with much increased support from publishers.

The not-for-profit scheme brings libraries and publishers together, on a global basis, to fund the publication of high-quality, specialist scholarly books and make them Open Access.

Libraries from all over the world join up in pledging support for the titles included in the scheme, giving publishers assurance that the costs of publishing the book—an overall “title fee” for each—will definitely be met and no loss will be incurred; meanwhile, the libraries benefit from lower purchase costs because the title fee needed to publish the books is split between them.

Thirteen publishers took part in the first pilot phase for the project, including Bloomsbury Academic, Cambridge University Press, and the university presses of Edinburgh, Liverpool and Manchester, and Duke, Rutgers and Michigan in the US. All those publishers have now returned for the second pilot, and this time they are being joined by a further 13, including Routledge, Yale UP, Pluto, the Open Access press Ubiquity, and the presses of Brandeis, Leiden, Monash, Colorado and Penn State universities.

Knowledge Unlatched is also tripling the number of books offered in its second pilot phase (up to 78, from 28 in the original scheme) and experimenting with a choice option given to libraries as to how to support them. There will now be eight packages of around 10 books apiece, six of them subject based and two of them publisher collections, to test libraries’ buying preferences. Libraries participating in the scheme will be asked to support a minimum of six of the eight packages.

Pinter (pictured), who runs the project pro bono, combining the work with a three-day-a-week role as c.e.o. of Manchester University Press, says the initial pilot scheme proved Knowledge Unlatched worked financially for everyone. “And it does; libraries paid much less than the $60 a book [they originally pledged to pay], bringing it down to about $43 (£28), and publishers decided on an appropriate [cost] level. And the title fee that publishers are asking for in the current round is less [than the first time] – each book has its own title fee, and in the pilot the aggregate was $12,000; in this round, the lowest title fee is $7,000 and the highest is $17,000, and the aggregate average will be lower than in the first round.”

However, this year, Knowledge Unlatched will charge for its running costs —15% of the title fee, split equally between publishers and libraries. Knowledge Unlatched was grant- supported in its first pilot, receiving support from the British Library Trust, Open Society Foundations and three libraries in Australia, but the point is for it to be a sustainable scheme.

US academic Rick Anderson wrote last month on blog site The Scholarly Kitchen about how new scholarly initiatives have to go through three stages: proof of concept, proof of process and proof of scaling. “I think he’s captured it, and round two for Knowledge Unlatched it about proof of process,” says Pinter. “It’s how we capture metadata, process metadata, check metadata—we’ve learned, for example, that librarians want MARC (machine- readable cataloguing) records earlier rather than later. Last time, I provided very high quality MARC records but only issued them after the books were unlatched. Now we’ve learned libraries want them early—things like that are boring but they can make or break your scheme.”

The publication of the HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) commissioned report on monographs and Open Access by Geoffrey Crossick at the start of this year proved a big boost for Knowledge Unlatched, explains Pinter. “It was really frustrating pre-Crossick; everyone wanted KU to solve every problem to do with monographs. If it didn’t do everything, it wasn’t any good. Crossick said that [the issues of ] OA will not be solved with one single model—there isn’t enough money in the system, and books are more varied than people believe. Basically, he said, ‘Go off and experiment.’ We’re the most advanced experiment, and so now people are prepared to say, ‘Let’s back a number of horses, including KU.’ And that’s made my life so much easier.”

Some presses are now developing their own Open Access monograph publishing initiatives. Pinter describes the process by which an author pays one of those publishers a fee to produce an OA book, backed by money from a funding agency or foundation, as a “vertical initiative” compared to the “horizontal initiative” that is Knowledge Unlatched. “We are trying to mirror the way scholarship works and publishing works: both are global, so we
are pooling global library funds to unlatch books by scholars of interest to other scholars.”

Libraries will be able to sign up to the new pilot from this month. Close to 300 participated in the first, from a mix of 24 countries. “We’re hoping that we’ll have at least 300 [for our second round], and that many more will come on board,” says Pinter. “There’s been a real demand from libraries and publishers. Librarians have asked, ‘When’s the next round?’, publishers have said, ‘We want this to work.’ It’s come from both sides.”