Matthew Gandy, ‘Books under threat: Open access publishing and the neo-liberal academy’ – Area, open access

Matthew Gandy, ‘Books under threat: Open access publishing and the neo-liberal academy‘ – Area, open access.

An important piece about how a good idea – that books should be available to a wider audience – can have negative consequences. Given how making journal articles open access led to author processing charges, and the problems this has caused for institutions and libraries, this seems an important warning.

In April 2022 UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) announced that all books must be open access from January 2024 onwards. If the UKRI proposals are formalised as part of the next REF (Research Excellence Framework) exercise, this will have damaging consequences for geography and other disciplines. In this commentary I argue that this is an ill-considered proposal that is already disrupting academic book publishing. There is an urgent need to evaluate alternative open access models that will not entrench existing forms of academic inequality, marginalise the significance of books as a distinctive facet of intellectual life, or threaten the production of rigorous peer-reviewed monographs.

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6 Responses to Matthew Gandy, ‘Books under threat: Open access publishing and the neo-liberal academy’ – Area, open access

  1. Rather a shame since I have known him since the 1990s. Matthew has chosen not to address the need to make books available to readers at prices they can afford [less of a problem when you are a senior academic], and an OA mandate and the flow through to the publishers almost always does that [ie they are usually free in PDF form]. He also conveniently skips over the enormous efforts made by people like Joe Deville at Mattering Press, now part of a UK effort underpinned by millions of pounds of funding, to develop seriously good OA humanities and social science presses and the architecture needed to support them. See where some of these books and presses are reported. In addition, he completely fails to mention the ethics of NOT publishing with the big five publishers who – as Wiley’s actions show – let you down eventually. For the record, I have my first book coming at the age of 60, with a commercial press [due to an editor having an existing contract] and the refereeing was very rigorous.

    • stuartelden says:

      I can’t really defend Matthew’s piece. Perhaps Area would be interested in another commentary as a response. What I found interesting is that unless we also consider the full implications of a general open-access policy, then there will be negative consequences as well as good ones. There are many pieces making the case for open access; I thought this was interesting in considering some of the challenges.

      • Yes a few of us are thinking of doing one. On various small points: We have also been to some marvellous OA book launches, where the hard copies are on display, in a sector that is convivial. Also if you want to be considered for a top US tenure track job by having a prestige university press book, then MIT Press fits the bill given its huge OA commitment [Duke, less so]. Worth remembering also that Open Book Publishers [in Cambridge] was founded by people less than satisfied with the business model of Cambridge University Press, and they have survived and prospered. In all cases you can get print on demand copies of OA books . Down Under we have the OA ANU Press, and the print on demand from them are fantastic quality. I have one in front of me.

      • stuartelden says:

        I’ll look forward to seeing the response, and will certainly share here. There are undoubtedly a lot of good initiatives being pursued, and I’m grateful for your sharing of this information. But I don’t think the generally positive move to OA should avoid considering some of the potential consequences.

      • dmf says:

        sure we should take into account as much info/feedback as we can but hopefully with thick accounts of what is at play and for whom, always appreciate yer awareness of the impacts of paywalls and exclusionary pricing.

      • dmf says:

        yes MIT has done some very good work that extends beyond books to include science tools, labs, models, etc. NBN has some related interviews including

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