[Open Access Week in 2014  is October 20-26.]

Have you noticed that scholarly books are getting more and more expensive? It’s not just the journals that are exorbitantly priced. Yesterday I didn’t buy a really interesting anthology in my field because it cost over $100. More and more of the monographs I’m interested in cost £50 or £60 or even £80.

You can download Seeing Ourselves Through Technology for free. Actually, you can download it, remix it, mash it up, buy or borrow the print book, photocopy it as much as you like, and even make tea towels or a corset out of it and resell it at a profit without asking permission. It’s published with a CC-BY license, which means you can do whatever you like with it so long as you mention that I wrote the original version.


I decided a while ago that I didn’t want to publish any more books that were closed access. I’m a public employee, so my research is paid for by ordinary peoples’ tax money. It makes sense that my taxpayer-funded research should be accessible to everyone. Not just to scholars in rich institutions in rich countries that can afford to paid skyrocketing prices for scholarly journals and books.

So when I saw that Palgrave, which is known for publishing quality scholarship, had set up a system for open access books, I was interested. Palgrave’s model is pretty simple. You pay. You pay quite a lot. My book is a Palgrave Pivot, which is a series of short books (mine is 40,000 words or about 100 pages) that are published in just 12 weeks after the manuscript is completed. (That in itself is reason enough to publish with them – I hated waited a year or two for my other books to actually be available.) To make your Palgrave Pivot book open access, you pay Palgrave a fee of £7500. Longer books cost up to £11000.

I’m fortunate enough to work at the University of Bergen, which established an open access publishing fund last year specifically to pay for fees like this. The pay-to-publish model was not familiar to me. It’s more common in the natural sciences, where closed access journals will allow you to make your article (but not all articles) openly available for a fee. I don’t think UiB’s open access people had specifically considered funding open access books as well as articles, but they loved the idea when I asked whether I could apply for money to make a book open access. Certainly the Norwegian Research Council’s open access funding specifically mentions articles, not books. In the UK, as far as I can see, you can get this kind of funding if you have a RCUK grant (apparently the funding is distributed via the universities, so see for instance Bristol‘s or Oxford‘s policies), which is, I assume, far more common in the sciences than in the humanities, and of course it is in the humanities that the book is a common form of publication. Some journals, like the prestigious Nature Communications, are going fully open access using author paid fees of up to €3700 per article, though they will give waivers to authors from low-income countries, and a list of links to ways scholars in different countries can get funding for this purpose(Note on Oct 21: I initially incorrectly wrote Nature is going open access, it’s actually Nature Communications.)

I hadn’t heard about the idea of authors (or their institutions) paying for open access publishing until fairly recently. I’m familiar with another model that is quite common in the humanities, or at least in the digital branches of it: open access, online-only journals run by academics with no publisher involved. Game Studies, Kairos, the Electronic Book Review, Dichtung Digital, Fibreculture, Surveillance & Society and Digital Humanities Quarterly are just a few of the excellent journals I read that have been run for years in this way. Truth be told, I prefer this way of funding open access scholarship to the author-pays model – but we need to realise that this also has its costs. Editors and peer reviewers work for free – indeed, so they do at the closed access and author-pays journals, so that isn’t too remarkable. But there is also the work of designing and maintaining a quality website and of copyediting and proofing, and these things are often not so easy to find funding for. As universities and research councils begin to fund open access publishing more explicitly we need to make sure it’s not all on the terms of the commercial publishers: there are other, perhaps more sustainable ways of doing this. But we do need to actually fund them.

Open access book publishing is a lot less common. Open Humanities Press is the only scholar-run, peer-reviewed effort I know that publishes all its books online and open access. They also allow for non-traditional content in their books. I think publishing a book is a far more time-consuming task than publishing journal articles – and yet books are key in the humanities, and for good reason: there are lines of thought that simply need more space than a journal article.

Sometimes scholarly presses will publish individual books open access without fees. Danah boyd talked her publisher into allowing this for It’s Complicated, and Nick Montfort, Patsy Baudoin, John Bell, Ian Bogost
Jeremy Douglass, Mark C. Marino, Michael Mateas, Casey Reas, Mark Sample, and Noah Vawter did the same with their book 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 on MIT Press. But these are sort of sleight of hand events. They’re exceptions, and if you approach MIT Press or Yale University Press you can’t expect to be able to make a similar deal – although you could certainly try. These books also come across as sort of half-hearted open access, at least from the publishers’ standpoint. In neither case did the publisher promote the book as open access. If you try to buy the book at an online bookshop or from the publisher you will see both the paper and digital editions are for sale and there is no information about a free digital edition also being available. (Update Oct 21: See Nick Montfort’s comments below – and I should also add that both danah boyd’s and Nick Montfort et.al.’s books clearly state they are CC-BY on the “copyright” page in the front of the print and digital books.) You need to go to the author’s website to find the free copy. In danah boyd’s case, she was required to not go public about the book’s being open access until a week after publication, presumably because they were worried that sales would drop. Cory Doctorow famously requires his publishers to make his novels openly available, but even so, publishers sometimes drag their heels. His Norwegian publisher did sort of release the translation of Little Brother freely, by adding a note to the online catalogue stating that if you email the publisher they would send you the PDF. But that note is now gone and there is absolutely no indication on the website that the book is supposed to be open access. (update Oct 21: Thomas Brevik writes a bit more about this in the comments.) Perhaps the individual editor Doctorow worked with was the only person aware of the agreement. And you can see why the publishers would be leery of giving away books when selling books is their business model. Maybe they’ll sell more books if they give the digital version away, as Cory Doctorow argues. But they can’t be sure of that.

What finally sold me on using Palgrave’s open access model was the way they promote the works so clearly as open access. When I saw the (to my knowledge) only other open access book Palgrave has published in the Amazon store, I was thrilled: it states very clearly that you can pay so and so many dollars for the print book, and the Kindle version is explicitly listed as free. $0. That’s what I wanted for my book – and I got it.


Yes, my university paid Palgrave quite a lot of money for my book to be open access. But because of that very explicit exchange I have a contract that very clearly states that the book is published under a CC-BY license, and Palgrave have done a great job of showing that clearly in the catalogue text and when distributing to bookshops (although Google Books apparently doesn’t read the CC-BY license and treats it as closed). It’s not half-hearted open-access-but-don’t-tell-too-many-people-about-it, Palgrave is unabashadly proud to be publishing an open access book. I’m sure they’d love to publish more, because this is a model that might be sustainable for them as well as for me.

Paying for open access is not without its controversies. Melissa Terras wrote an empassioned blog post last November explaining why she refused to edit a book series on the digital humanities for an unnamed publisher (maybe Palgrave?) that had a fee structure just like Palgrave. She’s right, of course, that today most academics don’t have systems in place to fund these kinds of fees. When the ability to pay for open access is unevenly distributed, as it clearly is today, we risk building a two-tier structure where scholars who have strong institutional backing or are independently wealthy can pay for open access and thereby simply be read more than other scholars. I’m sure some will argue that I am buying into this unfair system – and Melissa argues strongly that we should boycott it by not publishing with such publishers and not even doing peer review for them.

Obviously I disagree. I chose to publish my book open access for a fee because I think the alternative systems for publishing monographs in the humanities are just as unfair and iniquitous. If the cost of not paying an author fee for open access is that any would be reader has to pay £80 to read the book any better? What about early career academics and scholars and students from low income countries who in practice have no access to humanities scholarship because the books all cost a fortune? Palgrave’s attempt to find sustainable models for open access publishing is a good faith attempt to build something that might work. On their website they also write that they’re working on figuring out how to make the author-pays system work for scholars from low income countries. Perhaps there are ways it could work. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that fees for rich countries like Norway might be higher in order to help subsidize open access publication for other countries. For such a system to work, though, accounting for how the money is spent should be far more open than it is today. Another perhaps fairer option might be international funds for open access scholarship, for instance financed by the EU and others, where a portion is specifically for low-income countries’ scholars.

Another possible danger of an author-pays models for open access publishing is that it could devolve into vanity publishing or predatory publishing. I wasn’t worried about that with Palgrave because they have such a well-established reputation, and the peer review process was completed and the book accepted on its own merits before we signed the open access contract. Palgrave would have published the book without the money from UiB, but they would have sold it for £50 or maybe more for each copy.

Somebody needs to pay for the work involved in publishing a scholarly book. And there’s a lot of work involved, not just for the author and the peer reviewers. Peer reviewers at Palgrave get £60 or twice that in books, which is a fairly typical rate of pay in my experience, so obviously most of their actual time spent is not paid for by the publisher but by their universities or they are donating it from their leisure time. But although peer review is immensely important, it is not the only work involved in getting a book published. The most obvious points on the list would be

  • the editor’s knowledge of the field, which takes time to build and involves lots of experience, time, going to conferences, reading – this is the same kind of work that academics do, I imagine, and is necessary.
  • coordinating peer reviewers, assessing the reviews
  • selecting manuscripts
  • editor’s professional feedback – this varies. When I wrote Blogging the editor (Andrea Drugan at Polity) not only asked me to write a proposal, she worked closely with me on the details of it. With the World of Warcraft anthology we had far less direct feedback from the editor (Doug Sery at MIT Press), but we also had a far more complete proposal when we approached the publisher.
  • copyediting and proofing
  • layout
  • cover design
  • the index (the author does most of this but page numbers are adjusted)
  • contracts
  • organising the ISBN and DOI and so on
  • distribution to bookshops and direct sales of print book
  • electronic formats, distribution of ebook to bookshops
  • website that is well put together and search engine friendly
  • marketing

Maybe I forgot something. I’ve never worked at a publisher’s, and although Palgrave states that the open access fee only covers costs and doesn’t leave them a profit, they don’t provide a specified bill breaking down actual costs. I would like to see that kind of accounting, actually.

I don’t get any royalties from Seeing Ourselves Through Technology. At first I thought I should get royalties from sales of the print book, but Palgrave insisted there was no profit to them from it and so there wouldn’t really be any money for my royalties to come from. I didn’t realise, at first, that the price of the print edition of the book would be much lower than other books in the series. My book costs £20 in print, whereas other Palgrave Pivot books are priced anywhere from £45-£65. That’s a big difference!

Royalties are pretty meagre for most scholarly books, anyway. No doubt some superstars get a nice chunk, but my royalties for Blogging and for the World of Warcraft anthology have amounted to an annual check of about $70-80 for the anthology and between £80-£200 for Blogging. The £200 was last year, when the second edition came out. Apparently Blogging sold quite well, well enough that Polity wanted to do a second edition, anyway. But ”quite well” in academic publishing apparently means a thousand copies or so over several years. Not that I actually know what others are selling. I’m sure if you write a popular textbook you’ll do much better than I have on royalties.

Given that researching and publication are already part of the job I’m paid to do, I don’t need royalties. Obviously this would be very different for a literary author or a non-fiction author who is not already being paid by a university to write and publish. I don’t think everything needs to be open access. But publicly funded research should be.

We may come up with alternative systems than peer review and publishers for ensuring that scholarship is sound. Figshare is one example of a possible alternative model: a site where you can publish your research data and findings freely, and metrics like how often its retweeted or cited are supposed to give readers an indication of its quality. Open peer review is another and probably better idea: publish scholarship in a journal or system where your peers can discuss and vet the work openly. And of course, once a work has been peer reviewed and published we use citations as an indication of how influential it is (although some fields cite so much more than others that it is difficult to read citations as value in any absolute sense).

For now, though, I think we need to try out models like Palgrave’s.

15 thoughts on “How I Published My Scholarly Book With an Open Access CC-BY License

  1. Nick

    Jill … as delighted as I am that your book is open access and available for $0 on Kindle, I have to object about 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 being “half-hearted open access.”

    If you search for the full title of the book, or the phrase we use to identify it, “10 PRINT,” you’ll find 10-print.org where we link to a free, Creative Commons PDF of the book. It’s been there since the book was published in print.

    We were never restricted from talking about the open access nature of the book or the free PDF, and I have announced it to people at dozens of 10 PRINT events at the beginning of my remarks. Additionally, all of us, all ten authors, agreed to donate our royalties (we do accrue some, via sales of print books) to a nonprofit that works to make free, open-access literary work available to everyone: The Electronic Literature Organization.

    I’m very glad, for the sake of your work, that you achieved a $0 Kindle book, which is something to gawk at. Amazon came to MIT Press and, knowing that 10 PRINT was available for free as a PDF, asked that 10 PRINT also be made into an e-book for the Kindle. The Press worked with Amazon to give them what they wanted, and they priced it the way they wanted. Amazon did not take half of my heart when this happened. Amazon does not have any of my heart. Whatever happened with the Kindle edition was between the press and the merchant, and a cost attached to that edition (or the print edition, or the paperback edition) does absolutely nothing to diminish the open access that we’ve provided for the book.

    10 PRINT is still 100% available for download, and under fully open access license terms.

  2. Jill

    Nick, you’re certainly not half-hearted about open access, and I know danah boyd and Cory Doctorow aren’t either, but your publishers are half-hearted about it. It’s fantastic that you’ve talked the publisher into allowing the book to be open access but they don’t announce it as such on their website, in their catalogues or in the write-ups they send to bookstores. I’m sure there are plenty of readers who have no idea the book is open access. And I’m sure there are also plenty of readers who are thrilled that it is open access and have been able to read it for that reason alone.

    It’s a complicated issue. Stealth open access (on the part of the publishers at any rate) is clearly wonderful in comparison to completely closed access. And MIT Press doesn’t price its books outrageously as some other publishers do. They’re really pretty much good guys in this system.

    But I would rather have a system where books are OBVIOUSLY open access at all levels, including from the publisher.

    In the long run I’m not sure that authors’ institutions paying fees is a great idea. It’s clearly not a great option for independent scholars, for instance, although one can imagine systems where funding for such fees wasn’t dependent on the author’s institutional affiliation. I would like to see non-commercial scholarly presses built up in the same way as some of the excellent open access journals I mentioned in the post are. But I think they need to be funded, because book publishing is a lot of work.

  3. Thomas

    I applaud your efforts and success in getting your book published as Open Access.

    From a librarian point of view the next step is ensuring that this book has a long life and is preserved for the future. Many libraries will buy a physical copy of your book, especially if there is a research interest in the parent institution, but I firmly believe that your book, and all other that are published OA must be preserved in their digital format as well. This should not be the responsibility of a single author, publisher, or even library, but an issue that should be elevated to the national level. I sincerely hope that we can get the national libraries of the world to agree on protocols and formats that will secure OA publications a lifespan beyond the lifetime of the author or publisher.

    An interesting example of the problems with OA is exactly Cory Doctorows book “Little Brother.” When this was published in norwegian (Title: “Veslebror ser deg”) the editor had to fight tooth and claw to put the book out as OA. They made the reader jump through hoops to gain access to the whole book. “Veslebror ser deg” was split into two parts (only PDFs), where you had to email the publisher to get the second part 🙁 And as you note, they dropped the companion website and downloadable file as soon as possible after the first year.

    To preserve the digital copy I first tried to get the national library to take an interest, but failed. So I took the two PDFs and merged them, converted to EPUB and now have the book available on my website. http://bloggbib.net/ebok/
    But of course, this is not a lasting solution either.

    There need to be a system for preserving OA that goes beyond the efforts of individuals or institutions.

    1. Jill

      Oh, I’m so glad that at least you made sure the Norwegian translation of little brother is still available – although it’s pretty bad that the national library won’t take it.

      I have really enjoyed uploading my book to every site I can think of – libgen.org, academia.edu, bora.uib.no, scribd.com and yes, it’s also available in ebokbib.no which is the norwegian public libraries ebook platform. 🙂

  4. Nick

    Jill, once again you conflate 10 PRINT with danah boyd’s book. None of danah’s fame has ever rubbed off on me, and it’s unfair to tar me and my collaborators with the same brush you use on her open-access moratorium. I explained pretty clearly: Your point about her book doesn’t apply to ours.

    MIT Press does link, on their site, to open access versions of at least some of their books. There is no link on the 10 PRINT page for whatever reason (maybe because of the fairly recent migration of the site? I dunno) and I appreciate your pointing that out. I’ve asked my editor to add one. I agree that presses should call attention to open access work and encourage people to download and read it.

    For me, uploading my work to Scribd and having my work available as $0 purchase from Amazon aren’t really even in my concept of open access. Sure, I want the work to be known as open access, but do bookstores stocking the physical books need to be notified? I guess to me it’s more important that when I announce the paperback publication of the book, the first link is to the freely available PDF:


    Around 1994, Bruce Sterling handed me (and several other people who were around) floppy disks containing the entire text of his book The Hacker Crackdown. He also put this text online. Probably with a copyright or left notice, I don’t recall; certainly not with a CC license, which had not been invented. The paperback edition of his book did not mention that the book was freely available online. I call this open access, without qualification, and I recognize it as one of the things that prompted me to seek open access for 10 PRINT. For me to call it anything less would be non-hearted.

    1. Jill

      Nick, I see that actually both your and danah’s books are very clearly marked as CC-BY on the “copyright” page in the print and digital editions. I hadn’t looked at that before I wrote the post, and may have been overstating the stealthiness of the open access. I do think the publisher websites should clearly state it – and while I see that the lack of information on the publisher website may have more to do with the general design of the website than a deliberate desire to hide the open access status of the works, I do think it’s a problem.

      I don’t want to be non-hearted. I think that people like you working with publishers to make open access publishing real are extremely well-hearted. But I want a world where a book that is open access is very clearly marked as open access EVERYwhere. Not just by the author. Looks as though MIT Press actually does or will do that.

  5. Mike

    The problem of Google Books treating open books as closed is a pretty common one—over at Authors Alliance we’ve been working on finding a solution that would make it a little easier for authors themselves to get their CC titles made properly available (right now Google’s stance is that only the publisher can open these texts up).

    That said, when I click through to your book (from the U.S.), I see the full version on Google Books and a link to a free ebook from Google’s book store. So it appears that Palgrave *did* do their homework and get the proper information to Google—my guess is that the problem lies in rights clearance breaking down along international borders.

    So there’s hope yet on that front! Have you tried getting in touch with Palgrave about the problem?

    Kudos on the book, the OA publication, and this very helpful post!

    (P.S. On the “uploading to every site you can think of” front, don’t forget archive.org!)

    1. Jill

      I hadn’t known about Author’s Alliance, that’s a great initiative! Very useful blog, too.

      I did email Palgrave and they’re sent it over to their data people apparently. Maybe I’ll try again, especially if it seems to work in the US, and with your info that publishers actually do have something to say in that. I’m in Korea now and Google books here doesn’t even show an ebook version or searchable preview. My VPN home to Norway lets me search the book and shows limited previews but insists that the book is closed access. Funny how different these things are across countries.

  6. David Roberts

    Bravo! To give some experience from my area, mathematics, with publishing “open access” books/monographs, see the following examples.

    Allen Hatcher has a famous textbook that he gives away on his website: http://www.math.cornell.edu/~hatcher/AT/ATpage.html It’s still copyright the press, but personal use is granted.

    Emily Riehl has just published her first book, the publisher is allowing the proof copy to be posted online, and the final copy will be available online for free in a couple of years: https://golem.ph.utexas.edu/category/2014/06/categorical_homotopy_theory.html

    Tom Leinster has published a couple of books, his latest will be made freely available under a cc-by-nc-sa license in a couple of years, http://www.maths.ed.ac.uk/~tl/bct/. His other book is available online for free from the arXiv, see http://www.maths.ed.ac.uk/~tl/hohc/.

    All of these are with CUP, and I know Emily chose them precisely because they would allow a free copy down the track. As you can see, the openness of the license has expanded over the years.

    1. Jill

      That’s fantastic, David, thanks for the examples. And Cambridge University Press did this without an author fee, then? The thing that worries me about the author fee is that it could kill the other models that exist, like certain presses allowing certain books to be open access (but why only some books? how does that work?) or volunteer journals that establish themselves as open access WITHOUT the apparatus of a professional publisher but with all the peer review and academic credentials.

      1. David Roberts

        Yes, it was without an author fee. The delayed release of the final version of the book is so that libraries will buy it. People who will be serious users will likely buy a hardcopy anyway (I bought Hatcher’s book that I linked to, even though I had a printed-out version for some time).

        Regarding journals, there are a number of open access mathematics journals that are ‘owned’ by the community/a front company and are free to publish in. They are very stable and have been around for years. So it’s do-able.

  7. Eric Hellman

    At unglue.it, we have observed that Google Books’s display of free ebooks is sensitive to the user’s location. Google books is displaying the free ebook obtions here in the US.

    We’ve also been battling the problem that the entire supply chain for books wants to work on a percentage. It seems that even libraries refuse to deal with free ebooks, because they don’t fit in to their workflow. Partially as a result, Worldcat thinks the book is not available in libraries: http://www.worldcat.org/title/seeing-ourselves-through-technology-how-we-use-selfies-blogs-and-wearable-devices-to-see-and-shape-ourselves/oclc/890509943

    To address that, we’re building up a database of Creative Commons licensed ebooks, and we’ll soon be distributing files full of MARC records for libraries to load into catalogs.

    And every workday, we feature a Creative Commons book on our front page. Today we’re featuring “Seeing Ourselves Through Technology”. https://unglue.it/work/140404/


  8. Frode Severin Hatlevik

    Have you ever had a look at IPSUR?

    With it one can actually tailor a textbook in Probability and Statistics and use a random number to generate unique variations of all the exercises in the book.

    It is published under the GNU FPL.

  9. Halibutt

    Thank you! I really hope others will follow, as it’s indeed increasingly hard to gain access to good research due to exorbitant book prices.

  10. Pablo Rodríguez

    Jill, many thanks for making the book available under the CC-BY 3.0 license.

    The Kindle version of the book is DRM protected. Is this actually intended?

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