International initiatives: the Open Access Network project
Lisa Norberg, K|N Consultants

Lisa Norberg is a university librarian by trade. She works with the Open Access Network (OAN) initiative. In 2014, she and colleague Rebecca Kennison published a white paper proposing a scalable, sustainable economic model for open access in the social sciences and humanities. Gaining awareness of OAN initiative makes it possible to put discussions and ongoing projects on open access in Canada into perspective, and to see that we are not the only ones taking this path. Two major business models were described by John Willinsky a little earlier in the day. The model suggested by the OAN will soon also be studied by Willinky’s research group.


In light of the presentations at the seminar, it is clear that we need a sustainable business model that acknowledges the real costs involved in publishing, dissemination and archiving of scholarly writing.  At present, archiving is an issue that is never discussed in the open access movement. For example, which library archives PloS One? No one. The business model we need has to serve the interests of all stakeholders in scholarly publishing, including researchers, publishers, university presses, the various reading audiences and the societies in which those stakeholders live. Finally, it has to be sustainable and able to evolve so has to be sensitive both to traditional formats and to the constant changes in forms of scholarly publishing.


OAN is a non-profit organization that leads a collective, inclusive, global effort to develop a sustainable, scalable solution for open access scholarly publishing in the humanities and social sciences. The rationale is that, for now, the system based on author fees may function for biomedical science, but this is far from the case in the human and social sciences. Norberg and her colleagues at OAN published a white paper to suggest an alternative solution, from the points of view of both publishers and librarians. Since the paper was published, their model has evolved, but not their working hypotheses, which are the following:  

-We know that researchers publish in the most appropriate locations in accordance with their discipline and university requirements in terms of hiring and promotion. Although we hope that these requirements change, it has not yet happened. It is therefore important to meet researchers’ present needs;

-Dissemination and archiving of scholarly publications are responsibilities incumbent first on universities and their libraries;

-The current open access model involving publication fees paid by authors is not applicable on a major scale because it is based on unit-cost (per article), and it is not sustainable over the long term. Moreover, while articles and books are units, this is not the case of multimodal projects in the humanities and social sciences, and other new forms of work that are difficult to quantify or are of an evolving nature;   

-Research is global, but support for research is local because each country, each institution, each community of researchers is specific.

All of these working hypotheses have been taken into account in the design of a business model for scholarly publishing.


The solution proposed by OAN is similar to the Érudit-CRKN partnership. First, an annual financial contribution would be requested from universities and university libraries. We know that the $10 billion paid annually to the five major publishers[1] is available, but made inaccessible in the current circumstances. Just as the tenure and promotion requirements for professors and researchers will not change overnight, neither will library budgets. In major universities, however, there is some leeway, and librarians should immediately begin transforming the funds into investments in open access. In smaller universities, this will be more difficult. This is why, second, we have to encourage partnerships among the various stakeholders: learned societies, university presses, but also all the organizations that have related mandates, such as organizations that archive digital heritage. Finally, united in these partnerships, we will have to create an infrastructure and design best practices in order to develop and support an open, dynamic ecosystem of scholarly publishing.


The annual financial contribution per institution will be calculated with a view to solidarity and based on a sliding scale. However, since librarians and other key players are alarmed that the great number of requests for financial support are going to overwhelm them, funds already committed for other open access projects (such as Knowledge Unlatched, Open Library of Humanities, Érudit) will be subtracted from the contribution to OAN. The funding will be distributed via a platform that allows each institution to choose the publications and projects that it supports in line with its priorities, established according to various criteria: region, discipline, language of publication, type of format (open educational resource, monograph, article, publication platform, etc.). While the OAN requires full financial transparency between publishing partners, the amount of money required to fund individual publications and projects will not be made public. The choice of this level of partial transparency is required in order to respect disparities among publications, some of which pay all of the members of their editorial board while others depend on volunteer work. The situation in each discipline is also very different.  Some journals earmark some of their funding to a learned society to support the holding of an annual conference. In short, there are reasons for the disparities, and would be up to the decision-makers from each member institution in the partnership to assess them in order to gradually bring all publications to more efficient management using realistic plans consistent with their mandates and specific situations.  


In a way, OAN is suggesting a participatory funding model. In addition to regular financial support from institutions, the system will be open to additional sources of income. Independent researchers will be able to make a contribution in exchange for access to publications of their choice and a tax rebate for the donation. Other organizations, foundations and corporations will also be able to make contributions. Finally, publishers will be able to offer other services: on-demand printing, innovative digital services (for example, a greater variety of formats, such as is done on revues.org with its Freemium service).


The value proposition of this business model is undeniable for all stakeholders. From the points of view of the university libraries and institutions united in the consortium, it is a key component of their exclusive mission: the model will allow them to participate in the advancement of research and knowledge, reduce education costs and support lifelong learning by not cutting students off from access once they have finished their studies. For learned societies, university presses and other publishers, participation will ensure a stable source of income in order to maintain the quality of their publishing activities and support innovation. Finally, for other contributors (individuals, foundations, corporations), participation will deliver access to research and knowledge, nurture the economy, help to solve both local and international problems thanks to acquired knowledge and support education.  


A major issue that has to be dealt with concerns free riders: stakeholders who do not want to make a financial contribution but who nonetheless benefit from open access. The idea is to establish the right incentives. With respect to faculties, the value of the contribution to open access needs to be acknowledged, for example, by assessing researchers in terms of their open access publications. Regarding libraries, much work remains to be done. When university libraries are ranked, account should be taken not only of the budget earmarked for collections, as is the case now, but also the budget earmarked for open access. From the point of view of university bodies in general, contributing to an economy based on sharing and the common good will allow them to demonstrate that their actions are aligned with their mission. Finally, funding agencies have to create incentives in terms of funding applications (as three Canadian agencies now do), and sanctions for failing to fulfill commitments.  


In summary, OAN is proposing an incremental economic model, in other words, a model that takes the present situations and constraints of the various stakeholders as a point of departure, and gradually leads those stakeholders towards open access. OAN is a non-profit organization committed to a long-term, large-scale vision. The goal of the plan is to fund the entire infrastructure of scholarly publishing (including documents other than journals and monographs), production and archiving in order to ensure not only dissemination and inter-operability of scholarly knowledge, but also its permanence. Finally, it should be noted that the model proposed by OAN is designed to be complementary to other open access initiatives, and not to be in competition with them: it provides an economic model that will make it possible to fund the various existing publishing and dissemination projects. We are in constant discussion with the organizations that support these projects (including Public Knowledge Project, Knowledge Unlatched, Érudit) in order to pool our efforts and expertise. A new pilot version of the OAN funding platform is planned for the beginning of 2016. It will provide an opportunity to test the model and to make the adjustments necessary in order to have a functional platform later in 2016 that will provide stakeholders, in particular Érudit and the CRKN, with an additional source of sustainable funding.


[1] There are five “major commercial publishers” with a monopoly over scholarly publishing: Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, Taylor & Francis and Thomson Reuters.