by Emma Di Pasquale, University of Michigan Library

At the University of Michigan Press, open access is one of many ways we strive to deliver the best scholarship to the broadest possible audience. Over the last decade, the Press has been taking steps to continue developing a publishing program that better aligns with our mission and commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Much of the work we’ve been doing has prepared the Press to shift to an open access monograph program. We’re excited to formally announce the Press’s open access model, Fund to Mission.

Our Journey to Open

The Press joined the university library in 2012, and this merger centered on contributing to the common good as our mission outlines. This was cemented by the University in 2014 when the Press was moved from “auxiliary” to “designated” status. This distinction was significant, as “designated” meant that the success of the Press was judged by how it advances the university’s mission, rather than its financial performance. We further built on this mission later in 2014 by launching Fulcrum, the open-source digital publishing platform. The Fulcrum platform now supports over 10,000 books, including titles from over 125 non-profit presses through the American Council of Learned Societies Humanities Ebook Collection. Fulcrum also hosts over 250 open access books the Press has published over the last decade under Creative Commons licenses. The Press has been able to publish these many open access works thanks to Knowledge Unlatched, the TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem) Initiative, research funders, and our own resources. 

Free to Read

While we have been actively working to develop a more open publishing program, the drive to shift to an open model was reaffirmed by the changes we saw in the publishing industry during COVID, particularly in response to a free-to-read initiative that we launched in the spring of 2020. This initiative made all 1,500 titles in the University of Michigan Press Ebook Collection available for public reading for six months, at a time when print distribution and in-person reading were strongly challenged. Not only did the usage of UMP books skyrocket, but it also grew heavily in new geographic areas that we had seen little or no engagement with previously for our title list. Additionally, the reader survey responses were overwhelmingly positive; it really impressed on us the role OA has in democratizing knowledge. Libraries and other funders indicated that they were energized by the free-to-read initiative to invest in more permanent open access approaches as well.

Fund to Mission

Our collective work from the last decade and the data collected from the free-to-read initiative all went into forming Fund to Mission. It is named as such to emphasize the understanding that OA fulfills the inherent mission of our Press and our research university. University presses are non-profit organizations for a reason; their mission is to fill the gaps that commercial organizations do not fill. One of these gaps is that the publications of the best foundational research in the humanities and social sciences are not easily available. The Fund to Mission model recognizes that university presses are humanities infrastructure that need to be funded accordingly: presses matter not just for research, but for teaching, and provide additional visibility, impact, and innovation that benefits the academic publishing community. Investment in this model supports a non-profit organization and community-owned platform that already hosts thousands of university press books.

Through a three-legged approach, the Press is seeking $250,000 from the library community, an additional recurring $400,000 in our budget from the University of Michigan, and $300,000 of other funder payments like subventions and grants. We are incentivizing our library investors by providing unique benefits: supporting libraries will (1) support the conversion to open access of at least half (~45) of University of Michigan Press scholarly monographs in 2022 (we will expand this percentage if we realize our full goal, and will build on it in succeeding years); (2) Receive perpetual access to the remaining restricted frontlist titles and term access to the backlist (~1,500 titles), which will otherwise remain closed to non-purchasers; and (3) Support authors’ ability to publish innovative, digital scholarship leveraging the next-generation, open-source Fulcrum platform.

Opening Content

The Press is committed to being transparent about all aspects of the model, including how much support we are receiving, from who, and how we are approaching decisions around open content. There are three main criteria the Press is using to select books to make open:

  • Is the author excited by the potential of open access?

There are some disciplines (e.g., Classical History) in which authors remain resistant. If we don’t have an author willing to partner on promotion, primarily through their social networks, we won’t see the level of use we desire. 

  • Is the subject matter of the book well-aligned to the benefits that open access will offer?

For example, is it on an international theme that will be interesting in a resource-constrained country? Or is it on a topic that would be of use to public policymakers? Or is it an interdisciplinary book that will be better discovered across disciplines if openly available? Global reach, public policy influence, and interdisciplinarity are three themes we see repeated for the books that do best and familiar to the most motivated authors.

  • Is the author interested in taking advantage of a digital affordance that can be facilitated by open access? For example, by using open commenting via Fulcrum’s hypothes.is annotation overlay or the surfacing of media files that can be used in other contexts, such as OER-based courses. 

Historically, there has also been a financial calculus. Can we afford to make the book OA? Ensuring that we don’t factor in the author’s ability to pay has been crucial for us in accepting a project for publication. However, the Press has had to be creative in finding funding to hedge against the additional risk of sales declines that OA brings when deciding to make the ebook open. With the Fund to Mission model, the Press hopes to avoid those financial considerations and simply factor in the criteria described above. Because most of our books will be OA if we are successful, we are also orienting our future acquisitions program to be more international, more welcoming to precarious or marginalized scholars, more digitally innovative, and more interdisciplinary in scope.

The Impact of OA

The Press is thinking a lot about the impact of open. Because we are in the initial phase of Fund to Mission, we do not have an annual report that shows the impact specifically of opening UMP EBC. However, our direction of travel is consistent, and our most recent Michigan Publishing Impact Report provides some relevant stats. We are building a dedicated website to launch in fall 2021, providing transparency into impact and costs (i.e., how the money is spent). UMP is the pilot site in the USA for the Open Access Usage Data Trust dashboard. The website will include this dashboard which will show impact across the platforms that we host open access books on, including JSTOR Open, Muse Open, and OAPEN/DOAB. The Press is working to prioritize our OA books’ discoverability through various channels. We’re developing a set of metadata best practices and tools for OA titles to ensure consistent representation, especially with DOIs. 

The Future of Open at UMP

The University of Michigan Press Fund to Mission open access model doesn’t just involve our unique funding structure. Rather, it involves three core aspects: (1) our connection to the shared mission of academic publishing; (2) paying attention to the production and distribution of our OA titles; and (3) engaging with our authors to maximize the success of these projects. We are excited to move ahead with this model and openly share our progress and challenges throughout the transition. To learn more about the model, please visit https://www.publishing.umich.edu/features/fund-to-mission.

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