Frankfurt Conference: New Model Bringing Open Access to Humanities

In News by Hannah Johnson

Emily Poznanski, director of strategy at De Gruyter, speaks on how the publisher is finding new models to bring its humanities and social science publishing programs to open access.

Frankfurt Conference livestream session from De Gruyter

From De Gruyter, ‘Working Toward Open Research in the Humanities.’ Image: Frankfurt Conference’s academic and scholarly track

By Hannah Johnson | @hannahsjohnson

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Transitioning to Open Access
On the opening day of the 2020 Frankfurter Buchmesse, the fair’s online conference track on academic and scholarly publishing included an interesting session on how De Gruyter is transitioning its humanities and social science publications to open access–an undertaking that comes with some challenges and has led to a unique, new publishing model.

Emily Poznanski, director of strategy at De Gruyter, works on designing the company’s transition to open access. De Gruyter, she said, publishes a wide range of subject areas, including STM, humanities, and social sciences, as well as art and architecture. (You can visit De Gruyter’s Frankfurt Book Fair digital booth to see more of the company’s events and titles and/or to schedule a meeting.)

The publisher began its open access program in 2011, Poznanski said, with 49 books.

Today, De Gruyter has nearly 3,000 open access books, and 66 percent of its 900 journals are also published under open access models.

The rest are subscription titles, she said, all of which have a hybrid model—meaning some articles in the journal are published under open access and the rest of the content requires a subscription fee.

From De Gruyter, ‘Working Toward Open Research in the Humanities.’ Image: Frankfurt Conference’s academic and scholarly track

In looking at how to move more of its titles and journals to open access and evaluating the business, Poznanski said De Gruyter established as one of its primary value propositions would be centered on authors.

They decided that “the real measure of our success is going to be based on our author satisfaction,” said Poznanski.

Survey of Humanities Researchers

In keeping with that strategy, Poznanski said, De Gruyter conducted a qualitative and quantitative survey with its humanities and social sciences authors to find out what they thought about open access publishing and how best to publish their content using open access models.

“The real measure of our success is going to be based on our author satisfaction.”Emily Poznanski, De Gruyter

On the qualitative side, Poznaski said, researchers working in humanities and social sciences had “strong associations with print,” seeing that format as more closely associated with content quality—as opposed to digital formats.

These authors also wanted publishers to take a more active role in finding funding to support scholarly publication. One component of this, Poznanski said, is that humanities researchers have limited access to funding, and therefore publishing under an APC model—or article processing charge, in which the author or the author’s institution pays a fee to have a work published under open access—is less often an option in this field. Their content is also quite diverse and more targeted, serving smaller academic communities that may be nationally oriented and written in languages other than English.

These factors, along with De Gruyter’s finding that university libraries spend a smaller portion of their open access acquisitions funds on humanities content, Poznanski said, means funding is a critical issue for these authors.

On an encouraging note in terms of transitioning to open access, De Gruyter conducted a follow-up survey of researchers during the coronavirus pandemic and found that more humanities authors are interested in open access publishing, in part because these digital formats are more accessible as people are working from home and it could give their work a wider reach.

Launch of S2O Model

From De Gruyter, ‘Working Toward Open Research in the Humanities.’ Image: Frankfurt Conference’s academic and scholarly track

Based on this feedback, Poznanski said the company needed a model to transform these humanities titles while maintaining the integrity in output. They found an answer in the “subscribe to open” or S2O model, which Poznanski said removes author payments from the process and instead relies on collaborative funding.

De Gruyter’s press release on this new model describes it this way: “Institutions that subscribe to the journal continue to subscribe to it as usual. As long as existing subscriptions are maintained and extended, the journal will be published under a Creative Commons license and will be made freely available. If the number of subscriptions falls below a minimum value, the paywall is activated again and only subscribers are granted access.”

The pilot project for this model was launched at the end of August in Germany, using De Gruyter’s library research journal, Bibliothek Forschung und Praxis (BFP). Poznanski said the publisher is also implementing this model for some of its book series and plans to transition more journals to this model, depending on the outcome of the pilot.

Concluding the session, Poznanski said that when it comes to open access, the role of the publisher has shifted. De Gruyter started by simply promoting open access to its researchers, but now, it has taken on the role of finding the necessary funding for them to publish open access content as well.

“It is a publisher’s role to create those funding opportunities,” Poznanski said. “At De Gruyter, we have a role dedicated to identifying open access funds for our researchers. But we also work on creating new funding streams,” like the S2O model.

The ultimate goal, she said, is to make sure that scholarly literature is available and free to read, and to find a sustainable business model that won’t reduce the diversity of content being published.

Speakers in the day’s Frankfurt Conference academic and scholarly track of events, moderated by Tiberius Ignat. Image: Frankfurt Conference’s academic and scholarly track

More from Publishing Perspectives on academic publishing is here, more from us on De Gruyter is here, more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

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About the Author

Hannah Johnson


Hannah Johnson is the publisher of international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.