Open Access in the Book Disciplines

By Sigi Jöttkandt

Happy open access week, everyone, and thanks, Matt, for the invitation to blog.

A couple of weeks ago, Aidan Byrne, the Chief Executive of the Australian Research Council expressed strong support for open access in an interview in The Chronicle of Higher Education. He said he intends to include the provision for open access in all future ARC-funded grant programmes, which will support and complement the existing open access mandate of Australia’s National Heath and Medical Research Council. This is very good news.

It also highlights the growing need for viable open access dissemination options, particularly in Humanities disciplines which are heavily reliant on the book form. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of discussion about open access book publishing. Books are generally considered more challenging to make open access because of the high costs associated with their production, and few publishers seem willing to let authors self-archive whole books in institutional repositories. This is especially true if sales may still be forthcoming thanks to the longer shelf life of humanities scholarship.

We’ve published six born-digital open access books in philosophy and critical theory.

There are some exceptions though. A new initiative, the Directory of Open Access Books was launched this year (modeled along the lines of the existing Directory of Open Access Journals) to collate the metadata and to link to the full text of books published by open access publishers. Some of these publications are by established presses such as Palgrave Macmillan, the University of Amsterdam Press, the University of Michigan Press and others that are exploring open access with several of their book series (here’s a link to the full list of participating publishers). We’ve also seen the encouraging growth of new scholar-led open access presses that are using print on demand to overcome the steep start-up costs and hurdles associated with traditional printing. The Melbourne small press,, is an example of an independent open access publisher in philosophy and literature that has found a way to combine rigorous peer review with open access and well-designed print versions. Punctum Books, based in New York, is a similar scholar-run model, as is Open Book Publishers, based in Cambridge, UK.

I predict we will see more of these kinds of scholar-led, independent niche presses servicing the specific needs of their disciplines emerging in tandem with the growing array of new technologies that make it easier for non-professionals to participate in publishing. The Canadian group, The Public Knowledge Project, is launching a new open source book publishing platform, Open Monograph Press, which is designed to lower the barrier to entry by managing and largely automating the workflow processes – much in the way their successful Open Journal Systems software did for journal publishing.

Open Humanities Press (OHP) is one of the “Early Adopters” trialling this new book publishing system. From the beginning of this year, OHP has begun publishing books, adopting the same model of a distributed network of international scholar editors and library partners that we use for our journals. OHP currently has 5 book series, each edited and managed by members of OHP’s editorial board. The production of the OA books is done by our library publishing partner, Mpublishing, at The University of Michigan Library, which also hosts, catalogs, archives and makes the print books available for sale through online distributors. By means of this partnership, we’ve published six born-digital open access books in philosophy and critical theory, and have just launched two more in celebration of Open Access Week: a collection of essays titled Terror, Theory and the Humanities, ed. Jeffrey R. DeLio and Uppinder Mehan, and New Materialism by Rick Dolphjin and Iris van der Tuin, with interviews by contemporary philosophers, Rosi Braidotti, Manuel DeLanda, Karen Barad, and Quentin Meillassoux.

Inquiries about OHP are welcome. Feel free to email me at

Sigi Jöttkandt is a co-founder of Open Humanities Press. She is author of several books on literature and philosophy, and teaches English at the University of New South Wales.

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