Knowledge for everyone: How open access expands the reach and impact of the university press
AU Press the first of its kind in Canada and among the first open presses in North America
When AU Press was created in 2007, it did something unheard of among university presses in Canada.
Instead of publishing scholarly books and journals and charging readers, sometimes hefty prices, AU Press opened itself to the world.
“Essentially, we make material available to people for free from the moment of publication, and that’s the big difference,” says Megan Hall, AU interim associate vice-president of learner experience.
“We are bringing the research and knowledge held at universities to anybody that wants it.”
For University Press Week, Nov. 13 to 17, we asked Hall to explain what makes an open access press different from a traditional university press, why AU Press is a leader in the space, and whether the future really is wide open.
“We are bringing the research and knowledge held at universities to anybody that wants it.”– Megan Hall, AVP of learner experience
How does open access work?
With a traditional university press model, some publications can cost upwards of $100 or $125 because the cost to produce them is high and the audience might be narrow, Hall says. “The result is that only certain people can then afford it.”
By making its material available for free, open access university presses help bridge the gap between the academy and public. “You can purchase an AU Press print book or ebook for an affordable price, but you can also read it for free on our site or download a digital copy.”
Most recently, AU Press launched an interactive reading platform that allows users to download, view, annotate, and share books and ideas among a wider community.
“Athabasca University was formed around the idea of bringing education to everyone, no matter a person’s background or location,” says Hall, “and AU Press is really an extension of that commitment.”
Authors benefit from expanded reach
AU Press authors benefit from publishing in open access by reaching a global readership, something that traditional publishers struggle to do. That’s why authors from across Canada and the globe publish with AU Press.
“Above all, authors want their material to be read,” says Hall, “and there is no denying that open access material has more readers.”
That increased readership can lead to higher citations for AU Press’s authors, she adds, meaning the knowledge they share is used to inform other scholarly works.
Is the future open?
Questions about the viability of the traditional university press have been raised in academic circles for decades. Indeed, Hall recognizes that “it’s a very difficult space” because university presses aren’t designed to turn profits, but produce works for the public good.
As Canada continues to produce a greater number of PhDs who are seeking opportunities to publish scholarly work, there are increased demands on the publishing world. Within the social sciences and humanities, which typically represent the bulk of long-form works published by university presses, the demand for publishing services remains strong, Hall says.
“There are a number of really great Canadian university presses publishing work on issues that matter by scholars who deserve a platform for their ideas. From that perspective, the industry is very healthy,” she says. “I think that there’s space for a diversity of publishing models.”
“Our secret is Athabasca University and the sustained support that the institution has provided to the press for more than a decade.”
The Canadian university press environment benefits from the knowledge about open access publishing that AU Press has gained, just as AU benefits from a vibrant community of presses, she adds.
In Canada, only a handful of university presses are publishing regularly in open access. Concordia University Press launched an open access press a few years ago while the University of Calgary Press and University of Ottawa Press have embraced partial open access models.
Whether the number of open university presses grows depends largely on investments from institutions.
“I think people often assume we know the secret to making open access publishing work,” Hall says. “But our secret is Athabasca University and the sustained support that the institution has provided to the press for more than a decade.
“AU’s support allows us to pursue a publishing model that focuses not on revenue, but on access and impact, and that’s the reason we’ve been able to innovate and lead as an open access publisher.”