Being Open to the Open-Access Publishing Model

Posted: Tuesday, April 21, 2020

By Megan Brand, Production Editor, UBC Press

Inside the Campaign Book Cover

Inside the Campaign. UBC Press, 2020.

UBC Press publishes books in a number of formats in an attempt to reach as many readers as possible. Most of its scholarly monographs and edited collections are released in hardcover, paperback, ePDF, e-book, and mobi versions. As a fee-for-service unit operating at an arm’s-length remove from the university itself, UBC Press relies on funding from the university to fulfill what is essentially a financially unprofitable mandate – the dissemination of scholarly research and knowledge in book form in a competitive and ever-evolving publishing landscape. Therefore, while the Press has historically been quick to adopt new modes of publishing, it has yet to go full “open access” or to make the bulk of its books available free-of-cost or other barriers to readers online.

One such opportunity arose this spring, however, with the publication of Alex Marland and Thierry Giasson’s edited volume, Inside the Campaign: Managing Elections in Canada. The volume editors requested that UBC Press release an open-access version to coincide with the release of the paperback version. Following the federal election in 2015, Alex – along with members of the Press’s Marketing Department – produced some election-related commentary on the fly, “Canadian Election Analysis 2015,” in an open-access format for publication on the Press’s website. Alex had a similar vision for his latest book but wanted to make the whole book available online in addition to selling the paperback through all of the Press’s usual distribution channels:

“We wanted to build on that experience with a proper book that would find its way into the hands of students, scholars, and practitioners alike. Open access was a natural fit because scholarly books can have trouble breaking through to connect outside of academia. A related consideration is that there is tremendous pressure in the Canadian academic community to publish in open-access format. Government funding agencies are increasingly making open access a condition of funding for scholarly journals.”

Featuring an in-depth look at the inner machinations of the behind-the-scenes players in the 2019 federal election, Inside the Campaign had a built-in timeliness factor that rendered it a viable candidate for such a vision and experiment – we wanted to get it out and into the hands of as many people as possible as soon as possible.

As I’d soon come to realize, releasing an open-access book in conjunction with the paperback meant having to conceptualize two editions of the same book during the course of the production process. In theory, this concept seemed pretty straightforward – I’d worked with both Alex and Thierry on a number of their previous books – but it proved to raise some pretty particular challenges in practice.

Photo of Alex Marland

Alex Marland

During the “transmittal” meeting in which the Editorial Department officially handed off the book to the Production Department, it was mentioned that the volume editors wanted coloured photos of the chapter authors to accompany their short biographies to appear at the ends of their respective chapters. That idea was quickly nixed as it’s not Press style (or standard practice in the scholarly publishing model in general) for author photos to appear in the text. However, it was thought that this request could certainly be accommodated in the open-access version which, by nature, would presumably give us more of a free rein to deviate from the constraints inherent in the print version.

Bear with me while things get technical … the typesetter originally conceived of the open-access version to be a variation of the print version, in which these author bio pages could be inserted following the chapters in the print version. But slowly (over the course of many, many emails) it became apparent the open-access version would have to be reimagined as a stand-alone entity in-and-of itself, simply (or not-so-simply), because slotting in an additional ten pages with the colour photos and author bios for the open-access version would throw off the pagination in the index. Therefore, the open-access version gradually evolved to become a completely distinct book in which the colour author photos and bios would appear in the back matter. The back matter of the printed book, in contrast, would feature a regular list of contributors in the usual Press style.

Photo of Thierry Giasson

Thierry Giasson

For the open-access version, Alex provided sample layouts of open-access books produced by other university presses and enlisted a designer to create a cover featuring publication and copyright information, as well as the universal open-access logo. The decision to post PDFs of the book in its entirety on the Press’s website (as opposed to hosting the entire contents of the book on a single webpage), as well as the individual chapters, was informed by Alex’s view that academics prefer to work with PDFs. Therefore, one of the benefits of the open-access book being available online was that it could be divvied up according to chapter for readers wanting to download a single chapter. Each chapter, then, would feature its own cover page bearing citation information for that chapter.

In addition to the trial-and-error nature of devising a new publication format, we were operating under the constraints of a compressed production schedule in order to bring out both versions of the book as soon as possible after the 2019 election. The normal publication schedule for an edited volume of this nature is ten months. We produced this one in five by halving the usual allotted times for all of the steps in the process: copy-editing, proofreading, typesetting, etc.

Another factor arose at the end of the production cycle which, according to Alex, reinforced the need to make the book available in alternate formats:

“An added, entirely unforeseen aspect is the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting printed books into people’s hands is more difficult than it normally is. An electronic book can reach people wherever they happen to be practising physical distancing. At the moment, many professors have had to leave their books in their offices, so receiving this one electronically can be quite valuable. There should also be added relevance if instructors end up teaching courses remotely due to the pandemic.”

It was clear we were making up this production model as we went along. Fortunately, this process allowed me to pick and choose the editors', typesetter’s, and designer’s advice that would ultimately best serve the open-access end product. The beauty of not following the prescribed cookie-cutter book template and schedule meant that we could get creative in order to determine what would work (and what wouldn’t, after a few false starts). The freedom to experiment in that regard was refreshing, and it’s my hope that we’ve ultimately produced a unique version of the book that goes on to reach readers outside the scope of the Press’s usual readership. Or that we’ve at least rendered it in a more easily accessible, affordable (free!), and user-friendly format for the Press’s regular readers.

The open-access version of Inside the Campaign will be serialized in Policy Options, to be followed by a dedicated spot on the UBC Press website. Stay tuned!

Posted by Megan M.
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