UNC Press Open Access Vision and Policy

“In an effort to clarify and explain the reasons behind our Open Access (OA) positions, we are publishing our Open Access Vision and Policy Statement. OA has multiple dimensions and means different things to many people, so we expect and encourage feedback and dialog. You can write to our director John Sherer (john.sherer@uncpress.org) or tweet to us @unc_press.”

Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.

At UNC Press, the broad dissemination of scholarship is core to our mission, so we enthusiastically share the vision of many OA advocates. Despite the opportunities afforded by digital formats, most traditional academic publishing models reinforce networks of privilege where scholars and students at well-resourced universities can read our books and journals, but anyone outside that network must overcome significant financial obstacles to access our publications. Expanding access must be a primary goal for any organization that claims to espouse progressive views of social justice and equity.

But we also must emphasize that the creation and marketing of high-quality scholarship requires significant investments in time and money from the Press and from our authors. Without a significant transformation in how humanities publishing is funded, we may never be able to align with the most ambitious versions of OA.

Currently less than 8 percent of our publishing expenses are funded through stipends or institutional/state subsidies. As a result, cost-recovery transactions are a fundamental aspect of our sustainability. We acknowledge that charging libraries, scholars, and students for print and digital access is simply shifting the financial burdens within a small and under resourced ecosystem. But like all university presses, we are not-for-profits who return value back into that ecosystem in both time and money. For example, we pay our authors (almost all of whom are active academics) up to half a million dollars in royalties annually. Individual books that generate surpluses help to reduce the prices and deficits for the larger majority of our list. We are actively raising money for endowments to directly support the publication of scholarly books and journals. There are no stockholders or executive bonuses at the Press. All income goes to support our larger scholarly mission.

To expand access, we are actively experimenting with models where digital editions are free for downloading, reading, and sharing. But many restrictions on reuse remain in place to protect authors’ legal rights and preserve our ability to do cost-recovery through print sales. And there is indeed income on print sales, even when digital editions are openly available. That income allows us to consider opening even more of our scholarship. In the spring and summer of 2020 during the COVID-19 crisis, we opened most of our scholarship in order to support students, scholars, and libraries whose access to collections was diminished during the pandemic. Ironically, print sales actually increased during this time.

UNC Press has been a leader in OA among university presses. We are actively participating in numerous programs, including two NEH/Mellon Open Book grants, the NEH Fellowship Open Book Program, TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem), Knowledge Unlatched, as well as a number of open educational resources being developed within the UNC System. We are also the primary investigator in the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation–funded Sustainable History Monograph Pilot (SHMP). This pilot is supporting the publication of open digital editions of high-quality books from university presses in the field of history. Led by UNC Press’s subsidiary, Longleaf Services, we are helping our twenty-three partner presses ultimately produce at least seventy-five OA monographs. You can find the published SHMP books indexed on the OAPEN platform and the Internet Archive. Our web site has a list of all our OA book projects at UNC Press.

We support the posting of electronic theses and dissertations into open institutional repositories, even though we have seen for-profit commercial enterprises take advantage of open licenses by selling these manuscripts, usually without compensating the author or host institution. We also have noted how some publishers try to suppress or otherwise disguise the reality that many university press books originate as dissertations (that are frequently available in open repositories). Our publishing process at UNC Press transforms and enhances these manuscripts so significantly that the existence of the original version is not a significant concern for us. In 2019, the Press published a revised dissertation that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and on the long list for the National Book Award.

We have not yet identified a specific fee or stipend that would be required to “open” a book. Various pilots have suggested amounts ranging from $3,000 (for previously published books) to as much as $15,000 and more (for new books). OA stipends have no impact on our decision to publish. Instead, they provide us with options for how we would publish. Any author who wishes their book to be published OA should reach out to us to explore options.

We permit authors to post preprints of book chapters that appear in anthologies of edited collections. We entertain individual requests for posting final pdfs of chapters, but authors should expect there to be an embargo period before we will permit that.

Currently, only one of our journals is published OA (Gold). We actively invite publishers who want to publish an OA journal to reach out to us for partnerships. We permit authors of journal articles to post preprint versions in their institutional repositories or on their own websites.

We strive hard to ensure that our journals are available to institutions at modest prices either unbundled and sold directly by the Press, or in aggregations from third-party vendors like J-STOR and Project MUSE.

While removing pay barriers is the key to expanding access for many readers, we also acknowledge that ensuring access to readers with disabilities must be part of our commitment. We currently partner with a number of vendors to accommodate all requests we receive.

The landscape around OA is rapidly shifting. We need to be prepared to respond to mandates like Plan S and its Rights Retention Policies. As a result, this policy will evolve.

In the meantime, we are proud of the efforts and investments we have made in opening our scholarship. This work is not without risk, as it has the potential to erode our already limited cost-recovery channels. But accessibility is a cornerstone of a broad and equitable distribution model.