By Kevin Smith

This is the Conference Report from the Symposium on Open Access : Envisioning a World Beyond APCs/BPCs that was held at the University of Kansas last fall. The symposium generated international attention and some great conversations. This report was written by Robert Kieft, Ada Emmett, Josh Bolick, and Rebecca Kennison.

On November 17-18, 2016, the University of Kansas Libraries (KU), Open Access Network (OAN), Allen Press, Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), and Association of Research Libraries (ARL) sponsored an international symposium, Envisioning a World Beyond APCs/BPCs, at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, USA. The symposium brought together a group of 18 panelists and 9 respondents and offered a first session livestreamed for a worldwide audience. The remainder of the meeting was structured as an “unconference” focused on key ideas raised by participants’ statements and the ensuing discussion during the opening event. The symposium asked the participants to consider current models available for achieving an expansive, inclusive, and balanced global open publishing ecosystem, one that does not depend on the payment of article- or book- processing charges (APCs or BPCs) for publication.

The symposium was organized in part as a response to the December 2015 Berlin 12 Open Access invitational conference, which focused on “flipping” the current subscription model of scholarly publishing to one that provides free access to readers. While the goal of that conference was to begin to develop a global consensus to redirect subscription expenditures toward sustainable OA business models, some raised concerns that the mechanisms proposed in Berlin would favor a model based on APCs paid for by authors or their institutions that may be unaffordable in some regions of the world. The Kansas symposium sought to include in its discussions voices from the global south, including Latin America and Africa, where traditions of scholar- and institution-supported OA publishing exist but budgets for APCs do not. The organizers’ goal was to foster a space where voices from around the world could preliminarily examine and exchange methods for designing and financing the scholarly publication system so that it is both open and free to authors as well as readers, so that it redirects subscription expenditures toward sustainable OA business models.

The 1.5 day symposium opened with a 2-hour session that was livestreamed and viewed at over 350 sites around the world. (Transcripts, the livestream and project outcomes are also archived now in KU’s repository, KU ScholarWorks.) During the first half of the session, which was introduced by KU Libraries’ Ada Emmett and Kevin Smith, the 18 participants offered 2-minute lightning remarks in which they were asked to identify gaps in the scholarly, funding, and publishing communities’ knowledge about OA publishing models. The second half of the livestreamed session shifted to a conversation (moderated by Smith) among both panelists and on-site respondents that included reactions and questions posed through Twitter and a public Google document by viewers around the world.

The session closed with commentary by symposium respondent April Hathcock, who noted from the panelists’ gap analysis and the Twitter feeds that the symposium could have been titled “Envisioning the Global North Beyond APCs,” given that APCs seem to be both a fixation and quick fix by the global north that only harms the already successful OA global south. It was proposed that the problems of APCs and an APC-future were the global north’s to solve.

Building on the opening 2-hour livestream session and Hathcock’s observations, participants met in plenary in the afternoon. The group decided to have three afternoon sessions—the plenary, a breakout session, and a closing plenary. The first plenary was used to provide the participants from and/or working intensively in the global south with the opportunity to highlight the significant advances in and challenges for non-APC OA in their local contexts and to share the traditions of and arrangements for institution-based publishing already in place. Small groups then met to brainstorm four topics that emerged during the morning sessions as barriers to an open access future: effecting the transition from a market approach to an open approach, ensuring scalability of current OA projects, enabling OA publishing ventures to become competitive with commercial ventures, and establishing broad collaboration among OA publishing ventures.

Friday morning’s discussions considered the extent to which a global academic community might create a more equitable OA publishing system, that is, one without costs to readers or authors. Taking up themes that emerged in the Thursday sessions, the group broke into four teams to develop scenarios for a publishing system that would meet a number of  requirements and serve as the basis for agenda setting:

  • present a solution that is free for readers and for authors — in this case APC-free;
  • work in the local context and create partnerships that incorporate a variety of global situations, including those marginalized by historical, political, and economic power structures;
  • acknowledge and suggest paths for addressing perceived barriers and challenges to the proposed scenario;
  • present an agenda for action;
  • envision a 5- to 10-year transition that includes universities as a major stakeholder in a knowledge production and sharing environment that will benefit all readers and authors;
  • be scalable — something that interacts with the local but could be scaled up to the global.

The symposium generated a significant amount of online activity as well as vigorous and thoughtful discussion in Lawrence. During the course of the event, symposium participants who have deep investments in or diverse vantage points on programs for OA were challenged to step back from their agendas and work from the several perspectives brought from many parts of the world and other disciplines and professional arenas. That challenge remains in play for this group as well as the OA community in general as experiments with models and tactics continue to emerge or evolve.

Participants reported feeling energized by the symposium and its challenges and are hopeful about further collaboration as work continues. Organizers and participants are currently sifting through notes and recordings, documenting and making available the proceedings, and setting an action agenda. Notably, one group from the Friday morning session is already pursuing further discussion and a possible letter of intent to a funding agency for the scenario they developed. Participants foresee continuing this work by expanding participation in the group — especially to those invited but unable to attend, including foundations, and those from scholarly communities and organizations not represented in-person at the symposium, notably people from Asia, Australasia, and Eastern Europe as well as other parts of Africa and South America — submitting grant proposals, designing future conferences, and continuing to develop models for a world beyond APCs/BPCs.


Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith is a librarian, a lawyer focusing on copyright issues, a scholarly communications advocate, and the Dean of Libraries at the University of Kansas.

Comments (1)

  1. This posting has almost nothing to say about what actual models might be feasible outside of the APC/BPC approach. Long-term financing is going to have to come from universities themselves. Foundations will provide seed money for experimentation, but not long-term support. Some few experiments have been based on endowments, like the new Amherst College Press, and that approach is sustainable. But how many colleges can raise such endowments, in this country let alone the developing world? Universities have many demands on their budgets already. How many are going to be willing to spend, say, ten times what it does now operating a press that currently recovers 90% of its costs via sales in the marketplace? Libraries have gotten into the OA publishing business, but one wonders whether they have really tracked all expenses associated with publishing. One suspects that overhead costs, for example, are simply attributed to the general overhead of the library, not allocated to the publishing operation directly, as they should be to evaluate the total cost of running that operation. As it is, only about 80 presses in the US support a system that benefits all 3,000 colleges, so the vast majority are “free riders” on the system now, paying only for purchases of materials, not the costs of operating the whole system. How is that burden going to be shared more equitably? What we see happening now is some universities thinking about closing their presses, as at Duquesne, because they are reluctant even to pay the small percentage of overall costs as a subsidy to the press. How are universities going to be persuaded to step up to the plate and bear the full costs of OA publishing in this environment? Some of the richest and most prestigious universities can play the game of attracting the best and brightest faculty by offering them larger grants up front that will include funding to cover the costs of publishing their first books via OA. This is an idea Michigan’s head librarian (and former provost) Paul Courant has floated. But relatively few universities can play in this game successfully. Knowledge Unlatched has sought to finance OA monograph publishing partly through having libraries pony up the “first copy costs” of publishing, relying on sales of POD versions to cover the remaining costs. People must remember that publishing OA saves only about 20% of the costs of publishing in print. The vast majority of costs remain in an OA business model, including marketing costs that do not go away in an OA environment. Though an OA supporter myself, I do not see any easy ways to solve this problem of financing without having any costs paid by the primary beneficiaries, viz., the authors and the users.

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