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What a difference a year makes: An update on the Open Book Collective’s activities over the past 12 months

On the anniversary of OBC receiving its first subscription, the team reflect on their work to generate new forms of support for open access book publishing

Published onFeb 29, 2024
What a difference a year makes: An update on the Open Book Collective’s activities over the past 12 months

Just over a year ago, on the 9th February 2023, the University of Manchester confirmed that it would support the Open Book Collective (OBC) by subscribing to our members’ Supporter Programmes. This was an important moment for the OBC team. At that point, we had been working for over three years as part of the COPIM project (Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs) to research, imagine, develop and eventually launch a platform and organisation — what became the OBC — to solve the problem of how to fund and scale open access book publishing led by small to medium sized scholarly publishers and infrastructure providers. Achieving this first subscription gave us hope that our model could, in fact, be something universities would consider supporting.

We have come a long way since then. But February 2024 is an anniversary of sorts, marking a full calendar year since our first subscription, throughout which the OBC has operated as an intermediary between libraries, open publishing service providers, and open access publishers to create a sustainable and more equitable future for the publishing of books and longform scholarship. We are now working not just to secure new support for our service provider and publisher members, but to renew that support as part of the Copim community’s grant funded Open Book Futures project, with the aim of building towards full financial independence by May 2026.

This anniversary provides us with an opportunity to look back and reflect on what has been an incredibly busy and exciting first year. In this post, we would like to share some of the highlights of this work, as well as report on details of our progress, in line with our commitments to openness and transparency.

Becoming a collectively governed charity

One of the most significant milestones came at the very end of 2023, when the OBC was officially approved by the Charity Commission of England and Wales as a UK registered charity. Part of our reason for wanting to become a charity was to underscore our commitment to building an open access publishing ecosystem driven by the communities that we serve and free from commercial interference.

Achieving this approval was not straightfoward, as the OBC is not a conventional charity. A significant part of our behind the scenes work has been to put forward a convincing case to the Charity Commission, supported by our lawyers, as to why supporting long form open access scholarly publishing delivers demonstrable and widespread public benefits.

In addition to supporting our publishing and service provider members, we will be a grant giving charity. To that end, in January this year, we announced the first details of our Collective Development Fund grant programme. Due to launch in April, it will be issuing around £90,000 in grant funding between 2024 and early 2026 to open access book publishers and infrastructure providers. One of its aims is to support publishers, infrastructure providers, and other organisations to build capacity to increase the quantity, quality, and diversity of open access books. This fund will continue to grow, as the OBC allocates a portion of all Supporter Programme revenue to it.

We have been a not-for-profit from the very start and one of our key features is a robust collective governance structure, in which key decisions are placed in the hands of our members or ‘Custodians’ as we call them.

Our Custodians engaged with one another for the first time in August, in our first Annual General Assembly of Custodians. One responsibility for Custodians at this meeting was to elect Trustees or ‘Stewards’ to our Board. This process saw our Managing Director Joe Deville (Lancaster University/Mattering Press) re-elected for a new term, alongside newly elected Stewards Rupert Gatti (Trinity College, Cambridge University/Open Book Publishers) and Demmy Verbeke (KU Leuven Library). Custodians also provided advisement to the OBC in the meeting, including recommendations on marketing and outreach strategies, as well as on relationships that OBC could develop with third parties and consortia.

Our Board of Stewards has met four times in the past 12 months. During these quarterly meetings, the Board approved Dr Lidia Uziel (Associate University Librarian for Research Resources and Scholarly Communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara Libraries) as OBC Chair and Niels Stern (Director of OAPEN) as Vice-Chair. The OBC Management Team — who run the OBC on a day to day basis — also updated the Board on their work, asked for input and advice, and submitted plans and documents for approval. For example, the Board were asked to approve larger OBC spending and recruitment plans, to delegate particular powers to the Management Team and Committees (e.g. the Membership Committee), and to sign off the reports and accounts required by UK regulatory bodies. This included approving the accounts for the OBC’s first financial year (from the 19th May 2022 to the 30th April 2023), alongside a report on the OBC’s work during the period. These were submitted earlier this month and are openly and freely available for anyone to examine.

Building subscriptions

In order for the OBC to succeed in the long term, it is important that it receives support for its publisher and service provider members from a wide range of institutions. Currently, our work is predominantly supported by grant funding. However, to achieve full financial independence, we estimate that the OBC will need to receive regular, ongoing support from over 200 different institutions. This is what we are working to achieve by spring 2026.

In the past year, we have secured support from more than 50 institutions, each of which is collaborating with us in pursuit of a more sustainable and equitable future for open access books. That means that each institution is subscribing via the OBC to at least one Supporter Programme offered by one of our publisher or publishing service provider members. This could be an annual subscription, or a multi-year subscription. We would like to take this opportunity to offer our sincere thanks to each of these institutions for their support.

These subscriptions have so far generated over £330,000 in revenue that either has been or is due to be paid.1 On average, we retain 15.5% of revenue in fees — so in this instance, just over £51,000 — of which around a third is allocated to the Collective Development Fund, with the rest wholly used to cover OBC running costs, in line with our status as a charity.2 This means that so far we have raised around £279,000 in paid or committed income for our provider members to support their open access publishing work. For our publisher members this means new funds to expand their ability to publish on a Diamond open access basis (i.e. publishing works without fees to either authors or readers). For our service provider members, this means new funds to sustain and expand their open access book publishing infrastructures.

We will be providing more details of the impact of this funding in due course. One of our membership criteria is that members report transparently about how OBC supports their open access book publishing work. As represented by this update, we are are keen to do similarly, in line with our values, and to encourage transparency within open access publishing more broadly.

As shown in Table 1 below, support via the OBC has come from institutions based in 13 different countries, skewed to institutions in the UK (18), the USA (15), and the European Union (11).

Table 1: Distribution of supporting institutions, by country


No. of supporting institutions





















New Zealand








Almost two fifths (38%) of supporting institutions subscribe to just a single Supporter Programme: that offered by Open Book Publishers (OBP), as shown in Figure 1. This is not as surprising as it might at first seem. OBP has a library membership programme that has been running since long before the launch of the OBC, with over 270 supporting institutions at the time of writing. OBP is a strong advocate for OBC’s approach to supporting open access publishing. Therefore, when OBP’s supporting library subscriptions come up for renewal, it is encouraging them to transfer the management of subscriptions to the OBC. This is an approach we appreciate, as it puts us into contact with new institutions that in time could increase the number of OBC Supporter Programmes they subscribe to.

Figure 1: Distribution of subscriptions, by initiative/packages

Just over a third of institutions (35%) are supporting the OBC as a whole — this means that they have subscribed to the full OBC ‘package’, as we call it: that is to say, they are supporting each of the Supporter Programmes available to them at the point of subscription. This is a gratifying statistic — it suggests that a substantial proportion of universities are convinced by our argument that a fairer and more sustainable future for open access publishing can only be achieved by providing financial support to a broad and diverse range of initiatives. This is very much in line with the principle of ‘scaling small’ that we and the broader Copim Community have often talked about.

A small but significant minority of institutions (7%) are subscribing just to the ScholarLed package. On the one hand, this indicates that some universities may see these publishers as particularly in need of financial support. On the other, this is the least expensive package, so may appeal to universities facing financial constraints but keen to support Diamond open access book publishing where they can. This sits alongside a fifth of institutions (20%) that have chosen a custom selection of OBC initiatives to support, tending to range between 1 and 5 different Supporter Programme subscriptions.

As shown in Figure 2, we can see that a large majority (58%) of OBC supporters are larger and/or wealthier institutions, meaning they are charged a higher ‘Tier 1’ subscription fee. Remaining subscriptions are distributed roughly evenly between Tier 2 (22%) and Tier 3 (20%) subscriptions. This is what we expected: we already knew that smaller/less wealthy institutions can often struggle to find any budget at all to support Diamond open access publishing initiatives, even at a discounted price point.

Figure 2: Distribution of supporting institution by subscription Tier

Building publisher and service provider membership

The OBC is also working to increase the range of Supporter Programmes available for libraries and other institutions to subscribe to. For most of the past year, the OBC has offered Supporter Programmes from 7 publisher members — the 6 ScholarLed publishers and White Horse Press — and 2 publishing service provider members — Directory of Open Access Books/OAPEN and Thoth Open Metadata.

However, we are keen for the collective to keep growing, as there are many open access publishing initiatives that could benefit from our support. In early February, we were therefore very pleased to be able to announce an an expansion of the OBC to 12 members, with the addition of three University Presses: Leuven University Press, University of London Press, and University of Westminster Press. As such, we have also added a new University Press package to our platform.

This is incredibly exciting for OBC as it broadens and deepens our Diamond open access approach in support of university presses, where there is often the appetite to migrate to open access but with concerns about the viability of this in the absence of sales and revenue. By helping these presses to move to a sustainable Diamond open access future, we are all collectively developing the future that such presses and infrastructures require.

Building a global programme of outreach

Building an effective approach to outreach is vital to the work of the OBC, as we have previously written about.

It is of course important to engage directly with libraries, to explain our aims, values and the benefits of supporting our members.

We also engage with publishers and publishing service providers, for example to explain our model and membership criteria to them and, for those that are interested in joining, to collaborate with them in building a Supporter Programme that is both fairly priced and will help them meet their open access publishing aims.

However, we are keen to engage more broadly, both to build understanding of the importance of open access amongst scholars, libraries, publishers, and infrastructure providers, and to learn from and collaborate with wider communities working on developing and scaling open access book publishing.

This was exemplified by a workshop in Cape Town we organised earlier this month in collaboration with the University of Cape Town, the Association of African Universities and a number of other Open Book Futures partners, which examined open access book publishing in an African context. Participants were librarians and publishers from diverse English speaking African countries. We will be publishing a report on the event shortly.

Image featuring around 40 conference delegates and members of the Open Book Futures project, posing in a line outside a UCT library building

Joe Deville (right) and Judith Fathallah (centre) representing the Open Book Collective at the ‘Towards Sustainable Open Access Book Publishing in the African Context’ workshop in Capetown

Our outreach work has also been supported by talks and conference presences in different national contexts.

In the UK, a highlight was our stand at the UKSG 2023 conference in Glasgow, which provided a valuable opportunity to engage librarians in discussions about our work. We have also been involved in various other UK-focused events. Joe Deville took part in a panel discussion on open access books hosted by the University of Derby and the University of Essex during Open Access Week, as well as presenting at the Academic Libraries North annual conference in York. Meanwhile Judith Fathallah, our Research and Outreach Associate, contributed to a panel discussion at the 13th NAG Seminar in London on bibliodiversity in open access publishing.

Judith Fathallah presenting at the 13th NAG Seminar in London and the OBC / Copim stand at the UKSG conference

We have also engaged communities in the US. A key moment was our involvement in the 2023 Charleston conference in November. We again hosted a stand, which enabled librarians to come and ask us about our work. Lidia Uziel, the OBC Chair, and Livy Snyder, our Libraries Outreach Associate, also delivered a joint talk at the conference on the role of open access infrastructures in ‘scaling small’, as well as giving a talk at the CNI Fall 2023 Membership Meeting in Washington, D.C., on collective paths toward an open and sustainable monographs ecosystem.

Lidia Uziel (left) and Livy Snyder (right) at the Charleston 2023 conference

We have presented in wider international contexts. The OBC was part of a collective Copim community workshop aimed at colleagues in Latin America hosted by SciELO Books as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations. We also convened an event in collaboration with the Southern Women Academic Network (SWAN) on what the needs and barriers are that Global South scholars experience in relation to open access. Francesca Corazza, our Product Manager and Outreach Associate, joined a collective Copim stand at the LIBER 2023 conference in Budapest, as well as delivering a poster on the OBC’s governance model. Judith presented at an OASPA webinar on how to fund open access. Joe presented in a series organised by the Danish Network for Open Access, as well as collaborating with Opening the Future’s Tom Grady on an online workshop for colleagues in Germany and hosted by the, which explored funding models for Diamond open access books.

Francesca Corazza (right) representing the OBC at our LIBER stand, alongside Tom Grady (Opening the Future, front) and Tobias Steiner (Thoth, back left)

Building our open source platform

A further but less immediately visible part of our work in the past year has been to refine the OBC platform. Working closely with our developers, DeltaQ, we have been able to create a custom, open source solution using Django and Python that enables librarians to appraise the initiatives available in a range of geopolitical contexts and currencies, to raise orders, and to ultimately become a supporter of the OBC.

Whilst we are looking forward to working further with DeltaQ to increase the platform’s accessibility — including displaying the website in a range on languages and to include a portal for prospective authors — significant integrations with projects such Thoth Open Metadata enable the vast majority of books published by our publisher members to to be displayed in our catalogue. This highlights the benefits that come with working in an open future for scholarly books

A view of the OBC’s platform, highlighting our packages and initiatives

Looking to the future

UNESCO has suggested that the emergence of Diamond open access models represents a ‘global paradigm shift in scholarly publishing’, in part because they affirm ‘equitable access to scholarly publishing and research outputs regardless of geographical, financial or institutional constraints’. The importance of such models is also increasingly being recognised by funders — the grant funding awarded to the Open Book Futures project is of course an example, but so too are new national mechanisms for supporting Diamond open access publishing, which we are keen to see continue to expand and be refined.

The OBC can play a crucial part in this ongoing transformation. We are continuing to grow as an organisation, recruiting staff (including welcoming Kevin Sanders as our Open Access Engagement Lead last October), expanding our global networks, onboarding new library partners, and increasing our provider membership. This demonstrates that our model has potential to be a new and sustainable way for funding open access book infrastructure providers and publishers, providing them with reliable revenues and helping them to avoid a reliance on BPCs or grant funding.

In the coming year, we will be excited to launch new platform features, as well as to award our first Collective Development Fund grants, both of which we have been preparing for in recent months.

We will look to increase our publisher and service providers members, with engagement led by Izabella Penier, our Publisher Outreach Associate. We are already in discussion with a number of initiatives and expect to steadily increase the number of Supporter Programmes available to support via the OBC. We will also be providing new resources to publishers, including formally launching our Toolkt for Small and Scholar-led Publishers, which is currently live in Beta mode.

We will be continuing our wider outreach activities. One outreach aim for the coming 12 months will be to engage further with library consortia involved in purchasing — we are already under active consideration by two, but hope to expand this, as such collaborations will be crucial if we are to substantially increase our overall volume of support.

We will also continue to collaborate in organising events. Plans so far include co-organising a workshop at the OPERAS 2024 conference which will take place in April in Croatia and a proposal (under review) to facilitate a pre-conference workshop at LIBER 2024 in Cyprus around library evaluations of Diamond open access initiatives. We also hope to return to South Africa for further events that are in the early planning stages. And in the UK, we will be returning to Glasgow for the UKSG 2024 conference, which takes place in early April. We would be delighted to meet and discuss our work with colleagues either there or at one of our other events.

All of the initiatives and packages that we currently offer can be found on our platform, along with pertinent information around each organisation and their operations. As ever, if you represent a library that is not currently supporting the OBC but would be interested in exploring our offers with us, or indeed if you are looking to potentially expand your existing support given our addition of new publishers, please do not hesitate to contact us and schedule a meeting via [email protected]. Of course, we can also provide any further information or quotes directly to you upon request.


The work of the Open Book Collective is supported by grant funding from Arcadia and the Research England Development Fund, as part of the Open Book Futures project.

Banner Image: Photo by Matilda Alloway on Unsplash  
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