At Duke University Press we publish essential and field-defining works in the humanities, social sciences, and mathematics. We understand that open-access publication based on article-processing charges paid by the author can work well in the sciences, and in other fields where large research grants are available. But such grants are almost never available in the humanities and interpretive social sciences, and they are rare in mathematics.
Thus, if we want to make open-access publishing available in these areas, we need to devise models that work in sustainable ways, meaning ways that cover our costs and can weather shifts in the grant landscape or in the budgets and policies within our home institution.
We believe a key to serious and extensive open-access publishing in these fields is to maintain a healthy sales-based publishing program that exists alongside and supports open-access models. From that foundation, we are working hard to experiment with models that we hope will endure.
For our books, thanks to a partnership with Duke University Libraries we are able to make more than 700 older titles openly available in the Internet Archive—all our books that are no longer commercially viable to the point where it would make sense to digitize them for sale. We also participate—more actively, so far, than any other publisher—in programs such as TOME and Knowledge Unlatched to fund the open-access publication of new books. But we could not publish those new books in open access, even in cases where we get financial support, without also selling those books in all our normal ways. The OA support amounts available so far do not come close to covering all our costs for publishing a book in the top-quality ways that we are used to, and that authors and readers count on us for.
For our journals, we have explored ways to provide open access without any fees for authors—what is alternatively called a platinum or a diamond open-access model—with the journal’s costs funded by sponsoring institutions rather than by author payments. We have taken on two such journals so far, Environmental Humanities and Critical Times, and they are working successfully and sustainably so far. We are very open to talking with other such journals and sponsors. But we also realize that without most of the Press’s infrastructure and staffing costs being paid for by our sales-based publishing, those open-access journals would not be fully sustainable.
Carlyle Letters Online is a long-running open-access scholarly edition published by DUP. Many have called it a model site for a digital edition. Even with substantial and regular financial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, this project does not come close to recouping its costs. DUP supports it because we believe in the mission and importance of this “database for an epoch.” Thanks to our sales-based activities, we can afford one long-running project that runs steadily at a loss, just as we support our newer or narrower journals with revenues from our older and stronger journals; and just as we support slow-selling but important books with the revenues from our strong-selling books. We would like to expand our publishing of open-access scholarly editions; but to do that we will need to find a sustainable economic model.
Project Euclid, our joint venture with the Cornell University Library to host math and statistics publications, includes nearly 2 million pages of open content, over 70 percent of the total number of pages hosted. This vast quantity of open-access content is made possible by the annual revenues from the sale of an aggregation of math and statistics titles from small publishers and from the fee-based hosting of math and statistics journals. These revenues support the staff and technology that enable the provision of the open-access content.
We seek partners for innovative open-access publishing projects with viable funding mechanisms: books, journals, and all other sorts. Bring us your ideas and ask us what we think. We’ll consider just about anything that combines an important intellectual contribution with a sustainable financial and operational model. If you bring us the former, we’ll help you cook up the latter!
—Stephen A. Cohn, May 2019