Q&A With Barbara Kline-Pope on Open Access Publishing Initiatives at Johns Hopkins University Press

Posted October 23, 2019
photo by Paul Kennedy

Open Access Week 2019 takes place from October 21-27. To mark the occasion, we’re featuring a series of Open Access Success Stories that shine the spotlight on noteworthy OA books, authors, and publishing models. In today’s post, Barbara Kline-Pope, Director of the Johns Hopkins University Press, provides updates about the Press’ open publishing initiatives for scholarly books.

Authors Alliance: We were interested to hear about the new HOP 100 and Encore Editions projects that JHU Press is working on with Project MUSE. Can you tell us more about these two projects?

Barbara Kline-Pope: HOP stands for Hopkins Open Publishing and is the overarching name for all of our open book projects.  The HOP 100 represents a low-risk experiment to determine the effect on audience engagement and on sales when opening up books published by Johns Hopkins University Press on MUSE Open.  We chose 100 books from our list that were near the end of their sales lives, having sold 10 or fewer copies a year for the past couple of years. 

What happened when we opened up those books?  Let’s first explore engagement.  Of the 100 titles, 54 lived on Project MUSE as gated books prior to being opened.  They were available to read for people whose libraries had purchased them either individually or in a collection.  Once opened and available on MUSE Open, these books experienced an average of three times more engagement per month as compared with the time period in which they were gated on Project MUSE. 

But what happened to printed book sales for the full group of 100 titles?  The overall change in unit sales from gated to open and from FY 2018 to FY 2019 was a loss of a total of 130 copies.  On average that’s about one copy per title.  However we experienced a gain of about $900 comparing dollar sales of these books collectively from FY2018 to FY2019.  That’s $9.00 per title.  Obviously, the collection of titles purchased in FY2019 had higher list prices that those purchased in FY2018.  These are very small numbers and this was a limited experiment.  But this experiment allowed us to ease into opening up content.  And, it has given us confidence that, at least for these kinds of books, sales will not decrease appreciably and engagement will increase. 

Hopkins Open Publishing’s Encore Editions is a collection of 200 out-of-print books that we are bringing back to life both as open books and in print.  This project was funded by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  We will formally release the first titles in the Encore Editions on MUSE Open in October during Open Access Week.  We will be promoting these books broadly and measuring their impact. 

AuAll: What motivated JHU Press to undertake these initiatives?

BKP: Our mission is to connect authors with readers and to maximize the impact of the knowledge that our authors seek to share.  We also need to be financially responsible in meeting that mission.  Increasing engagement is the first step in enhancing impact and providing content for free certainly has been shown to increase engagement.  And so, experimenting with open models in a financially responsible manner seems like a natural way to help to fulfill our mission.  And it helps that in my former role as director of the National Academies Press (NAP), I experienced directly what it means to open up content to the world.  Over the course of about a decade, we were able to responsibly flip the model at NAP from gated to open.  However, NAP is a very different publishing operation than JHUP and so experimenting with JHUP books is important rather than trying to follow the NAP model directly. 

Another motivation was our intimate knowledge of Project MUSE and its new MUSE Open platform.  (Project MUSE is part of JHUP.) What a book publisher wants in an open platform is exceptional discovery, a remarkable reading experience, and robust statistics.  MUSE has 25 discovery partners that work to maximize the discovery of all content across MUSE.  And the new MUSE Open platform displays book content in reflowable HTML rather than just PDF.  This provides excellent reading on any device and a way to easily navigate through the content.  And finally, it is so very convenient to use MUSE’s statistics dashboard to collect engagement measures for any or all of our open books. 

AuAll: What can you tell us about the works that will be included? Are there any titles or authors you are particularly excited to see made available to readers? 

BKP: The JHU Press books selected for our open programs range widely across disciplines and have the potential to re-enter important conversations that have evolved significantly since the time the books were originally published. Elinor Accampo’s 2006 book, Blessed Motherhood, Bitter Fruit: Nelly Roussel and the Politics of Female Pain in Third Republic France, for example, offers a definitive—and newly resonant—account of the overwhelming obstacles faced by “first wave” feminists in their struggles against the politics and culture of patriarchy.  Similarly, Philip Gallman’s Green Alternatives and National Energy Strategy: The Facts behind the Headlines, first published in 2011, offers data and analysis that seem more relevant than ever in public discussions of energy and environmental policies.

AuAll: What were/are the biggest hurdles to realizing these projects, and how are you working to overcome these obstacles?

BKP: The major hurdle for the Encore Editions was locating authors or relatives in charge of deceased authors’ estates, particularly for books originally published many decades ago.  We needed to present the authors with a new contract that included rights for us to republish their books in an open electronic version and in print.  This is a process that is laborious and just won’t scale.  The NEH/Mellon grant allowed us to pay for a person to take on this activity.  Adding an addendum to current contracts that would permit us to open up the HOP 100 books was easier but it still required substantial effort—an effort that we undertook without external funding.

AuAll: Do you have any words of wisdom for other publishers who want to follow JHU Press’ example?

BKP: Do not underestimate the time and effort it will take to clear rights.  It helps to have a person doing this work who loves sleuthing. 

AuAll: How do these projects connect with other OA publishing initiatives and models?

BKP: There are many publishers publishing open books and library/publisher partnerships working to repurpose budgets to make knowledge free to the world’s citizens.  One of these partnership initiatives is called TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem) and I serve on their advisory committee.  It is a project designed by libraries, provosts, and publishers to flip the monograph model from gated to open.  There are other similar partnerships and it will take collaboration among all of them to effectively open up long-form scholarship and research for all. 

AuAll: What are the benefits to authors of publishing (or re-publishing) their work openly?

BKP: The number one benefit is increased engagement that allows for the opportunity to enhance impact.  And, if there is an interchange via the Web between author and reader, it permits the scholar or researcher to learn from those readers—building an enhanced scholarly communication system.

AuAll: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about JHU’s work (or about new opportunities for OA publishing in general)?

BKP: It seems to me that publishing monographs free to read is the best solution for a monograph publishing system that is broken. Getting 200 or 300 copies of monographs into the marketplace of ideas is not satisfying to authors, publishers, or readers. However, making the open model work financially requires funding from authors’ institutions, from their grants, from foundations or government agencies, or repurposed from library budgets.  We will be experimenting with different models and collaborating with fellow publishers and others in the scholarly communication network to be financially responsible in opening up important scholarship to the world.    


Check out the Authors Alliance Open Access resource page to learn more about open access and be inspired by other success stories!