OpenAIRE alternative funding for non-author fee publishing platforms: EmpowOA

In this blog post series, all bids funded by the OpenAIRE 2nd call for support for non-author fee open access publishing initiatives will present their activities. This first guest post is written by  : James Smith, Marketing Officer, Open Library of Humanities

This blog post came about as a result of a very enjoyable OpenAIRE-funded workshop, entitled Beyond APCs: Alternative Open Access Business Models, in The Hague on the 5th and 6th of April, 2018. For an excellent description of the event, see this blog post by This post explores the activities undertaken by the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) as grantees of €30,000 by OpenAIRE for marketing activities, and continues with some thoughts about a humanities-inflected and critical approach to marketing

First of all, a brief synopsis for those new to the OLH, a library-consortium model for funding and/or publishing open-access journals. It is currently supported by 230 or so academic libraries from around the world, including Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon and many more. We have also had funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to begin this work on our business model. This model is called the Library Partnership Subsidy (LPS).

The goal of the non-classic economic model that we have implemented is to keep library costs down, while collecting enough revenue centrally to fund our journals. This mitigates the geographically concentrating effect of Article Processing Charges (APCs). No OLH journal charges APCs.

The Open Library of Humanities is based at Birkbeck, University of London, which provides HR and Estates support for the publishing operations. This allows for a cost-effective approach to our publishing operations. Birkbeck, University of London is a Higher Education Institution in the United Kingdom; a not-for-profit university specialising in part-time and evening education. Its directors are Professor Martin Paul Eve and Dr Caroline Edwards.

When approaching OpenAIRE for support in our marketing activities, the OLH argued that our goal was to “undertake a range of activities over a six-month period to solidify and scale-up our business model. This will allow us to guarantee our future operational viability and our ongoing ability to support an APC-free ecosystem”. The manner in which this was to be achieved, however, was an ethical and values-based as well as a pragmatic decision.

When the conversation began about what kind of marketing activities would best suit the OLH in its goal of enlarging the consortium and guaranteeing sustainability, we started with a SWOT (Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, Threats) analysis. One of the opportunities and threats identified by analysis was the core OLH principles: we are scholar-led, transparent about what we are trying to achieve, and have a solid and sustainable model for gold OA journal support. The OLH was not suited to marketing tactics that would be unpalatable for an audience of scholars and librarians: paid advertising, aggressive content marketing tactics, or expensive tools developed for the work of retail sales. If the OLH was not marketing by visibly performing its principles, then it was not being true to its core ethos.

As a result, the EmpowOA programme was developed. Its overarching goal was to strengthen the OLH consortium, but to do so by strengthening the humanities OA community.

Its stated manifesto was three-fold:

  • Librarians are our energy. The OLH will strengthen libraries’ collective power. Each existing library member of the OLH consortium can now refer their colleagues, earning both the referrer and the referee a 10 per cent discount. Librarians who visit the OLH website will soon be able to access a toolkit created with their needs in mind, equipping them to fight for the humanities, including videos, infographics, advocacy FAQs and reference sheets to strengthen the argument for an OLH membership or renewal.
  • The scholars who edit and write for our journals are building an international open access community. The OLH will strengthen this powerful advocacy network. Those who need OA support will soon have access to a network of advocates, a collective of librarians and scholars ready to educate and inform. Academics will be better equipped to argue for OA with their librarians and to offer them a referral discount. Scholars who visit the OLH website will soon have access to resources tailored to their needs, with data and infographics to equip them for their OA travails.
  • Humanities scholars and librarians are our lifeblood. The OLH will support this growing community. We have initiated #EmpowOA twitter chat on scheduled Fridays at 7am PST/10am EST/3pm GMT/4pm CET. The conversation will also come to Facebook. Each session, a prominent figure or panel in humanities OA will field answers to a series of stimulus questions and moderate a discussion.

OLH is now the home of an EmpowOA ‘Open Insights’ series of blog posts, containing think pieces, interviews and interventions in humanities OA.

Over two months in, and we are beginning to see results. The effects of EmpowOA and our other activities are now accumulating, including:

  • Ten new members since February 2018.
  • Our first referral member in April 2018.
  • A growing catalogue of blog posts, including an interview with Ernesto Priego of the OLH-supported Comics Grid journal, an essay by Alex Mueller on the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales, and an interview with Janneke Adema and Sam Moore of the Radical OA Collective.
  • A series of successful Twitter chats, hosted on Wakelet.
  • A growing collection of resources, including an updated prospectus, a new FAQ page, an Open Access in the Humanities Infographic, and other resources under development such as an A1 conference paper, a template talk on the OLH for our advocates, a humanities OA bibliography and glossary of terms, and a collection of resources for librarians such as case studies and a crib sheet for membership and renewal.

The goal of this activity has always been to continue doing what the OLH already does best—supporting gold OA APC-free humanities journals—but to do it more visibly and more actively. Traditional marketing has its uses for smaller scholar-led entities, but it is my strong contention that we can be effective at promoting our mission while remaining resolute in our principles. We are in the publishing game to provide something to our colleagues that would otherwise be denied them. We cannot be silenced, we cannot be bought, and we cannot be compromised. We make no profit because we do what we do for ourselves and our peers, without the 30% plus profit margins of legacy publishing giants such as the “big five”.

I will end on a cautionary note. When you pay an APC to a legacy publisher, you are paying for marketing. This is a double-edged sword. Some of your APC is going towards marketing that will tell the world about your work and result in many more readers: this is both beneficial and essential. Some of it is going towards shaping your perception of the publisher as a benevolent enabler of your research, and defining a narrative: you are paying to be marketed to, and to have a worldview shaped around you. In an age of big data, you are paying to keep the big players ahead of the game. And yes, some of it is a dividend, and pays for nothing. At the scale of scholar-led publishing, our communications, marketing and outreach activities should reflect our opposition to this ethos.

We owe our consortium members the information and resources they need to make a case for our subsidy in an increasingly competitive world. We owe our authors and editors a sustainable and feature-rich publishing venue that meets their needs without the prerequisite of deep pockets. Yet in doing so, there is a danger in falling too easily into the habits and methodologies of those we seek to differentiate ourselves from.

Marketing is unavoidable in the twenty-first century: if nobody knows what you do or why they should care then how can you continue to do it? But there is space for “alt-marketing”, another way of looking at the problem, in the same way that “alt-metrics” seeks to find a happy medium between a science-derived impact factor regime and other forms of scholarly acclaim and recognition.

We owe it to the community that we serve to be a good citizen: to inform rather than manipulate, to equip rather than deceive, to respect rather than exploit. This is what marketing means in the humanities, and this is what marketing means for scholar-led publishing. Apathy towards, or lack of knowledge of, open access hurts us all. There are those who would like scholars to be indifferent to the circumstances under which their research is published. The more we know, the more we can act. The more we act, the more agency we can exert. The more agency we exert, the more power we have over the means of scholarly production. This is empowerment in humanities open access.

To this end, the OLH looks to the future with big plans, and we want you by our side. Our deepest thanks go to the Second OpenAIRE Call for Alternative Funding Mechanism for Non-Author Fee Based Open Access Publishing for making this possible.


Gwen Franck

Open Access Programme Coordinator at EIFL - Electronic Information for Libraries / Open Access Project Officer at LIBER - Association of European Research Libraries

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