OpenAIRE alternative funding for non-author fee publishing platforms: Language Science Press

*guest post by Sebastian Nordhoff from Language Science Press*

In autumn 2017, OpenAIRE announced the call for “Alternative Funding Mechanism for non-author fee based Open Access Publishing”. Language Science Press submitted a proposal entitled “Full disclosure: replicable strategies for book publications supplemented with empirical data”, which was granted. This blog post gives an overview of the motivations and the results.

Language Science Press is a community-driven publisher in linguistics. We publish monographs and edited volumes (no journals). Since 2014, 70 books have been published. Language Science Press has three guiding principles:

  • it is community-driven. We publish books by scholars for scholars.
  • it is open. All our books are CC-BY, all our software is open source, all our workflows and processes are collaborative
  • it is lean. We have no paywalls, no user tracking, no marketing officers, no warehousing, no involved legal contracts.

Language Science Press is financed by a consortium of currently 101 libraries from all over the world, from Arkanas State to Zürich. Authors come from all over the world as well.

In line with the first two principles (community and openness), we want to share not only our academic content (the books), but also the processes and workflows which we use to produce them. Most of this is implicit knowledge (know-how), which is present in the organisation but not easily transferable. We are grateful to OpenAIRE for providing funds to make that knowledge explicit. The goal of this is to give other disciplines the necessary information to adopt (and adapt) the Language Science Press setup if they so desire.

Community-driven publishers have the advantage that they are really on the pulse of what is happening in a particular discipline, its needs, challenges, and inner workings. Community-driven publishers have the disadvantage that they are much less well aware of the publishing side of things. This includes topics like typography, but also print-on-demand, taxation, or ISBN registration. In order to remedy this disadvantage, we have published the following four items:

  1. Our 2015 business model, with annotations. In 2015, we set up a formal business model with the help of an economist. That model follows a certain blueprint used in economics. It covers the vision, the mission, the analysis of the product, an identification of customers and the values the product could represent for them. It then analyses how the customers could be made to contribute towards the production of that additional value. That business model, like most other models, did not really survive contact with reality. Many assumptions and projections were far off the mark. This is why we added annotations for each particular section, where we evaluate how that part of the model fared and discuss what other alternatives would have been possible, their merits and risks. The basic idea is that other community-based projects will see a) what a business model looks like, b) that business models are never perfect, and c) where we performed well and where we failed, so that the better parts can be replicated.
  2. cookbook, which covers all the inner workings of setting up a publisher, with topics such as prestige, community management, distribution, archiving, software, legal aspects, taxation, etc. This is intended as a complement to the business model.
  3. 5 year spreadsheet to calculate revenue for the first 5 years of a community-driven publisher. The spreadsheet includes about 100 variables. Obvious ones are number of books, pages per book, cost of labour. Less obvious ones are the time required to upload a title with metadata to archives, the estimated success rate when acquiring institutional members, or the cost for copies to be sent to national archives. Even with rough estimates, this spreadsheets should be able to give an indication whether a particular business plan is worthy of being pursued.
  4. The business data of the year 2017. We provide information about our revenue streams, our sales figures, our download figures, and our expenditures. This will give other community-based publishers an idea of what to expect.

Language Science Press uses the so called “library-partnership model” as the main revenue stream, which is becoming more and more popular as an alternative to paywalls or APCs. For instance, the Open Library of Humanities or SciPost also use that model. The document describing the business model puts this in a wider context of other possible funding streams. We believe that this model is more promising than models based on author fees or on print margins. From the empirical data released, we can see that the total revenue generated from print margins was only 5,977 EUR in 2017 for Language Science Press. For more theoretical consideration as to why author fees are actually a very bad idea, especially so for the book market, see our contribution to the Radical Open Access conference.


It is our hope that the documents provided will be useful as tools, manuals, yardsticks and gauges for other community-based publishers in other disciplines. The business model and the cookbook are available for collaborative reading and commenting on PaperHive:

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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