Live-blogging the 2009 Vancouver PKP Conference

Being an Open Access Press – the First Two Years: The Session Blog

Photo by C Gratham at PKP 2009

Photo by C Gratham at PKP 2009


  • Dr. Frits Pannekoek – President, Athabasca University, Bio
  • Walter Hildebrandt, Director, AU Press, Bio
  • Kathy Killoh – Journals and Digital Coordinator, AU Press, Bio
  • Shubhash Wasti – IT Systems Coordinator, AU Press, Bio

July 9, 2009, 11:30-am-12:30 pm. SFU Harbour Centre. Rm 1900


Athabasca University’s scholarly press, AU Press,  focusses on the dissemination of knowledge and research through open access digital journals and monographs and  through new electronic media.

Session Overview

The presenters illustrated Athabasca University’s journey over the past two years since the creation of their open access scholarly press: AU Press.

Part I – Views from above (Dr. Frits Pannekoek)

Dr. Pannekoek opened the presentation by reminding the audience that AU is fundamentally dedicated to removing all the barriers to learning and that they support the range of “open” initiatives in education including open educational resources, open data, open source software, as well as the  open access to scholarly work that is the primary work of AU Press.

1) International and National Context for Open Access

Dr. Pannekoek cautioned the audience that while they are advocates of open access, this view was not uniformly shared by all, as he was recently reminded while attending  the World Conference on Higher Education  in his role as president of the International Council on Open and Distance Education (ICDE).  Consequently, Dr Pannekoek believes that “we’ve got a big fight on our hands”, and  he listed the following issues  as significant barriers to further support for open access:

  • Support – the prevailing notion that  digitized materials never have adequate level of support
  • Quality –  the common assumption that the best model for learning lies in the traditional craft model (one-on-one relationship between professor and student)
  • Fraud – the fear of being plagiarised
  • Imperialism – the view in some quarters that the open access movement is another form of imperialism because it is largely controlled by the North

Dr. Pannekoek also summarized how people are reacting to the open access movement. In particular, he noted that we will face increasing regulation of the flows of knowledge (e.g. through funding structures) as well as commercial publishers who change their economic models to include more services that have traditionally been regarded as the domain of the universities themselves.

2) Philosophy behind starting up an open access university press

Dr. Pannekoek says it comes down to the basic question of “What can we do with the resources we have?”  Athabasca University spends upwards of 70% of their budget on academic salaries so they decided to use their resources to value what those people do and produce.

3) Open access business model

Athabasca introduced the “1% solution”. Here they  identified 1% of the budget in each area and dedicated it to scholarly communication and publishing. While they do solicit support from other areas, Dr. Pannekoek stressed the importance of looking within our own institutions for funding structures.

Part II – Not Either Or (Walter Hildebrandt)

Mr. Hildebrandt focused on six of issues important to the AU Press. First, he brought up the ideological issues related to open access publishing. These include considering the commoditization, privatization, and corporate control of knowledge in light of the public right to access publicly funded research. Next, he recapped the barriers and issues upon starting the AU Press. Here he recapped creating a charter, mandate, vision statement and goals and reviewed their funding arrangement. He also spoke of the initial skepticism at Athabasca University about expected revenue and of  potential  negative impacts of royalties of print publications.

Mr. Hildebrandt reminded the audience that AU Press publishes not just print or digitally, but both, and that they focus on certain areas of specialization. Thus far, their publications include twenty books, six journals, one website, and numerous author interviews, and  he very proudly pointed out AU Press’s four award winning books.

Next, Mr. Hildebrandt  reviewed some of their authors’ responses to open access monograph publishing. The concerns focused on issues around royalties and copyright control. On the positive side, authors reported increased citations and were encouraged that SSHRC encourages open access dissemination. But ultimately, as Dr. Hildebrandt says, people would “rather be read than not read”.

Mr. Hildebrandt concluded his part of the presentation  by touching on the future plans for the AU Press. By the year 2011 they plan to publish 30-35 books per year, more websites, more podcasts and videos , and to partner with other similar minded institutions.

Digital Publishing (Kathy Killoh)

Ms. Killoh focused on some of the details of AU Press publishing. First, she differentiated AU Press’s mandate of open access publishing from cutting edge e-publishing. For AU Press, open access publishing doesn’t mean all the  “bells and whistles”. Instead, they focus on placing publications online, for free, in PDF format.  They do see value added e-publishing (xml, epub, etc) as potential revenue opportunities in the future.

Ms Killoh also asked, “Is selling open access e-books an oxymoron?” For AU Press, apparently not.  She reported that, even though all this material is available for free on the web, they still sell many books (e.g. to libraries) that are made available through searchable databases by vendors.

Ms. Killoh also described some details of the author contracts and copyright at AU Press. Upon legal advice that the term is to vague, AU Press contracts avoid the term “open access”. Instead, they use the creative commons licences and refer to the specific terms within those licenses. The copyright  remains with the author, but the sign over licensing rights to AU Press. Royalties are negotiated individually for all contracts.

Finally, to conclude her portion of the presentation, Ms. Killoh took the audience on a tour of the AU Press website.

Part III – Hits and Sales – (Shubhash Wasti)

Mr. Wasti raised areas of further information that the AU Press needs  to more thoroughly evaluate the success of their open access publishing. They would like to know details of the number of visits they are getting for each publication. Preliminary data shows that their does seem to be some correlation between the number of downloads and the number of sales, but that the ratio is not constant. In the sample presented, the ratio of downloads to sales varies from a low of 3:1 up as high as 65:1. Additionally, AU Press would like to track the sales of printed books and investigate the relationship between the number of downloads and the number of sales. While the print sales seem “reasonable”, they would like to the relationship to a number of factors (e.g. subject area, demographics, accessibility from type of device, etc)

Discussion and audience questions

  • Terry Anderson’s book, The Theory and Practice of Online Learning , has become very well known in China, and  this could account for very high downloads of that book.
  • Question: How does the pricing of their print books compare to those of commercial publishers? Answer: They try to break even and to cover the cost of print because the cost of open access publishing is covered by the institutional support.
  • Question: What are the financial issues around keeping content online for a long time? Answer: They appear to be the same as the IT infrastructure issues that all institutions face. They need both an increase in capital and in operating budgets.

Related Links


1 The new Érudit publishing platform: The Session Blog — PKP Scholarly Publishing Conference Blog 2009 { 07.10.09 at 12:54 am }

[…] publishing locations. Erudit focuses on the promotion and dissemination of research similar to the Open Access Press (part of the PKP 2009 […]

2 Frits Panekoek { 07.10.09 at 8:31 pm }

It should be noted that ICDE (the International Council of Distance Education) a UNESCO advisory category B agency is strongly supportive of open access and open source. However what I found that there was not uniformity amongst the more traditional thinkers at the World Conference on Higher Education hosted by UNESCO. As President of ICDE I was representing its interest at the World Conference on Higher Education.

3 Chris Gratham { 07.10.09 at 11:21 pm }

Thanks for the clarification Dr. Pannekoek. I’ve updated the blog text to reflect your comments.