“I am sorry to be so passionate about this,” said the CEO of a major publisher of OA scholarly books. “No problem,” I replied. “I enjoy talking to people who are passionate about scholarly publishing and open access.”
When I first began working in libraries (let’s just say that Lyndon Johnson was president at the time), there were two basic types of book publishing—scholarly and trade. Trade books were the sort of thing you found at bookstores in the shopping mall. Scholarly books were much more expensive and tended to be bought by academic libraries. The librarians were painfully aware of the price difference, but if they did not buy them, their shelves would be empty.
When I finally got my M.L.S. in 1989 and began working in a university library, I got a taste of academic publishing from the inside—I was invited to write for a book titled Advances in Online Public Access Catalogs, Volume 1 (there was never a Volume 2). I turned in a chapter, co-written with colleague Jim Smith, about patterns of search behavior in our online catalog. The book must have done rather well, because a search of WorldCat shows that more than 200 libraries worldwide still have it on their shelves. I’d assume that 400 copies were sold to libraries, but not a cent of those proceeds made it to either of us.
Then the World Wide Web came into the picture, causing librarians and researchers to ask the big questions, including, Is a scholarly book the real deal if it is entirely electronic? It is not an easy question to answer in a world that has a mushrooming market for self-published books and bloggers who claim to be real journalists.
In 2004, two graduate students working in robotics were dissatisfied with their level of access to the research in their field, so they founded IntechOpen, a company that would get the latest data out in OA journals and books. The company grew at a steady pace, and then, seemingly, at an exponential speed. By its fifth year, it had published 100 books, and the following year, it saw a million downloads. Five years later, that download count was up to 70 million. In 2016, IntechOpen divested its online journals. International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems, the OA title created at the company’s founding, is now produced by SAGE, along with four other titles. In 2017, the download count was 100 million, and the company added its 3,000th book. IntechOpen’s content comes from more than 100,000 authors, several of whom are Nobel Prize winners. The high visibility of its products has resulted in more than 80,000 citations in Web of Science databases.
I confirmed that the company’s output could be found in WorldCat. A spot check showed that most titles were reported in about 30 libraries, but nearly all of them were in Germany. A web search confirmed that many American libraries tend to display access to IntechOpen works via their subject-oriented webpages.
A Talk With the CEO
In 2018, IntechOpen announced that Dr. Anke Beck would be stepping up as the new CEO. Beck had previously worked for the German publisher De Gruyter. In her 17 years there, she went from participating in traditional publishing to leading the company’s efforts to create an OA platform.
In April 2019, I spoke with Beck. In addition to her distinguished career in publishing, she was recently appointed for a 4-year term on the German Council for Information Infrastructure, in which leading scientists in all fields work to make good information more accessible. She told me that the work they are doing will have benefits far beyond Germany.
Noting that the standard format for an IntechOpen title is an anthology covering a particular topic in science, I asked her what percentage of the titles are single-author monographs. “Very few,” she told me. “We are not interested in being the publisher of Ph.D. theses.” I asked if the referees are their own employees and was told that they are scholars in their particular field, just as you would find in traditional scholarly publishing. Employees of IntechOpen perform value-added services such as copy editing and indexing and abstracting. The OA format encourages authors to share information more quickly.
Because the company is headquartered in London, I asked if Brexit is having an impact on its operation. Beck told me that Brexit is a disaster for research and scholarship in general. She said that knowing barriers are coming, researchers in Britain and across the continent and forging informal alliances.
In 2018, there was a spirited discussion on the internet about IntechOpen possibly being a predatory publisher. Evidence included the high price (more than $1,000) to author a chapter in one of its books. Also, some researchers noted that editors were aggressively soliciting them to write chapters.
Beck had much to say in her defense of the company’s reputation, beginning with the fact that it is a member of professional organizations such as the International Association of STM Publishers, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, and the Committee on Publication Ethics. In addition, it is partnered with institutions such as NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.
Beck told me that when she moved from De Gruyter to IntechOpen, she was quite aware of what the publisher was doing and was ready to lead it forward in a way that enhanced the quality of scientific information. As for the high price of publication, she noted that many researchers work for institutions that can cover the cost and that the publisher provides a range of value-added services—particularly analytics such as citations in Web of Science and listings in WorldCat. Another advantage she pointed out was that articles in IntechOpen’s books can be modified as new data comes in that impact the chapter.
What the Future Holds
When I worked at New York Law School several years ago, I found it exciting that nearly all of the major law journals were available in an OA setting, while STEM sources remained locked up in the vaults of major corporate publishers. The new trend in OA for science research is likely here to stay. Given the rate of change that I have witnessed, I can safely say that the next chapter in scholarly publishing has yet to be written.