We recently spoke with Frances Pinter, founder of Knowledge Unlatched, a non-profit enabling sustainable Open Access book publishing. She is also the CEO of Manchester University Press.
Q. What is your current role with Knowledge Unlatched?
A. I am the founder and currently the executive director.
Q. Why did you decide to start Knowledge Unlatched – what problem were you trying to solve?
A. I was trying to find a way around a number of problems. First and foremost, I've watched the decline in the sale of monographs over the decades, especially in Humanities and Social Sciences. I think this is a disaster because so many foundations of our knowledge generated in these subjects is first expressed and properly understood through a form of publication that is longer than a journal article. I also wanted to find a way of avoiding a new, but equally damaging knowledge divide between those that have access to content digitally and those that do not.
Q. How would you like to see Knowledge Unlatched grow and evolve in future?
A. KU was set up to demonstrate three things. They are:
1. That publishers are willing to make high quality, front-list books available on an OA license in return for the payment of a single, fixed title fee by a global community of libraries;
2. Libraries from around the world could work together to share this fee; and
3. Doing so would provide a financially-viable alternative to traditional content acquisition models for both publishers and libraries.
This was successfully accomplished through the pilot project. How it develops and grows is in the hands of the publishing and library communities.
There are practical questions around how one scales up a model like KU. We decided during the pilot that it didn't make sense to set up a totally separate infrastructure ourselves, so we are talking to intermediaries who already have the contacts amongs both publishers to source the books and libraries to present them for unlatching.
Q. OA publishing models for books are still few and far between – do you see this changing and, if so, how and when?
A. There aren't too many models out there. I know HEFCE in the UK will be issuing a report in the autumn being prepared by Geoffrey Crossick. He is looking at how to encourage OA for monographs and the general opinion at this stage is that there is not a single model that fits all needs. It is likely that a pool of money will be available for experimentation. Once that happens,people will likely come forth with a number of ideas on how to arrive at sustainable OA publishing. With the Europe 2020 OA mandate covering 80 billion euros of research, there will certainly be more brainpower addressing the issue. The approach in the US has also triggered a number of ideas - not all of which are practical. The danger is that some disciplines will move forward more quickly than others. This could have unintended consequences for those disciplines that are perceived as closed and laggardly in their efforts to open up their work - to their peers and to the public.
Q. You've spent your entire career in publishing. What has been the period of the most dramatic change?
A. Clearly the most dramatic change has been the move to digital. This has opened up so many exciting possibilities. However, we run the risk of trying to replicate print in digital and that will slow down the developments that are now possible. One day there won't need to be an area called 'digital humanities'. Digital will just be part of the toolkit.
For me, personally, the opportunity to work with George Soros in the mid-to-late nineties in the former communist block of countries was the most exciting time of my professional life. Opening up access to content that had been previously banned, facilitating translations and changes in school curricula with new publications,and helping to develop the new private, independent publishing sector was thrilling. It was amazing to be part of those heady days of transition.
Q. You started the first woman-owned published company in the UK at the age of 23. Certainly, the landscape has changed, but do you feel publishing needs more female leaders today?
A. Well, there certainly aren't enough women at the top. And, sadly, in the UK we recently lost two top women leaders at Random House and Harper Collins. However, there has been tremendous progress and I'm a glass -half-full rather than half-empty type of person.
Q. As an expert on intellectual property rights,do you feel reforms in these areas are keeping pace with change?
A. I wouldn't say I was an expert in copyright. That would need a lifetime of study! I have taken an interest in how the Creative Commons license builds on copyright. I remember being asked about seven years ago whether I was a 'copyright terrorist'. This illustrated to me a misunderstanding of the whole idea of reserving some rights rather than all rights. I respect copyright but it really is difficult to adjust it to meet the needs of the digital age. We have a cascade structure with the main international treaties requiring that any change, apart from small adjustments nationally, need to be agreed upon by the international community. This takes time and there is no way around that.
Q. What big changes do you think we will see in scholarly communications over the next five to ten years?
A. Publishing forms will change. Scholarly communications will become more informal with the rise of social media. This will make official versions of record more important, so I see a healthy role for scholarly publishers. But it will require different skill sets and I doubt the publishing company of tomorrow will look much like the publishing companies of today. None of this is particularly new. Large companies have had the foresight to plan and start converting themselves into new types of organizations. What will be interesting to see going forward is whether or not we can still maintain a diverse publishing ecosystem, or whether economies of scale and the need to trim costs will lead to commodification of content and value coming from what is done with it. I should probably mention here that I am also the CEO of Manchester University Press and I am very keen that smaller presses survive and thrive. I think they can.
Thank you, Frances.