Wearing my bread-and-butter hat, I went this week to a conference on Open Access [OA]. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it is a business model which involves making articles that appear in learned journals available free of charge to the ‘end-user’ (i.e. reader). Publishers are either paid direct by the author or they continue to charge subscriptions to libraries, but make the articles available free after an embargo period of six to twelve months. Academic publishers have come under a certain amount of pressure to accept this as one of their business models since it was first conceived in 2004, and most now offer some form of OA.
Following the publication of a report it commissioned this year (the ‘Finch report’), the UK government has now said that articles written about research projects funded by government grants to universities must all be made available via OA. This may not seem of much interest to crime writers or fiction writers generally; however, I think that we should be vigilant. Why? Because there is now a movement to extend OA to books. This is already happening in a small way. The argument is that publishers don’t make any money out of some books anyway, so they may as well cover their costs by making the author pay.
Speaking as a new crime writer who is currently being tenderly nurtured by my publisher (Salt Publishing), I think that if this were to be extended to fiction it would be the thin end of the wedge for both author and publisher. Why would authors trouble to write books and then pay the publisher to publish them? How would we afford it? And why would a publisher build an author’s profile – sometimes over many years – only to cover its costs, with maybe a modest ‘premium’ thrown in? Doesn’t this mean abandoning the leap of faith that all fiction publishers invest in their authors?
Finally, haven’t we all heard of this before, under a different guise? Isn’t it simply called ‘vanity publishing’?