Future of Language Science Press

Next to publishing 35 books over the last 3 years, we have also explored ways to finance open access. We identified 5 revenue streams, but our evaluation showed that the most promising one is a “library partnership model”, similar to crowdfunding. Instead of charging readers or authors, we think that small contributions from a wide network of linguistics libraries worldwide are a better solution for long-term sustainability and this is also more in line with the spirit of the linguistics community.

Our target in terms of book publications is 30/year.

For this, we have to collect 115,000 EUR.

Ways to support

Together with Knowledge Unlatched, we have set up the following ways to contribute towards meeting this sum:

We will approach libraries over the next months and propose our financing model to them. Libraries are much more likely to contribute if researchers have talked to their library about the advantages of Language Science Press before, so you can help us immensely by sending just a very brief email to your librarian. (See sample below).

Some numbers

Some numbers might come in handy: with LangSci, a library contributing 1000 EUR can finance 30 high quality linguistics books a year for 33.33 EUR each. Compare this price tag to a random book from a traditional publisher all at about 100 EUR.

Plot 23Our costs for producing a fully open access book (CC-BY) are just below 4,000 EUR (115k€/30). [Update: since there have been some misunderstandings: this is the global sum we need per book. That cost is met by all participating institutions and individuals together] Compare this to the quotes of 10,000 EUR (de Gruyter) or 18,500 EUR (Brill). This is of course due to all the free support we receive from the community, but we are proud of this support we receive from you!

Plot 24While 1,000 EUR yearly contribution is a huge sum for one person, it is not that large in a  library context where subscription fees for one journal can be easily in the 5-digit range.

Make Open Access work!

We think 100 libraries worldwide and 150 individuals should be doable. If this is not the case, then linguistics is probably not ready for open access. So go talk to your library and make the case that researchers can reclaim publishing, make it free and open, and less expensive as well! And if you feel that you have the financial means for making a personal contribution towards making open access work, make an individual pledge.

While personal meetings or phone calls are the best way to get in touch with your  librarians, a simple email would also help. The more personal, the better. Below, we provide a sample email. Use this as a starter if you have a writer’s block. Click here to load this text into your email program.

Dear ___,
as you might know, linguistics is a very progressive discipline when it
comes to open access. The rebellion of the Lingua editorial board
against Elsevier, the resignation of the whole board and the subsequent
founding of Glossa have received wide coverage not only in specialist
media outlets.
Today I would like you to ask you to support open access not only for 
journals, but also for books.

You might have heard of Language Science Press. Language Science Press
publishes fully open access books under CC-BY. They are a community-based
worldwide enterprise with supporters from MIT, Harvard, Yale, Zurich, 
Berlin, Sydney, Hong Kong,etc. To name but a few, Noam Chomsky, Adele 
Goldberg and Steven Pinker support Language Science Press and their 
library partnership model set up by Knowledge Unlatched. I would be very
happy if ______ could contribute towards the success of open access by 
becoming a supporter of Language Science Press at the rate of 1000 EUR/year 
for ~30 books/year. I am happy to provide you with more information or
put you in touch with sebastian.nordhoff@langsci-press.org and Tom Mosterd 
tom@knowledgeunlatched.org (CC).
Best wishes

10 thoughts on “Future of Language Science Press

  1. 4000 Euros per book seems high given that authors are not paid and that the community contributes unpaid work. I can’t help the feeling that this model is moving in the direction all too familiar from the science publishers: authors contribute their work for free and other people make a profit (such as the good folks of Knowledge Unlatched, whose contribution of substance escapes me). As an individual, I would be more likely to subscribe if I knew how those 4000 Euros are spent. Any chance you could publish a breakdown of the costs?

    • 4000 Euros per book seems high given that authors are not paid and that the community contributes unpaid work.

      Hi Anatol,
      you can find a breakdown of the costs here: http://userblogs.fu-berlin.de/langsci-press/2015/09/29/whats-the-cost-of-an-open-access-book/. The bottom line is that the bulk of the cost is personnel to deal with authors, editors, libraries etc. All other items, like equipment, travel etc are neglectable.

      We also provide a spreadsheet where you can make your own calculations to see if you can end up with a cheaper rate: http://userblogs.fu-berlin.de/langsci-press/2016/04/18/calculating-the-costs-of-a-community-driven-publisher/

      (Let us know if you have found it 😉 )

      I can’t help the feeling that this model is moving in the direction all too familiar from the science publishers: authors contribute their work for free and other people make a profit

      Well the lion’s share of the contributions goes towards salaries at Humboldt University. Knowledge Unlatched currently has 4 people working for us, who also get a salary.

      (such as the good folks of Knowledge Unlatched, whose contribution of substance escapes me).

      When we developed the idea of library partnerships in 2014/5 (before we met KU), we prepared a grant application (I can send it to you) and thought that we would need at least one person-year to set up this model (plus a lot of travel money) to identify all relevant libraries and contact them. This might come as a surprise but everybody we talked to thought that this was a reasonable guess, but maybe optimistic. That gives you a figure in the upper five-digit range as a price tag. Knowledge Unlatched is much cheaper than that (less than a fifth). The service is available now, and they have shown that their setup works over the last 3 years.
      The alternative of doing it in-house would have been 5 times more expensive and would only be available two years from now, and probably at a lower quality.

      As an individual, I would be more likely to subscribe if I knew how those 4000 Euros are spent. Any chance you could publish a breakdown of the costs?

      Sure. We have always published our figures as they became available. See the links above.

      As for “the direction all too familiar”: the brand “Language Science Press” is owned by the charity “Open Science Press Support” to exclude it from the commercial market. This should avoid the dangers described in https://www.frank-m-richter.de/freescienceblog/2017/02/21/we-dont-need-open-access-but-scholar-owned-publication-brands/.

      Knowledge Unlatched is a service provider (like BoD is our service provider for print-on-demand). If someone else has better conditions, we are happy to change (We are in the process of ending our collaboration with Amazon owned CreateSpace for instance). This is different from say Elsevier journals in STEM, where everybody wants to change, but they all have to stick with Elsevier because of the brands.

    • Fascinating discussion, at a historic crossroads. Linguistics publishing is inventing its future here and now!
      Is 4,000€ too expensive? Sebastian Nordhoff has already answered A. Stefanowitsch’s question about the breakdown of the costs. Importantly, Sebastian pointed to… information already available on this blog. Look at the wealth of information, including stats about how many statements of interest are received, the number of desk rejections, rejection after review, books currently under review… This is incredibly open! I think this is part of the answer: the money (4,000€) is a necessity, and is actually great “value for money” given the quality of the work done at LangSciPress. But a crucial point is that the whole business model is different and much more exciting and meaningful for all concerned (except investors who want “return on investment”!) The money is spent on making beautiful books, and on developing innovating solutions, breaking fresh ground. That is the common goal. LangSciPress employees, authors and volunteers share a goal and a vision; this creates different relationships between us, with more involvement and closer collaboration. As an author, I found the adventure of preparing a book and publishing it with Language Science Press to be thoroughly unlike work with commercial publishers. Instead, it reminds me strongly of the power cooperative of which I’m a member (Enercoop, modelled on the Belgian cooperative Eco-Power): instead of only being a ‘consumer’, I am a proud member of the cooperative (100% renewable energy), I get to learn a lot about the business model and plans for development, and I care about the cooperative’s future. Language Science Press, like the cooperative, is not-for-profit but needs to pay the employees’ salaries and other expenses. It is a good thing that we (about 1,000 supporters of Language Science Press, and many more readers) now get to learn about the business model and participate in establishing it firmly. In the process, we realize that serious publishing requires real money. Open access is not the same as self-publishing: doing a PDF on our computers and posting it online costs us nothing; and compared to zero, the figure of 4,000€ seems a lot. But Language Science Press is a publishing house: it is serious about making wonderful books, getting the best of several worlds: its books have the old-world beauty of a typeset volume (a carefully devised stylesheet, carefully applied, with some manual adjustments by an expert), and there are also plans for all-electronic books, as I remember reading on this blog (a vision of ‘connected data’ in which users navigate seamlessly between a grammar, texts, and a dictionary, for instance). Language Science Press is an ‘incubator’ for the future of publishing in linguistics. This requires specialists working full-time as employees.
      Recently Marin Dacos (a pioneer of open access & Digital Humanities generally) asked around about business models of social and solidarity economy (SSE), looking for inspiration to devise sustainable business models for publishing houses similar to Language Science Press (M. Dacos’s project is “OpenEdition”: one platform for books, one for journals). Striking convergence of ideas: SSE seems the right place to look for adequate business models. Let’s find the money, not just because it is cheaper than commercial publishers, but because the model is so much more forward-looking.
      In practice, there are some things that we need to work out, such as:
      (i) a fair division of the financial effort. If big institutions like my home institution (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), with over 20 supporters, members of editorial teams of several series, and many potential authors only contribute the proposed standard 1,000€ per year, the sum seems much too small. But if individual research centres within CNRS are asked to contribute, the yearly sum is likely to seem a lot to them (probably impossible). So some solution in-between would make good sense, taking into account the institution’s documentary spending habits, the country’s tradition of centralization, and the needs of other initiatives that likewise rest on partnership with resource-buying institutions (libraries), such as OpenEdition Books.
      (ii) administrative implementation. Libraries pay invoices. The institutions I know over here all need some kind of invoice to be able to make a payment. So instead of paying money for “nothing” (access to resources that are free in the first place), maybe a solution would be to have a “Supporter” price for books (let’s say: 25 euros as the regular price for a book, and 50 euros or even 100 euros as the ‘supporter’ price), so libraries (and individuals) could order books at the “Supporter” price and support Language Science Press in the process. Libraries like to have books, most readers also like them, and Language Science Press books look great. So relying on books as printed objects could facilitate the ‘sustainable fundraising’ campaign.
      Apologies for the longish post: I for one find it hard to set out dreams about the future in 400 signs 🙂

  2. But what do libraries get for the money? Hardback copies or just pdfs? I can’t see this working without some tangible asset – librarians have to defend their purchasing in an era of shrinking book budgets.

    • Hi Stephen,
      this is indeed puzzling at first sight, but most librarians are actually quite happy with models like this when comparing them to the traditional models. The reason is that it brings down costs down to about a third. Of course, you could always stand by and hope that someone else will fund the production of the OA books, and then you are free to read them without paying a dime. But my experience is that librarians realise that if everybody just stood by, they would stay with the status quo, which overcharges academia (and society) by 300%.
      Add to this that you have all kinds of hassle with models based on exclusivity (digital rights/restrictions management, user authentication, billing, journal bundling negotiations, litigation, etc) as compared to an open access document which you can access from anywhere (not just your institution) on any device at any time you see fit, which you can share, distribute, reuse etc, and which for a lot less hassle does a lot more for the advancement of science.

  3. I think you should be targeting all the professional linguistics societies and associations – it’s they that should pay, if necessary by an increase in fees, because unlike librarians this is their disciplinary niche.
    See this by someone on the PLOS One board:


    • As I read it, that blog post is mainly about societies which generate revenue from journal subscriptions.

      The reliance of so many societies on journal revenues has often made it hard to distinguish them from commercial publishers in their public stance on important issues in science publishing.

      Two points about this:

      – the “rich” societies are so via the journal subscriptions they sell to libraries. Hence, ultimately, it is again the libraries who fund the publication (and the conferences, scholarships, prizes of the societies + their overhead). Directly using this money for scientific publication instead of taking an extra loop via the societies is certainly more efficient

      – the “poor” societies do not make money from journal subscriptions, but only from membership fees. This is the case for all linguistic societies I am aware of. Putting the burden of publishing costs on these societies would actually mean that it would be the researchers who have to pay for publication from their salary, instead of their employers. This is unfair. In the traditional reader-pays model, libraries use tax payer money to buy books from publishers, which in turn funds the production of those books. Why would you want to use tax-payer money for restricted access books but force researchers to use their own money (via society fees) for open access books?

    • Hi Steve,

      This is a good suggestion. We already talked to the DGfS (Martin and I are members). But libraries are also connected to professional linguists. Depending on the actual setup, the linguistics departments have influence on how the money is spent.

      Best wishes


  4. Thanks, Steve, for engaging in this discussion. I’ve had similar questions about librarians (not only because book budgets are shrinking, but also because they will disappear in 10-15 years’ time, it seems). But I don’t see how professional associations could provide a solution. Note that we don’t want to charge authors – and Michael Eisen’s blogpost simply presupposes that it’s reasonable to charge authors. (I don’t see this, because it cannot lead to any competition – authors will be happy to pay any price for a paper in “Nature”.)

  5. I don’t know enough about academic publishing to say whether 4,000 Euros is high or low for a single book. But what I DO know is that publishing my first book with LSP took tremendous financial and technical weight off my shoulders. Another publisher I had looked into was going to charge me something like 8 Euros per page to print my book. I could’ve never afforded that. Being able to have a book published at no cost to me was really a boon to my fledgeling career as a linguist. I’m thankful for that!

    Another thing I know is that the technical help I received (for example, from Sebastian) was very expert and time-consuming, and was done with the utmost skill, professionalism, and timeliness. I was highly impressed through the whole process. It wouldn’t stretch my credulity at all to learn that the service I got for my book was worth 4,000 Euros (especially since that’s what I would’ve had to pay had I funded the publication myself). I’ll limit my non-expert comments to these but summarize by saying: as a non-wealthy author, LSP’s costs were definitely WORTH IT for me.

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