by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
Providing open and trustworthy usage data on open access (OA) publications remains a challenge as the scholarly publication market continues its general shift toward forms of publishing that keep publicly funded knowledge in the public domain, even though the economic models behind them often remain questionable.
At punctum books, we believe that every aspect of the scholarly book production chain should be open — built on open infrastructures, following open standards, made available in open formats, and, most importantly, co-governed by a community of authors, institutions, funders, and publishers. The existence of any proprietary link in this chain constitutes a potential point of profit extraction and is as such vulnerable to corporate capture. This has become very clear from the way in which giant commercial publishing-turned-data-analytics companies embrace OA only to move their shareholder profit extraction from the public purse further upstream to research environments and datasets. Downstream usage data provide another such potential point of capture and monetization.
There are currently two large-scale projects involved in developing platforms for providing harmonized usage data for open access books.
In 2021, the stakeholders in the OA Book Usage Data Trust, funded by the Mellon Foundation, developed their initial governance principles and are now working toward the launch of a technical pilot for an “international data space for open access book usage data between 2022 and 2025.” While the results of this technical pilot are not yet public, the organization mentions in its prospectus that “there is not currently a trusted book usage data exchange infrastructure neutrally operated by a consortium of book-publishing stakeholders to facilitate the aggregation and benchmarking of both open and controlled usage data for specified uses by trusted partners” (my emphasis). Considering the commercial partners in this project and the contradiction between the professed openness of the data trust and the gatekeeping signal words “specified” and “trusted,” it appears unlikely that the data trust itself will eventually be truly, fully open, even if built on open infrastructures.
Another pilot is the Book Analytics Dashboard (BAD) Project, also running from 2022 to 2025, coordinated by the Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative (COKI) and again funded by the Mellon Foundation. BAD has already launched an initial proof of concept dashboard showing data from the University of Michigan Press (which is also involved in the OA Book Usage Data Trust project). Importantly, these data are indeed open to anyone and directly downloadable from the dashboard under an open license. COKI’s initial findings from focus groups run in the first quarter of 2023 are also publicly available. This in itself is a hopeful sign that the project is moving in a fully open direction.