The MIT Press releases a comprehensive report on open-source publishing software

Report catalogs, analyzes available open-source publishing software; warns open publishing must grapple with siloed development and community-owned ecosystems.

Aug. 8, 2019 | Original article
Jessica Pellien | MIT Press | mit
~4 mins

The MIT Press has announced the release of a comprehensive report on the current state of all available open-source software for publishing. “Mind the Gap,” funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, “shed[s] light on the development and deployment of open source publishing technologies in order to aid institutions' and individuals' decision-making and project planning,” according to its introduction. It will be an unparalleled resource for the scholarly publishing community and complements the recently released Mapping the Scholarly Communication Landscape census.

The report authors, led by John Maxwell, associate professor and director of the Publishing Program at Simon Fraser University, catalog 52 open source online publishing platforms. These are defined as production and hosting systems for scholarly books and journals that meet the survey criteria, described in the report as those “available, documented open-source software relevant to scholarly publishing” and as well as others in active development. This research provides the foundation for a thorough analysis of the open publishing ecosystem and the availability, affordances, and current limitations of these platforms and tools.

The number of OS online publishing platforms has proliferated in the last decade, but the report finds that they are often too small, too siloed, and too niche to have much impact beyond their host organization or institution. This leaves them vulnerable to shifts in organizational priorities and external funding sources that prioritize new projects over the maintenance and improvement of existing projects. This fractured ecosystem is difficult to navigate and the report concludes that if open publishing is to become a durable alternative to complex and costly proprietary services, it must grapple with the dual challenges of siloed development and organization of the community-owned ecosystem itself.

“What are the forces — and organizations — that serve the larger community, that mediate between individual projects, between projects and use cases, and between projects and resources?” asks the report. “Neither a chaotic plurality of disparate projects nor an efficiency-driven, enforced standard is itself desirable, but mediating between these two will require broad agreement about high-level goals, governance, and funding priorities — and perhaps some agency for integration/mediation.”

“John Maxwell and his team have done a tremendous job collecting and analyzing data that confirm that open publishing is at a pivotal crossroads,” says Amy Brand, director of the MIT Press. “It is imperative that the scholarly publishing community come together to find new ways to fund and incentivize collaboration and adoption if we want these projects to succeed. I look forward to the discussions that will emerge from these findings.”

“We found that even though platform leaders and developers recognize that collaboration, standardization, and even common code layers can provide considerable benefit to project ambitions, functionality, and sustainability, the funding and infrastructure supporting open publishing projects discourages these activities,” explains Maxwell. “If the goal is to build a viable alternative to proprietary publishing models, then open publishing needs new infrastructure that incentivizes sustainability, cooperation, collaboration, and integration.”

Readers are invited to read, comment, and annotate “Mind the Gap” on the PubPub platform: mindthegap.pubpub.org

Reprinted with permission of MIT News