Profile: Frances Pinter and Knowledge Unlatched
Frances Pinter is the Founder of Knowledge Unlatched, an Open Access pilot project for ebooks, which includes CUP titles.
Frances says that Knowledge Unlatched was an idea born out of frustration with a business model that ‘just skimmed the market and only got important foundational books into a handful of wealthy libraries’. She began to talk about the concept long before it had a name and became an entity.
In 2013 – 14 she and her colleagues launched a proof of concept pilot. It consisted of 28 titles from 13 publishers, large and small, commercial and university presses, from the USA, UK and Europe. The idea involved persuading a minimum of 200 libraries to pay the publishers’ fixed costs associated with getting to first copy, or first digital file, in exchange for open access. The payment was called the Title Fee; it averaged at $12,000 per title. 297 libraries finally participated, so instead of the estimated $60 per book, the cost per book per library was actually just over $40. A second stage pilot is now being planned to iron out some of the wrinkles that inevitably emerged. About 50 publishers are interested in participating in the second round and another 100 libraries are pre-registered.
Frances thinks that Open Access will work for some types of books and not others. She says it is particularly good for expensive specialist books for which it is hard to ascertain the true number of interested readers. If the cost of publishing can be covered, making the book available via this model should be a ‘no-brainer’. Frances adds “I think monographs will have to be mostly Open Access in due course. It is inconceivable that in the Humanities, where the long form is still very important, the business model will remain closed, while the Sciences motor on in an open space because journal articles are largely mandated by the research funders to be published via an OA model.”
Frances has also recently accepted the post of CEO at Manchester University Press. She says that her work for each organisation complements the other well. “My position at Manchester takes up three days a week, which leaves enough time to develop KU. I am acutely aware of the problems publishers have with an OA model because of my work at Manchester. And because we work closely with the University Library I am able to draw on how it sees Open Access. This shift in business models requires changes in mindsets and workflows on both sides, but there is a huge amount of goodwill and a desire to see Open Access work. I’m less bothered about which particular model succeeds than ensuring there is enough experimentation to find new viable models, which is pretty much what the Crossick report is also encouraging.”
Frances Pinter has a long career as a distinguished publisher. She set up her first publishing company several decades ago, at the age of 23. She says that she’s spent most of her life establishing or working with start-ups, so coming to Manchester University Press, with its 111 year history, was quite a change! She thinks that it’s great to be working with such a solid institution.
Asked of which of her achievements she is most proud, she says that she found the work she did with the Soros Foundation, fostering publishing start-ups in the former communist bloc of 30 countries, was extremely rewarding. “Watching how the Eastern European higher education curriculum changed with the translations we introduced and seeing how more competitive approaches to providing better educational content worked out was very exciting.” She says that she was also ‘surprised, honoured and humbled’ a few weeks ago when she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Curtin University in Australia for her contribution to publishing.
Outside work, Frances has been active in various human rights campaigns. She wishes people would be kinder to one another! She says that she’s married to another workaholic, a filmmaker. “We thought our worlds were different, but we now spend time comparing structures of metadata – key to both of our communications media.” And when she’s relaxing completely, she loves to watch seagulls.
In the picture, from left: Cover image from Networks and Institutions in Europe’s Emerging Markets by Roger Shoenman, an Open Access ebook published by Cambridge University Press, which is included in the Knowledge Unlatched pilot. On the right: Frances Pinter