Open Book Publishers

About the Project

This project is one of the 2017 WISE Awards finalists. 

This project is one of the 2014 WISE Awards finalists.

Most people in the developing world never own a book. Even in developed countries the prohibitive price of textbooks and academic titles restricts access to education. The power of digital books can change this. Open Book Publishers (OBP) is a not-for-profit organization based in Cambridge and the leading Open Access publisher of academic works and textbooks in the UK.

OBP was founded in 2008 by a group of academics in Cambridge and London who were passionate about disseminating knowledge. It has spearheaded an innovative and low-cost publishing model to democratize access to learning, making high-quality textbooks for secondary schools and monographs freely available online alongside inexpensive printed editions. Its model represents an alternative to traditional educational books and textbook publishing — a system that, given the exorbitant prices charged, benefits only the privileged few with access to well-stocked libraries.

The project has been very successful in removing barriers to knowledge: OBP has published 90 titles, including works by leading academics, which are read and used in the classroom in over 120 countries, including sub-Saharan Africa and India.  Its work is particularly important for developing countries where only books that are free and digital can reach readers. It has partnered with organizations such as World Reader to ensure that its titles are available free of charge to a large readership in Africa and Asia on a variety of devices, including mobile phones.

Context and Issue

The high cost of textbooks and university-level works marginalizes individual readers and less well-endowed university libraries the world over. At a time when great efforts are made toward widening access to education, encouraging continuing education, and creating free online courses, the need for high-quality digital books and textbooks open to all is urgent. The social benefits of providing free high-quality educational material are huge both in the developed and developing world as education is the key to individual fulfilment, social mobility and economic growth – but no large-scale educational program is possible without easy and free access to learning resources.

Solution and Impact

A university-level book typically sells 300 copies during its entire lifetime. OBP books are read by an average of 30,000 readers every month from over 200 countries. In 2016 alone over 2 million pages of Open Book’s 89 titles were read, with over 300,000 unique book visits – and over 20 percent of those readers based in developing countries.

OBP addresses the needs of disadvantaged readers worldwide who, thanks to OBP, can access free educational resources that would be otherwise unavailable. Significantly, Greece, India, Kenya and Nigeria are in the top 10 list of the countries with the greatest number of online readers. OBP most accessed work, Oral Literature in Africa by Ruth Finnegan, has attracted more readers from Kenya than any other country, and more readers from Africa than any other continent. Works such as Feeding the City: Work and Food Culture of the Mumbai Dabbawalas  by Sara Roncaglia and Amartya Sen’s Peace and Democratic Society have been read more in India than in any other country.

By providing free learning materials in a variety of digital formats, OBP is able to reach readers anywhere in real time and on a variety of devices. With a budget of less than USD$6,000 per title  (less than 1/5th of the costs incurred by traditional University Presses in the US)  OBP delivers top-level books and offers innovative educational technologies to a huge number of readers worldwide.

OBP titles are rigorously peer reviewed to ensure high quality and are published swiftly and professionally. OBP takes advantage of the digital medium to create interactive and commentary functions so that textbooks can be used as teaching tools. More importantly, these technological advances are made available as Open Source tools to enable other non-profit organizations to benefit from our work; thus OBP brings wider long-term benefits to a host of educational projects.

Future Developments

This year, OBP is involved with a new EU project, HIRMEOS, to develop new services for Open Access monographs across five existing platforms. This will enable the aggregation of online readership and download data for individual publications across a range of independent online hosting platforms, to facilitate uptake and lower the barriers to entry for new Open Access publishing initiatives.

This forms part of OBS’s strategy of developing and releasing its website, database and management infrastructures and processes as independent Open Source products that themselves can be shared and adapted by new and existing publishers in both developed and developing countries – making it easier for new publishing initiatives to flourish.

In keeping with its core program to provide free educational tools and IT resources for everyone worldwide, OBP also plays an advisory role for start-up operations in Open Access publishing. 

April 26, 2017 (last update 12-30-2020)