Brazilian University Presses Flirt With Free, Open Access Books

Free content, open access, piracy, photocopying…all these issues have been the object of fierce debate throughout the world, and in Brazil things are no different. SciELO (Scientific Electronic Library Online) has recently heated up the discussion by starting an initiative to make university presses’ titles available for free.

Since 1998, SciELO has offered free access to a number of scientific journals from Brazil and other countries. In March of this year, it started offering access to books as well, all from university presses. SciELO Books is a pilot project for the presses of Unesp (in São Paulo), UFBA (in Bahia) and Fiocruz (in Rio de Janeiro). There are currently 250 titles online, with the aim to reach 500 by the end of the year. And SciELO is looking to expand its partners.

Abel Packer, director and founder of SciELO, explains that titles from potential publishing partners will be selected by a scientific committee, which analyzes the relevance and quality of the works. According to him, it has not been easy to attract publishers, and many also resist offering their new releases for free.

Packer believes university presses need to go through a “complete change of mentality”: if they exist to promote the scientific production of the university, and if this production is mostly financed with public money, then it must be possible to freely access the books which result from it — something very viable with digital formats.

José Castilho Marques Neto, president of Editora Unesp, agrees that a new way of thinking is necessary. “If research is carried out with public money, access must be free. This is valid for journals and for books as well, even though they demand more editorial work and have higher costs.” For Packer, the presses have to choose between “selling some few reais or having millions of downloads of what they produce.”

Millions of downloads are, however, still a distant target for SciELO Books. Packer believes that it will be necessary to have 10,000 titles before the portal registers two to three million downloads (of book chapters) a month — which is projected to happen in five years, if the project goes on. It is, however, a plausible target. On the journals website, which offers various issues from a total of roughly 250 journals, there was a monthly average of 36 million downloads in 2011, according to Packer.

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