Description of the African Minds open access scholarly book publishing model. Last updated February 2022.
The African Minds banner-like colophon first appeared on an open access scholarly book in 2006. But it was only in 2012 that African Minds was incorporated in the Republic of South Africa as a not-for-profit trust. After much tussling with the Receiver of Revenue about the apparent contradiction between promoting universal access to knowledge while also selling books in the academic market, African Minds was approved as a public benefit organisation.
The time-lag from first publication to official incorporation can be traced to the origins of African Minds, in particular its emergence from a publishing service provider that counted university academics among its client base. It became increasingly apparent that academic clients with access to research funding sought not only a provider of publishing services (design, typesetting, proofreading and printing) but a publisher with a recognizable name and brand. Critically, in the South African context where scholarly books generate income for universities and their researchers via a government subsidy scheme, books had to be subjected to peer reviewed. In short, ‘published by’ was more prized that ‘produced by’.
Initially, when the occasional request for a publisher rather than a service provider was made, books would be produced by the publishing services provider, and published under the African Minds imprint. However, when the requirement for more formal scholarly quality assurance processes, in particular the selection and peer review of book manuscripts, became a necessity, this led to a change on several fronts: how books were selected for publication, the management of the entire publishing process by African Minds, and the formal establishment of African Minds Trust in 2012.
African Minds as a fully-fledged open access scholarly publisher therefore emerged from a commercial company that provided publishing services to researchers. But its formative context was not only commercial. African Minds’ ‘mother company’ had carved a niche for itself in the book market by providing not only production services but also, unusually at the time, distribution services (see Gray et al. 2007). The latter included a strong focus on print-on-demand (to reduce wasteful lithographic print-runs for niche markets) and on the distribution of published works in PDF format on the websites of clients as well as via the Lightning Source just-in-time printing service. The setting up of the distribution component in the commercial company’s offering was critical to the the attraction of African Minds as a new publisher in the South African scholarly book market.
Furthermore, because the commercial company generated its income upfront from the sale of services, there was no need for the publishing service provider to profit from the sale of the products it produced (including books). Clients were free to do with the books produced as they wished, and the company provided distribution support via bookshops and online retailers. African Minds therefore emerged with from within an approach that was both open access and focused on dissemination.
But the open access approach of African Minds was not only rooted in the service offerings of its mother company. In the context of the emergence of the research university in Africa (Cloete et al. 2018) and high-quality research being conducted on the continent (Van Schalkwyk et al. 2021), the dominance of knowledge products from the Global North continues to surface many challenges for the development of science in Africa. One of the contributors to these challenges is that researchers in Africa find it difficult to access locally produced knowledge. At the same time, they find it challenging to publish, either because of a dearth of scholarly publishers in Africa (Van Schalkwyk and Luescher 2017) or because publishing internationally is a process that is opaque and often accompanied by rejection (Mills and Inouye 2020). Outside of the continent, much of the research produced in Africa remains largely beyond the purview and appreciation of an interested global readership.
African Minds was therefore established to:
promote open access publishing, initially in the social sciences
provide publishing opportunities for researchers in Africa or those with a close affinity and interest in the development of Africa
develop a better understanding of the scholarly publishing landscape in Africa
foster openness and debate in the pursuit of growing and deepening the African knowledge base.
In conclusion, as per the African Minds Trust Deed, “the Trust is a non-profit organisation of a public character, established for the objective of promoting democracy, justice, the realisation of constitutional and human rights and pursuing solutions for social challenges facing the African continent through the publication of research” (para. 4).
African Minds was founded by François van Schalkwyk. François had stumbled into publishing as an English literature graduate seeking a vocation. And after completing a master’s degree in publishing studies at the University of Stirling, Scotland, in 1997, he returned home to an uncertain but hopeful future in South Africa. Employment in the relatively small, local publishing industry dominated by educational publishers proved hard to come by. François did, however, secure freelance work for two book publishers based in Cape Town. At the beginning of 1999, one of his clients, David Philip Publishers, offered him a position as a Production Editor. Without a computer, and armed only with a dictionary and a fax machine, François set about learning all he could about publishing books in the real world. Working for a family-owned publisher was both educational and frustrating. He resigned at the end of 2000 to pursue new adventures in publishing.
François co-founded Compress, a company offering publishing services to the not-for-profit publishing market in South Africa and, later on, Africa. The focus was on using new printing technologies, digital tools and the affordances of the world wide web to accelerate the publishing process, reduce wasteful expenditure, and increase the accessibility of publications, but without compromising on quality. Compress established the foundations for the emergence of African Minds.
In 2008, François returned to academia to read for a master’s degree in education and, subsequently, a doctoral degree in science and technology studies. His return to academia was interwoven with the establishment and development of African Minds as a scholarly publisher.
François, in addition to being the managing editor of African Minds, is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at Stellenbosch University. He has published widely, including on topics related to scholarly publishing. He serves on the editorial board of the journal Learned Publishing and on the open access books working group of OASPA.
Thierry Luescher is the Research Director for Post-schooling and Work in the Inclusive Economic Development research division at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) (South Africa). He is also an affiliated Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. He continues to work closely with colleagues in the Department of Higher Education and Training, the Council on Higher Education, Universities South Africa and other governmental and non-governmental organisations in the postschool sector.
Before joining the HSRC, he was responsible for institutional research at the University of the Free State. Previously, he was a Senior Lecturer in Higher Education Studies and extra-ordinary Senior Lecturer in Political Studies at the University of the Western Cape, and a Senior Researcher in the Centre for Higher Education Transformation, Cape Town. He started his career as the research assistant of the Dean of Students and the Dean of the Centre for Higher Education Development at UCT.
Thierry Luescher is a member of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services and of the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers. He is on the Editorial Board for the research publications of the National Students Financial Aid Scheme. He is also an editor of the Makerere Journal of Higher Education, the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa, and the Journal of College Student Development.
Patrício Langa is a sociologist and associate professor of higher education studies at Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM), Mozambique, and at the Institute for Post School Studies of the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. He advises the rector of UEM on strategic planning and is a visiting professor of higher education studies at the Danube University Krems in Austria and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Langa served as the first executive director for external evaluation in the National Council on Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Mozambique and currently serves on the board of non-executive directors. He founded and served as director of the Centre for Higher Education Studies and Development in Mozambique. He is also the founding member and president of the Mozambican Sociological Association and he established the African Consortium of Higher Education Researchers. His research interest lies at the intersection of sociology and higher education studies in Africa.
In keeping with African Minds’ focus on the broadest possible dissemination of its list rather than on sales or profitability, African Minds is a not-for-profit organisation (NPO no. 116-161) registered in South Africa. Its legal status is that of a trust (Trust no. IT2864/2012). Trustees were elected based on their abiding belief in the values of the organisation, particularly open access to knowledge about and from the African continent. While all trustees are currently based on South Africa, they bring a wealth of experience related to both publishing and research in Africa and internationally.
The current Trustees of African Minds are its three founders: Patricio Langa Thierry Luescher and François van Schalkwyk. They are joined on the Board by Raga Makawi. The appointed accountants and auditors of the Trust are Moore Management Services.
The African Minds Editorial Board is appointed by the Board of Trustees and consists of independent scholars who are experts in their respective disciplines. These disciplines align with the African Minds publication lists. New members are appointed to the Editorial Board as new lists or areas of specialisation emerge.
Members of the editorial board assist African Minds in the review of publishing proposals and manuscripts (see below). Their input and guidance is invaluable in ensuring the quality and relevance of the growing list of open access monographs and edited collections published by African Minds.
African Minds does not employ any permanent staff. Presently, there are three contract staff filling the positions of managing editor, editor and administrator. The latter two staff were first contracted to African Minds in 2019. All other functions are outsourced.
African Minds has joined a number of organisations with the aim of participating in and contributing to the growing network of open access scholarly book publishers and platforms. Joining umbrella organisations was also seen as a means of establishing the legitimacy of African Minds in a context of having to compete with larger, established presses, as well as growing suspicion of new publishers triggered by the rise of predatory publishers.
African Minds is a member of the following organisations:
Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (APLSP)
Association of University Presses (AUPresses)
African Minds invites and seeks out quality submissions within its scope and focus, assessing them through internal and external screening and quality assurance mechanisms and, upon agreement with the author, managing the production dissemination of the content provided in multiple formats (print and electronic).
African Minds publishes on average 12 titles per year. The number of titles published is determined by the number of manuscripts received and the outcome of each manuscript reviewed. While there are some constraints in terms of capacity to manage titles, its model of outsourcing many of the production processes allows African Minds to take on more than the current number of books published.
Many of the titles published are edited volumes. This may be because the manuscripts submitted to African Minds are the outcomes of funded research projects consisting of diverse teams of researchers. These projects are more likely to have funding available to cover open access page fees.
African Minds endeavours to commission and publish a greater proportion of monographs in the future.
African Minds publishes mainly in the areas of higher education studies, music, urban studies, and science and technology studies. These lists were not developed for strategic reasons; rather, they developed as the result of a combination of factors. First, lists developed in those scientific fields in which the Trustees were most active, mainly higher education studies and studies related to open data. Second, lists developed serendipitously as African Minds was approached to publish a title in a new field. These publications then attracted new submissions in the same field.
All academic titles are peer reviewed without exception. Publishing proposals undergo a single-blind review process — the authors are known to the reviewers. Proposals may be reviewed internally, by the Editorial Board and/or by external experts.
Manuscripts usually undergo a double-blind peer-review process, although in some cases a single-blind or open review approach has been followed, either at the request of the authors or because of practical reasons. The two expert reviewers are typically one academic based in Africa, and one international expert. All reviewers must be recognized experts in an academic discipline that corresponds with the content of the manuscript, and reviewers must not be affiliated with the same institution as the author(s) or have co-published with any of the authors.
Reviews are considered by the Managing Editor in consultation with the relevant expert on the Editorial Board before a decision is taken to accept a proposal or a manuscript for publication.
In cases where conflicting reviewer reports are received, a third reviewer is requested to make recommendations.
One of the challenges faced by African Minds is the collation of sales and usage data from a variety of sources and platforms on a regular basis. Data are provided in different formats, for different periods, using different metrics, and with varying levels of granularity.
For the three-year period 2019 to 2021, an average of 87,006 completed file-downloads from the African Minds website were recorded per annum (for 168 unique PDF files). This equates to approximately 500 downloads per title, although, in reality, the distribution of downloads per annum follows a power law distribution with a few titles being downloaded very often and the majority of titles only being downloaded occasionally.
Data from OAPEN show that an average of 9,876 African Minds books were downloaded from its platform over the three-year period 2019 to 2021. For various reasons mainly related to limited capacity, OAPEN hosted 18 African Minds titles in 2019, 26 in 2020 and 32 titles in 2021.
The above data for digital editions of African Minds titles exclude usage data from ScienceOpen and, for obvious reasons, data on the views and downloads of titles hosted by authors on their own online profiles (e.g. ResearchGate) and/or deposited in institutional repositories.
African Minds has adopted a hybrid open access model. However, unlike in the world of journals where hybrid denotes a mix of paywalled and gold open access journal articles, the African Minds hybrid publishing model consists of both, in journal terms, gold and diamond open access. Gold open access publications require authors to fund publications by paying book processing fees (or BPCs). In the case of diamond open access, authors are not required to pay any fees for their books to be published open access.
This dual or hybrid model allows for the cross-subsidisation of publication costs, thereby levelling the playing field of researchers from Africa who may not have ready access to funding for publication. A potential downside of the approach is that the gold open access route favours more established researchers who are more likely to have access to funding.
All African Minds titles are published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY).
African Minds does not seek to place any restrictions or encumbrances on the re-use of its publications. Whether an African Minds publication is reused for commercial or non-commercial purposes is not important; reuse is. African Minds is of the opinion that there are instances where reuse for commercial purposes may have positive social benefits. African Minds’ only requirement is that the originating publication is acknowledged. In other words, authors retain the copyright of their published works and allow others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the source.
Authors are free to use, reuse and share their publication without any embargo period. This freedom includes, for example, posting the article in an institutional repository. Authors are also permitted and encouraged to post their work online and to disseminate both electronic and printed copies within their networks.
According to the Trust Deed of African Minds, the “income and property of the Trust shall be used solely for the promotion of its objects and shall not be paid or distributed directly or indirectly to any person, or to any Trustee or office-bearers, except as reasonable compensation for services actually rendered to the Trust or reimbursement of actual costs or expenses reasonably incurred on behalf of the Trust” (para 5.2).
The distribution and sales of African Minds titles are outsourced to Sula Books for the South African market, and to African Books Collective for the international market. A glaring omission is the distribution and sale of printed books in Africa north of the Limpopo.
Sales of African Minds’ print titles are modest. This due to several factors: (1) titles appeal to niche audiences; (2) declining library budgets for printed books at South African public university libraries; (3) unreliable and costly shipping in Africa; and (5) challenges related to increasing the visibility of titles in a highly saturated information environment. However, print distribution remains an important channel for African Minds. International print sales are in the range of 200-250 books per annum, while 566 books were sold nationally (i.e. in South Africa) for the period January to December 2021.
Sales of digital content via its international distributor have begun to outstrip sales income from printed books. For the first three-quarters of 2021, net revenue from the sale of electronic books was 1.5 times higher than for print books during the same period.
Annual revenue from the sale of books allows African Minds to publish one or two diamond open access titles per year, depending on the type of books.
The cost of publication is either partially or fully subsidised by the author(s) or their sponsors. The amount of the subvention is negotiated on a case-by-case basis (see example cost estimates below).
In order to support the publication of high-quality titles where funding is not available, African Minds will, in certain cases, carry the full publication cost.
For gold open access books for which there are BPCs, African Minds includes a fee of 15% of the total cost of publication to cover its overheads or any expenditure not specifically related to the publication of the title in question (see Overheads below).
Costs associated with the production of books such as copy-editing, design, typesetting, proofreading, indexing and the like are outsourced to a loyal group of locally-based freelancers. Printing and shipping are also outsourced on a competitive basis.
All production costs are itemised in a cost estimate shared with the author(s). Each line item indicates the maximum anticipated cost for the associated production task or process, and is presented on a unit-cost basis (e.g. cost per page, per hour, etc.).
The Managing Editor is remunerated from what is costed as editorial or production management time in each publication estimate (where funding is available for BPCs). The editor and administrator’s costs are covered by the indirect cost of 15% of the total publication costs of funded books. In other words, all staffing costs are covered by the BPCs; without BPCs, it would not be possible to remunerate African Minds’ contract staff.
Overhead costs comprise mainly finance administration fees, audit fees, website hosting and maintenance fees, office printing and stationery, membership and subscription fees. These overhead costs are covered by the income received from charging an indirect cost of 15% of the total publication cost of each funded book.
African Minds shares office space with another company and is not charged rent. Contract staff work from home.
Other than the occasional purchase of computer hardware, African Minds does not incur any capital expenditure.
Due to the values, scope and focus of African Minds, authors are not paid royalties. African Minds’ priority is dissemination, not financial returns, and in bringing to print non-commercial works that may not otherwise have been published. In accordance with our mandate and values, we would rather invest any surplus from sales back into marketing and dissemination.
Production tasks such as design, typesetting and proofreading are either taken on by contract staff or are outsourced to freelancers based in South Africa. Specialist tasks such as indexing, typesetting in Arabic, or redrawing maps are always outsourced.
All printing is outsourced to local print-on-demand printers.
African Minds approaches distribution in the same way as it does production: taking best-practice traditional methods and melding them with new technologies.
African Minds works closely with its authors to promote and increase the visibility of its titles to their specialised, niche audiences. It does so by means of a variety channels such as email campaigns, reviews and listings in specialist newsletters and periodicals, and its social media accounts. Copies of newly published titles are submitted to the book-review editors of journals identified in consultation with the authors.
Print publications are displayed and made available free of charge at seminars, conferences and other events at the behest of the authors. Authors are also provided with copies of their publications to distribute these within their own networks.
Paper copies of African Minds’ titles are printed as close as possible to the reader as a way of ensuring rapid delivery, minimising cost to readers and reducing the environmental impact of print distribution. Print publications are priced and sold on a cost-recovery basis to make print copies as affordable as possible.
Print copies are available in South Africa from Sula Book Distributors while international distribution is managed by African Books Collective. This partnership allows books to be listed with Lightning Source in the US, UK and elsewhere making possible just-in-time printing close to the point of sale, and ensuring that African Minds books never go out of print. African Minds titles are also available via on-line retailers such as Amazon.
African Minds publishes the full text of all its titles online, making each publication freely available for download to readers everywhere.
African Minds makes digital versions of its titles available at no cost on the African Minds website, Zenodo,1 OAPEN and the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB), ScienceOpen and Google Books. Selected titles are made available in electronic publication formats for e-readers.
African Minds’ publications are made available to libraries via a number of platforms and content aggregators, which are charged with supplying digital content to library patrons and with managing digital rights.
African Minds is currently working with Thoth to explore the creation of an open metadata management and dissemination system.
The authors had access to two sources of funding: research project funds and funding from their university’s research office. Combined, the funding was sufficient to cover the estimated book processing charge of R106,421 as set out below.
The author was able to secure partial funding of R20,000 from his institutional open access fund to support the publication of his book. Total costs were estimated to be R94,069, as set out in the quotation below.
The author did not have access to either research project funding or to institutional funding support. Costs were estimated to be as follows:
Editing (freelance): R30,000
Design (in-house): R7,500
Typesetting (in-house): R14,000
Proofreading (in-house): R10,000
Printing (external): R5,000
A freelance editor was contracted to work with the author to prepare her manuscript for publication. Design, typesetting and proofreading were done by contract staff to keep costs to a minimum. Printing was outsourced, and 100 copies were printed.
African Minds’ open access business model has remained the same for the past ten years. While African Minds remains open to revising and improving its business model, the last ten years have been an important phase for proving the viability of the model (within a particular research and funding environment).
Future efforts are more like to be focused on the education of African scholars about scholarly publishing in general, and open access book publishing specifically. A better understanding of the process and more transparent interactions between publishers and African academics is an important precondition for creating a more sustainable and fair open access publishing environment.