An overview of Mattering Press' approach to publishing. Last updated February 2022.
Mattering Press publishes high quality, peer-reviewed open access books within relational research on science, technology and society. We work with a production model that is based on cooperation and shared scholarship while ensuring the high quality of the resulting work through systematic peer-review. We founded Mattering Press in 2012 and established it as a UK registered charity in 2013, following discussions amongst members of the Flows, Doings, Edges collective of early-career scholars.
The initial editorial board established the press in part as they were keen to continue the collaborative relationships of practice, research, and critical thinking that they had established during their PhDs, in which much of discussion had focused on the need to thinking critically about publishing infrastructures. They also observed that Open Access had largely not been extended to landscape of book publishing, and certainly not to the field of Science and Technology Studies. The press provided an opportunity to work, in a directly hands-on way, with the practicalities and politics of publishing.
Mattering Press is a Diamond Open Access publisher. This means that all our books can be downloaded for free. For us, though, Open Access is about more than simply making a version freely available. An important principle for the press is that all formats of an electronic book (for us usually including HTML, PDF, epub, mobi) should be available, for free, without barriers to access. This commitment comes from our observation that there is also a politics of platform-mediated access to scholarly work, which we try to push back against.
We are, though, committed to producing books that can travel as physical entities, and that are designed and produced to standards which match, or even exceed, mainstream for profit academic publishers. All Mattering books are therefore available as professionally typeset printed books to purchase. We rely on an independent production company for the final stage of the book’s prodution and the creation of the different ebook versions.
Authors may choose the license they wish, but our recommended license is CC BY-NC-SA, as a way of guarding against the commercial exploitation of Open Access content.
We support books using formats that are experimental (e.g. The Ethnographic Case) or difficult to publish using conventional publishing models (e.g. Boxes: A Field Guide). This reflects our desire to use the opportunities opened up by open access publishing to explore the boundaries of the academic book, an interest which Julien McHardy is carrying forward into his work on the Experimental Publishing, Reuse and Impact work package of the COPIM project.
Mattering Press’ output is deliberately limited and has thus far has varied between one and seven titles per year. Our slowly but steadily growing catalogue currently comprises sixteen titles.
Mattering Press is run by an editorial board, currently comprised of Uli Beisel, Endre Dányi, Anna Dowrick, Joe Deville, Natalie Gill, Julien McHardy, and Michaela Spencer. The board supervises all aspects of the press, working with a network of professional typesetters, developers and copyeditors as well as authors and peer reviewers to realise our titles.
Board members themselves take on many practical functions for the press, including reviewing proposals and managing external peer review, working with authors, key aspects of book production (e.g. managing metadata, ensuring clean texts are delivered for production), designing books, including covers and other design-related functions. At times, we have received additional support from colleagues whose time working for Mattering Press is paid for by a university. And Anna Dowrick initially joined us as a paid intern.
Each title has two point editors drawn from the editorial board who liaise with the authors and accompany the title from admission to publication. There is some division of labour in relation to work undertaken by board members — especially around design, marketing, financial reporting and process optimisation — connected to the individual skill and shifting availability of the board members and the changing demands of the press, but we work without fixed roles or responsibilities.
Our organisational structure is, in both principle and practice, flat. Decision making is consultative, with no trustee/editor having a greater say in the practices and directions of the press than any other. To date, there has not been a decision that has not been arrived at by consensus and no formal vote of the trustees has ever been called, aside from to formally appoint new trustees, as required by our constitution.
Mattering Press is an incorporated charity, registered in the UK (specifically a Charitable Incorporated Organisation). We are governed according to the constitution created when we registered to become a charity. All members of the Editorial Board are also the Trustees of the organisation.
An academic advisory board provides us with guidance and a close feedback loop with our academic community, while our Open Access advisory board provides guidance on publishing-related questions. We further work in frequent collaboration with allied presses who without whom provide invaluable advice, expertise and encouragement; a collaboration that recently we recently formalised by founding the association of scholar-led open access presses, ScholarLed.
The bulk of our income comes from fees charged to institutions for the production of our books, a variant of a Book Processing Charge (BPC). Our publishing decisions are, however, independent of the ability of an author to access institutional funds. This is because our standard ‘fee’ of £6,000 has been set so as to cover the costs not just of the book in question, but other books too. It has to be recognised that this model is only possible due to the fact that the press relies on donated labour, notably that of the Editoral Board themselves, but also others — for example, our website is designed and maintained by a friend and supporter of the press. We are also dissatisfied with our degree of reliance on institutionally paid fees. We are hopeful that our participation in the new revenue generation and management infrastructures for Open Access books being produced by the COPIM project may help address this issue.
Income from our fees is supplemented by sales of books. We set the prices for our books in such a way so as to generate a small surplus, while being as affordable as possible. We do also in theory accept donations, given we are a charity. However, in practice income from donations is extremely minimal.
Mattering Press’ primary costs relate to production, specifically proof reading, copy editing and typesetting. As we use a print on demand publishing model for our hard copies, additional production costs associated with our more complex books, or for those books that for example are longer or use colour, are offset by charging a higher sales price.
Variations in the costs of different books are usually largely associated with the length or readability of the original text. Longer books and those written by authors with English as an additional language tend to cost more for us to produce. Other sources of variation in costs include:
Variations in production costs (e.g. for some books we have commissioned custom cover illustrations)
Variations in marketing spend, for the reasons explored further below
How interventionist authors are when it comes to correcting proofs – while we appeal to authors not to make heavy edits to typeset proofs, this does sometimes happen and we tend not to push back too heavily
Errors on the part of the Editors, which require proofs to be regenerated, or unexpected typesetting work
Given our small scale, and our highly variable output, our annual income and expenditure figures vary considerably year on year. Here, for example, are the figures for the last four financial years (April - April):
Printing and distribution
BPCs (from institutions only)
To give a more detailed sense of how our costs can vary, we have chosen two texts as case studies.
Although experimental in its written form, in terms of its production Energy Worlds in Experiment is a fairly typical Mattering Press book. It is an Edited Collection of around 200 pages, featuring the contributions of a number of authors, for many of whom English is not their first language. We did commission a custom image for the book’s cover, but did not create a custom marketing campaign for the book. Overall, this book is perhaps marginally lower in cost than some books (estimated average cost around £2500).
In more detail, the costs break down as follows:
Copy editing, proof reading, formatting, typesetting: £1594
Cover illustration: £300
Boxes: A Field Guide is the largest, most complex, and most costly text we have produced, including a custom book design by Julien McHardy. In addition to the labour this involved, the editors contributed more volunteer labour than usual, partly to offset what would otherwise have been very high production costs. This included undertaking the final pre-typesetting proof reading and formatting of the text themselves, which would usually be paid for.
In more detail, the costs break down as follows:
Copy editing, proof reading, typesetting: £3294
Illustrations for marketing campaign: £300
Mattering Press is committed to peer-reviewing works sent to us for consideration. All book proposals, including sample material, will be read by two dedicated point editors and then assessed collectively by the editorial board. Collectively we consider the suitability of texts for publication by Mattering Press.
If the Editorial Board decides that the proposed book is within the scope of the press, the point editor will initiate the peer review process. This will involve the proposal being sent to two external and independent reviewers for comment. We encourage reviewers to consider returning an ‘open’ (i.e. non-anonymous) review. But we also offer the possibility of returning a ‘blind’ (i.e. anonymous) review if preferred.
Final editorial decisions are taken on the basis of the recommendations of the two reviewers and the assessment of the Editorial Board. If the book proposal is accepted we may on some occasions also invite one or both reviewers to act as advisers to the book on a more ongoing basis. This is connected to our commitment to offering authors a higher level of support than is often the case and is something we are particularly keen to institute for works by early-career scholars.
Our primary marketing activity focuses on social media, and Twitter in particular. For some books, we create custom marketing campaigns, with a budget of up to £300. In an ideal world, this is a practice we would extend to all of our books, but often don’t due to capacity issues. Marketing budgets are used in different ways, but recently we have often used it to generate custom images that are used to support social media campaigns.
In addition, we use two large Scence and Technology Studies conferences — EASST and 4S — to promote our publications, the press, and to engage with a global community of science and technology studies scholars. This has included stands at these conferences, as well as focusing specific social media campaigns around these events.
Collecting usage figures is an area where the press recognises it has work to do. Usage figures are recorded, but they are not systematically compiled, which makes the quick provision of usage metrics highly laborious for the press to perform. Partly for this reasons, we are exploring the possibility of transitioning our website to a new so-called ‘white label’ website template being developed by Open Book Publishers, which is designed to make the collection of usage data easier and improve dissemination.
We understand ourselves as a part of the scholarly Science and Technology studies community and it is important to us to be closely linked to the concerns, issues and needs that emerge from this scholarly community.
We are also fortunate to be in intimate contact with a group of highly supportive and collegial colleagues in the Open Access library, publishing and infrastructure communities. Mattering Press is a founding member ScholarLed, and one of the participants in the COPIM project.