Over the past two decades, a new breed of publishing infrastructure has emerged via open-source software. Where publishing toolchains had previously been almost entirely populated by proprietary and often bespoke software systems, we now see a proliferation of open-source projects available for adoption and integration—on a different economic and operational footing. Many such projects have been designed and developed by a single institution to suit its own particular needs, but the terms of open-source software licensing, deployment, and indeed governance mean these systems are also readily available to other institutions. At a more ambitious level, they may even form a layer of community infrastructure that rivals—or at least provides a functional alternative—to the commercial infrastructure run by a small number of for-profit entities.
That such a proliferation of open-source projects now exists is a boon, but the landscape is noisy and difficult to understand as a whole. There is no guidebook or map to this landscape—a problem the present report seeks to address. MIT Press, in its 2018 application to the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, identified the need for a “comprehensive and critical analysis of OS publishing systems in active use” that “could prove to be durable alternatives to complex and costly proprietary services.” The present report is the result of that research and analysis.
Our hope is that this report will provide the university press community and other mission-focused enterprises with both an overview of the open-source landscape as well as profiles of a good number of these projects individually. Our intention is to shed light on the development and deployment of open source publishing technologies in order to aid institutions’ and individuals’ decision making and project planning.
There is enormous value in the collection of open-source projects surveyed here in terms of raw functionality as well as in the ways that prototyping and the evolution of design materially change the ways in which we think about publishing and scholarly communications. At a more detailed level, this report seeks to encourage the adoption and continued development of these platforms, but also to encourage the development of the community and market environment that surrounds these efforts.
As such, while this report provides a catalogue of individual open-source publishing tools (see Part II), it also examines the ecosystem in which these tools and projects exist. If publishers are to develop or find robust, cost-beneficial alternatives to commercially obtainable services and systems, it will not be simply because free tools exist; rather, it will depend greatly on community practices and the integration of various tools into a broader interoperable context. The idea of community infrastructure is not just a collection of bits of technology, but a system in which these components can be mobilized to serve larger goals.