In 2012 serial entrepreneur Frances Pinter founded a new company called Knowledge Unlatched. The goal, she explained in 2013, was to “change the way we fund the publishing of quality content” for book-length publications, and in a way that would allow them to be made open access.
With that end in mind, Pinter launched a pilot project in which research libraries were invited to pool money to fund the “fixed costs” of publishing monographs. By doing so, Pinter reasoned, PDF and HTML versions of these “unlatched” books could be made freely available on the Web, but print and other premium versions would continue to be sold in the traditional manner. And those libraries that contributed to the pool would earn the right to buy the premium versions at a discounted price.
In a spirit of civic-mindedness, Pinter created Knowledge Unlatched as a UK non-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) and initial funding for KU came from (amongst others) the British Library Trust, Open Society Foundations, HEFCE, as well as a number of Australian libraries.
When that funding ended, however, as a non-profit CIC, KU struggled to raise further funds or capital. And with few assets to offer as collateral, commercial loans were equally hard to come by. Consequently, it was not immediately clear how KU could become financially sustainable, or even whether it could. Faced with this truth, says Pinter, she was minded to call it day.
She nevertheless proceeded to a second pilot round.
In 2016, however, Pinter sold the bulk of KU’s assets, and KU was transformed from a UK non-profit CIC to a for-profit GmbH based in Berlin.
This has caused some concern within the research community.
An interview with Pinter can be read here: