In early February I received an email from the Senior Publishing Editor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Springer Science+Business Media. In the email, Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah indicated that Springer had recently decided to try to develop open access journals in Religious Studies and Philosophy. I replied to introduce myself and request more information.
Springer is a large international commercial publisher based in The Netherlands. It is perhaps known more for publishing in the sciences and medicine than in the humanities, much less religious studies. I was curious about both Springer’s entry into publishing in this discipline generally, and about the open access initiative in particular. Although it continues to publish a majority of its journals using a traditional subscription-based model, Springer has distinguished itself as a commercial publisher willing to be innovative in exploring alternatives to the traditional business model, including open access.
I spent some time browsing on Springer’s website and found 7 journal titles listed under “Religious Studies.” There are also 28 book titles currently listed, all published since 2009, with several additional titles forthcoming. Currently, there are no religious studies titles on the SpringerOpen open access journal platform.
This last observation suggested that the open access initiative must be very new. I didn’t realize how new until Ms. Goldstein-Sabbah emailed me back to say she had just been hired at the beginning of January (after seven and a half years at Brill) primarily to develop the field of religious studies at Springer. Ms. Goldstein-Sabbah confirmed that Springer’s involvement in religious studies publishing generally is fairly recent (within the last 10 years or so).
Springer started developing in religious studies as both an outgrowth of their very strong philosophy program (namely from philosophy of religion) and the acquisition of several small publishing houses which had various series and/or journals in religious studies. The journals were primarily acquired over the past ten years, although a few have been with Springer longer. Of course we are still interested in acquiring existing subscription model journals but we realize the market is changing and we want to provide what the market is asking for, namely open access, especially for new start up journals. As for the push to acquire books this is more recent, in the past five years more or less, however we now have several book series in religious studies and are publishing about 15-20 religious studies volumes a year with the hope of more to come in the future.
It appears that rather than converting their existing journals to open access, Springer’s open access initiative in religious studies is to get new journals started with this publishing model. I found Ms. Goldstein-Sabbah’s comment about the changing market interesting. My experience is that scholars in religion and theology have been fairly slow to embrace new mediums of scholarly communication. Although we may be finally moving past the print vs. electronic format debate, one reason I started this blog because knowledge of open access and its viability is not yet common among my scholar and library colleagues in religion and theology. Indeed, this effort has afforded me the opportunity to learn more about open access.
Ms. Goldstein-Sabbah is taking her reading from the broader world of scholarly communication, where the shift is definitely in evidence. Although developments are less clear in religious studies, it might help drive change in our discipline if more publishers like Springer took the initiative toward open access. To get things going, Ms. Goldstein-Sabbah’s approach is to concentrate on organizations rather than individual scholar authors.
Currently Springer does not have any OA journals in Religious Studies and Philosophy. However, given the success Springer has had with OA journals in the traditional STM [science, technology and medicine] market we are very keen to adopt similar initiatives. For the time being my model is to focus on agreements with societies, associations, and institutions which have funding and wish to develop an OA journal with a professional publisher. I am currently working with one society but we are at the preliminary discussion stage so I cannot give any details.
Coupled with the ease of online distribution, one of the primary benefits of open access journal publishing is that it eliminates the costs of publication (and burden for the profits) from the reader side.* Removing the cost barrier to access enhances exposure of a scholar’s research, which is the intent of scholarly communication. But those costs of publication (and profits that must accrue for a commercial enterprise) have to be recouped/generated somewhere. Some of this is accomplished through the efficiencies inherent in online distribution. Beyond this, Springer’s approach is to shift costs to the producer side.
Instead of charging users a fee to read the content, an article-processing charge (APC) is levied at the beginning of the process. This flat charge, which varies from journal to journal, covers the entire cost of the publication process. This includes peer-reviewing, editing, publishing, maintaining and archiving, and allows immediate access to the full text versions of the research articles. (from the SpringerOpen website)
This seems to working well in disciplines where funding for article publication can be built into research grants, especially where the potential economic spin-offs of research make such funding easier to justify. But what about an academic discipline like religious studies that does not typically enjoy this kind of funding? Can Springer’s approach scale downward? Ms. Goldstein-Sabbah is optimistic.
As we both know there is much less funding in Philosophy and Religious Studies. However, costs for developing an OA journal are much less than most people think, although it does vary based on the project size and scope. Most institutions wishing to develop OA journals will find it is actually less expensive to develop a proper OA journal in partnership with a publisher than on their own. In the long-term I believe that funding will swap from a subscription model to an OA model where institutions provide funding for OA fees, however this is many years off. In the meantime Springer wishes to be at the forefront of OA development and we are very keen to partner with institutions who have similar thinking. For the time being we see more growth and interest in the partnership model for OA. However, I do believe that in the future we could move towards the author pay model.
The SpringerOpen FAQ gives an idea of what an author or supporting organization would pay in article processing charges and what those charges pay for. The range is from $665 and $1,996 per published article, depending on the journal (there is a waiver for “low-income countries”).
As you probably guessed I can’t give you an exact figure for the APC range but I would suspect religious studies journals would be at on the low end of the spectrum. If the journal is done in conjunction with an organization’s then the APC would be discussed with the organization. Of course what would be interesting is if Springer sat down with organizations such as ATLA or AAR to discuss APC fees and how that would work in research or library budgets.
Without more information and a specific situation to draw upon it is hard to determine whether this is a manageable and sustainable figure. Ms. Goldstein-Sabbah’s last statement suggests that part of the move to open access involves a change in the way organizations conceptualize funding for the publication of their journal. For example, instead of association membership dues including the purchase of a journal subscription, access to the journal for both members and anyone else in the world who might be interested would be free, and dues would go to help build an article publication fund. Instead of libraries sustaining institutional subscriptions from their budgets, monies already in the system would be shifted to help their faculty get their articles published. And so on.
I get the sense from Ms. Goldstein-Sabbah’s responses that it may be too early to know how this commercial open access model will work for religious studies. Still, Springer should be commended for its innovative thinking and leadership. I will be interested to see how this develops.
* Another primary benefit of open access journal publishing, especially when the journal is self-published, is that authors retain greater control over their copyrights. As a commercial publisher, Springer is demonstrating leadership by allowing authors to retain their copyright though use of a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 2.0) License.