On February 24, 2012, coincident with meetings of the editorial board of the open access journal Theological Librarianship, a moderated discussion on open access journal publishing was held at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. The discussion focused on core questions about open access and journal publishing: Who is doing open access? What does it take to start a new open access journal? When is open access appropriate for an existing journal? Where can a journal find infrastructural support? Why open access?
The discussion was moderated by Andrew J. Keck, Associate Library Director at the Duke Divinity School Library, and Columns Editor at Theological Librarianship. Joining in the discussion were editors from the Duke University Press, Duke Law Journals, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, PLoS Genetics, Faith & Leadership, and others, indicating a vibrant and growing open access presence at Duke.
I was unable to join the live stream of the discussion due to technical difficulties. My report is drawn from a recording that was made available following (start playback at around the 7:20 mark). The discussion sought to address both the philosophical (why?) and “nuts and bolts” (how?) of open access journal publishing. I have summarized/collated the responses under question headings.
What is an open access journal?
An open access journal is one with all access barriers (e.g., subscription fees) removed so there is no cost to the reader, anywhere in world. But more, open access means that restrictions to reuse and adaptation (often complicated through application of copyright in traditionally published journals) are removed through, for example, the use of Creative Commons licensing, where attribution is given to the original author but the content can be re-used in various ways.
One person commented that a commitment to open access also implies assurance of sustained access through appropriate archival measures.
How do you see open access in relation to your own discipline?
Different academic disciplines have different traditions, missions and mechanisms of scholarly communication. For example, in theology, open access supports in the most consistent way a mission of “getting the word out” without barriers—economic or otherwise.
This can work in two directions, of course. As the editor of a new open access journal in Eighteenth Century Russian Studies mentioned, a lot of research is being done by scholars in other parts of the world who frequently don’t have the opportunity to publish. So, it’s not only about making research produced in the United States or Europe available to scholars in less developed countries, it’s also about providing a medium for locally produced research to get larger world-wide exposure.
There was an interesting comment offered by Duke’s Scholarly Communications Officer, Kevin Smith regarding the way the media reports on new scientific discoveries or advancements: “If the [research] article is available to them they tend to get it right. They tend to report it better than if they can’t get to the article. There is a lot of ‘junk science’ out there on the Web. It’s really unfortunate when the ‘good science’ is locked up behind toll barriers.” In other words, open access provides the opportunity for the general public to be better informed through thoughtful and credible research.
Following-up, an editor of one of the PLoS journals made the point that publicly (tax) supported scientific research should be accessible to everyone. The people who have already paid for this research through their taxes should be able to access it to be an informed citizenry and improve their decision-making abilities.
A representative from the Duke Law School noted that law journals are frequently produced by students. The law school has been a long-time publisher of open access journals, but the library is also a signatory of the 2008 Durham Statement, committing to the suspension of publishing in print and moving to open electronic formats.
A representative for Project Euclid a collaborative publishing portal for mathematics research (not all open access) noted that mathematicians typically post to archives, and feel their research should be available immediately. Of course, she also lamented difficulties often faced by younger scholars who need to get published in order to kickstart their academic careers. So whereas the use of pre-print archives accelerates scholarly communication, the current peer-review process still creates obstacles in other ways.
Kevin Smith responded that this pre-print approach would be less successful in the humanities where scholarly vetting is an ingrained tradition. He reasoned, however, that post-print archiving or Gold (journal) open access should certainly be viable alternatives to traditional subscription-based journals.
For those considering starting a new open access journal, or moving from print to open access electronic format: How do you know when it’s time to start? What about a sustainable business model?
One editor who works with a commercially published journal is considering moving to open access but noted the hurdles are huge. Publishing houses stand to lose a lot of money. In the example given, the title currently brings in $2 million primarily through bundle subscriptions sold to libraries. To move this title online and then just charge for print would bring in an estimated revenue of only $160,000. Of course, that accustomed subscription revenue is drying-up as libraries are finding increasingly difficult to maintain “Big Deal” bundles. It might make more sense to start a new journal from scratch as open access.
A number of possible business models were suggested. The most common is charging article fees. Also mentioned were print on demand (hybrid); seeking association subsidies; university and college departments providing comp-time for faculty involved in journal work; cost-sharing among library consortia; libraries supporting open access by redirecting subscription budgets; and donations/sponsorships along the lines of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy model.
One person mentioned that multiple revenue streams could be created by differentiating between a product (the content itself) that can be free, and a service that adds value in ways that someone might be willing to pay (e.g., searchable content, licensing for commercial re-use, etc.).
Those who are actively editing an open access journal, what are the pros and challenges?
David Stewart, co-editor of Theological Librarianship mentioned coming to better understand his journal’s community, including discovering how many folks appreciated having an opportunity to write.
There is a learning curve at the start to understand the platform software, and grapple through editorial questions. Editors affirmed the importance of getting a good editorial management system to streamline the process, and developing consistent policies for peer-review. Initially, there will be more back and forth with an author to get their manuscript into peer review form. But this gets easier with time and experience. Indeed, one author noted that his experience with peer review was efficient and very pleasant. He continued by saying [contrary to the claim often raised by traditional commercial publishers], “Really good peer review, which I got from the reviewer, is not incompatible with publishing in an open access journal at all.”
Initially, you may be spending time just trying to get content and then get that content discovered. In a way, you’re dealing with a “supply-side” model and you’re trying to create demand for your product. The recommendation here was get indexed as soon as possible, and in as many places as possible. Indexing puts your content on equal footing with established and prestigious journals, enabling you to attract readers and gain reputation.
How do you promote your journal, manage feedback, assess impact?
Several persons mentioned use of analytics tools, and shifting assessment of impact from the journal level to the author/article level.
The use of social media is big, with journals promoting themselves through Facebook, Twitter, blogs and newsletters, and encouraging readers to push content into their own social networks. ”It’s not just a citation and a paper anymore.” Commenting and conversation around articles is a growing and vibrant trend. As one participant put it:
One of the things about open access that I think is really significant is the way in which it restores and even increases the use of journals as means of communication. It’s not just about people wanting to publish so they can have another line on their resume. When journals started out [in the late 17th century]—like The Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions, or the French Journal des sçavans—most of the content was correspondence between scientists and scholars. They were actually communicating with one another, instead of just producing an article and then moving on. In an ironic sort of way we are using this [online] technology to restore the original purpose of journals.