When we decided to found the JBE [the first volume was launched in 1994] we had no idea how it would be received. At that time the concept of an electronic journal was completely novel and colleagues struggled with the notion of a journal with no paper copy. There was nothing like it in Buddhist Studies, and almost nothing in the broader field of Religious Studies. Nor was there any precedent for a journal dealing with Buddhist ethics. In both of these ways the JBE was a “first” and we had no idea whether lacking the resources and credibility provided by an established publisher and an established constituency of readers and contributors it would flourish or simply be a short-lived novelty. Fortunately, the new journal seemed to meet a need, and with the support of the distinguished members of its editorial board soon established itself as a permanent feature in the landscape of Buddhist Studies. … It was always our intention that the journal should be a free and open resource serving the interests of the discipline rather than a privately managed concern. … In a broader context, the JBE has been a contribution to a new model of academic publication, one in which academic authors share their work with their peers without the financial and legal constraints imposed by conventional publishers. (from Damien Keown and Charles Prebish, “Celebrating Twenty Years of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 20 (2013): 307-9.)
The Journal of Buddhist Ethics (ISSN: 1076-9005) is currently housed at Dickinson College (Pennsylvania), which hosts the journal at no cost. The journal site itself is built using WordPress.org open source blogging software. The General Editor (since 2006) is Professor Daniel Cozort (Dickinson College) who is supported by a full editorial team and a board of distinguished scholars. The journal is published in annual volumes, with new articles added continuously as they pass through the editorial and peer review process. Professor Cozort indicated that it often takes less than a month for articles to work their way through this process. Articles are freely accessible to read, and the site maintains an archive of all previous volumes and articles. Authors are not charged a fee (APC) to publish in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and they retain their copyright, granting the journal a non-exclusive right to publish and to archive published articles.
The scope of the journal encompasses Buddhist ethics broadly interpreted across ten subject areas: Buddhist Monastic Traditions and Jurisprudence, Medical Ethics, Philosophical Ethics, Human Rights, Ethics and Psychology, Ecology, Animals and the Environment, Social and Political Philosophy, Cross-cultural Ethics, Ethics and Anthropology, and Interfaith Dialogue. The journal is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals and is indexed in the ATLA Religion Database.
As 2013 was drawing to a close, the Journal of Buddhist Ethics celebrated twenty years of continuous publication as a pioneering and highly regarded online open access journal in Buddhist Studies and the larger field of Religious Studies.
Remember Gopher and anonymous FTP?
In an earlier post I reflected on the significance of the year 1994—it was the year I first got connected to the Internet with my Apple Macintosh Classic computer and a 14.4 dial-up modem. I am not fond of thinking how quickly the last twenty years appear to have flown by. But I am amazed both by the developments of computer and network technology in the interim and the insight of scholars who grasped early-on the potential of this technology as a medium for scholarly communication. In the case of Professors Damien Keown (University of London Goldsmiths College) and Charles Prebish (Utah State University and Penn State University), the founding editors, the catalyst for their electronic journal was rejection by traditional academic publishers. As Professor Prebish tells it elsewhere:
I approached a number of university presses about the possibility of beginning a traditional, hardcopy journal devoted solely to research in Buddhist ethics. The disconcerting reality, explained in careful detail by each press, was that small, specialized, scholarly journals were expensive to produce, maintain, and distribute, thus resulting in a major financial loss for the sponsoring press. (Charles S. Prebish, “The Birth of Online Peer-Reviewed Journals in Buddhism: The Story of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and the Journal of Global Buddhism.” Digital Dharma Conference. Chico, California, November 16, 2011.)
The study of Buddhist ethics as an academic discipline was new in the early 1990s, hence the publishers’ concern about “small specialized journals.” But Professors Keown and Prebish were already in email communication about their respective scholarship in the discipline and it didn’t take long until an alternative to traditional print was proposed: “Why don’t we create an electronic journal?” Keown and Prebish enlisted the aid of Professor Wayne Husted, a Penn State Religious Studies colleague regarding the technical details. Husted suggested that they use light-weight text document distribution protocols like FTP and Gopher, and also web page distribution for folks with (for the time) more robust computer equipment and available bandwidth.
They intended the Journal of Buddhist Ethics to be a full-fledged academic journal in every respect except that it would be freely available for any interested person to read. They solicited “subscriptions,” not to charge for access but to assess interest and to keep readers informed of developments at the journal.
We decided that an academic, peer reviewed, journal should have a proper editorial board of outstanding scholars in the subject area of the journal, so we began identifying and contacting potential editorial board members, hoping to reinforce our own initial notion about the efficacy of the proposed journal as well as solicit the participation of these renowned scholars. Within a month, we had lined up twelve highly respected members of the Buddhist Studies establishment to serve on the editorial board. However, since nobody was certain if a Buddhist ethics journal would be attractive to denizens of the Internet, the newly identified editors conferred, and decided that when announced, it would also be useful to solicit subscriptions from potential readers, asking them to send their names and email addresses. While the Journal of Buddhist Ethics would be free, and indeed not distributed, but instead offered on a “selfserve” basis, this list of subscribers could be used to distribute information regarding materials as they would be added to the continuously published journal. Beyond this, a list of subscribers would be a means of determining how many people were sufficiently interested in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics to make the effort to “subscribe.” (Prebish, “The Birth of Online Peer-Reviewed Journals in Buddhism.”)
By the end of 1994, the journal had over 300 subscribers from 25 countries. By 2001, the subscriber base had grown to over 3,300. The journal no longer tracks subscribers, though notices of publication additions are regularly posted to the H-Buddhism listserv. It turns out they didn’t need a traditional publisher after all.
“Do journals born in this modality survive, thrive and gain success?”
In my previous post I spoke with the editors-in-chief of the recently launched open access International Journal of Dharma Studies, published by Springer. Being primarily experienced with traditional subscription-based journals, the editors wondered out loud about the prospects for success with this new venture. They asked: “Do journals born in this modality survive, thrive and gain success? Is the readership compromised? Are the academic contents compromised?”
For answers, I would point them to the Journal of Buddhist Ethics. A robust readership and high academic quality provide no evidence of compromise, and twenty years of publication history give clear evidence that an open access online journal can indeed survive, thrive and gain success. I love the way Professor Cozort summarizes it: “The Journal of Buddhist Ethics is wonderfully simple and direct.”
Congratulations Journal of Buddhist Ethics at this most auspicious milestone. May your success continue into the next twenty years, and well beyond.