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Journal Publishing and the 2015 Tri-Agency Open Access Policy

Posted on April 1, 2015 by Colleen Skidmore

  • Open Access is not cheap
  • The sky is not falling
  • Authors should not have to pay to publish
  • Open access is not knowledge democracy

These were the key messages at a recent, refreshingly open-minded panel discussion at the University of Alberta on the advantages and challenges of open access in the wake of the Tri-Agency’s recently announced Open Access Policy.

Gerald Beasley, Vice-Provost and Chief Librarian, pointed out that the Tri-Agency is merely inserting its policy “in an environment that we have been in for years.” U of A Libraries’ repository ERA (Education and Research Archive) is available to host open access journals, whether or not based at U of A, and currently contains just under 35,000 articles. Like the others on the panel, he and his colleagues in the academic library community are committed to the values espoused by the open access movement: to make new knowledge freely available via the internet.

Nevertheless, open access is neither free nor cheap for either journal publishers or authors. Heather Young-Leslie, Senior Coordinator of the SS&H Grant Assist Program at U of A, addressed these issues and reminded researchers that among eligible SSHRC grant expenses for “knowledge mobilization” (formerly known as research dissemination) are manuscript preparation, website development, and article processing charges (APCs) which can range from $2000-$5000 in Canada and the United States.

She also noted two concerns: first, that despite the social value attached to the concept and practice of open access, for-profit and “predatory journals” (Canadian and international alike) benefit from public funds expended as APCs. Second, that researchers must understand the new publishing market environment that has emerged with open access and the internet. One aid is the Directory of Open Access Journals that currently lists about 10,000 legitimate open access journals. The Directory has established standards that journals must meet for inclusion, including display of a clear, readily visible APC policy statement on their website.

Four journal editors participated on the panel and represented a range of open access business models: panel host Michael O’Driscoll, Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Arts hosted the event. He also serves as co-editor of English Studies in Canada, a journal that has been open access since 2006 and has found financial sustainability through other revenue streams, such as journal aggregator royalties; Kevin Haggarty, editor of the Canadian Journal of Sociology, a diamond open access journal; Sheena Wilson, editor-in-chief of the open access Imaginations Journal; and Patricia Paradis, editor of two journals published by the Centre for Constitutional Studies. One of these, the scholarly journal, Review of Constitutional Studies / Revue d’études constitutionnelles, is now beginning to transition to open access.

Kevin Haggarty argued that while the open access publishing environment is fluid and changing, the sky is not falling. His “diamond” journal – meaning that new issues are open immediately upon publication and are free of charge to both readers and authors – has transitioned from subscription support and a base at the University of Toronto Press to an as yet uncertain new model. Despite its precarious position in the interim, he is optimistic that other resources and a new funding model will be found for the journal. The CJS does not licence a journal article aggregator to support distribution and discoverability and so does not collect aggregator fees (or “royalties.”) Haggarty identified concern about public funds being moved via authors’ fees to private, for-profit journals and aggregators, as well as the exclusion of researchers without access to “knowledge mobilization” funds from author-pay publishing venues.

Patricia Paradis concurred, arguing that authors should not pay to publish, but also does not yet see a way to make open access publishing work from a sustainable business viewpoint. Publishing costs, from academic editors’ time to editorial and design work, website maintenance and digital publication, are significant. Managing APCs adds administrative costs to a journal. (One journal recently estimated that it takes a journal 130 hours to prepare a humanities manuscript for publication.)

Sheena Wilson finds the Tri-Agency’s new policy to be fairly liberal, allowing a range of open access models, from green (author deposit to a digital repository with either immediate or delayed open access) to gold (normally, open access within 12 months of publication and APCs) and diamond. She cautioned though that open access does not equate knowledge democracy, as the author pay to publish model is a barrier to researchers’ free access to publication. On the upside, however, Wilson argued that we are now in a period in which researchers, publishers, and funders are determining new models for knowledge dissemination and new practices are emerging, including using non-traditional metrics (altmetrics) such as likes, downloads, and views, to track impact and justify funding.

Despite the overall commitment to the values espoused around open access, some editors and researchers in the audience expressed concern about the long-term integrity of humanities and social sciences publications when articles are freely accessed and reused in the for-profit market environment of the internet. It is clear that more experience in the open access environment and critical assessment of what is taking place there is needed to occur hand-in-hand with expectations and increases in open access publishing models and activities. As a start, in the panelists’ view, authors must retain copyright when they publish, researchers need to understand and act in an informed matter in the new complex and predatory publishing environment, and photo (1)institutions and journal publishers need to work together to establish new means for sustainably funding a range of open access models of publication. Such steps are essential to ensure open access to publication for authors, discoverability on the internet, and intellectual property protection from misuse.

Finally, the question of open access and monograph publication came up in the course of discussion. Some expressed the view that monograph publishing is where journals were a decade ago, and finding its way. A panel on that issue is planned for Fall 2015 at the University of Alberta.

 

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