Query About Open-Access Journal Start-Ups

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 19 Dec 2003 12:21:51 +0000

I am posting this response to an (anonymized) query by a graduate
student about starting up a new open-access journal because it
raises questions that may be of more general interest to this Forum.

> My name is [identity deleted], I am a graduate student in [] at []. My
> professor [], recommended you when I discussed writing an essay on the
> internet and the monopoloy of the journals. I think he was amused when
> I said I wanted to take a marxist approach... Not so sure about that anymore.

It is not that journals have a monopoly (there are 24,000 different
peer-reviewed journals, publishing about 2.5 million articles per
year), although 1500 of them are published by one publisher. What
the top journals have is *inelastic demand.* (The university libraries
*must* subscribe to them, because their researchers need access.) So
the problem is not monopoly but access; nor is it a marxist matter:

The long-term solution is a change in the journals' cost-recovery model from
usage-blocking user-institution-end access-tolls per incoming journal to
author-institution-end publication-charges per outgoing article.

There are about 1000 such "open access" journals experimenting with
this new cost-recovery model today http://www.doaj.org/ publishing about
100,000 open-access articles per year.

But for the contents of the remaining 23,000 journals (2.4
million articles yearly) the immediate solution for providing
open access to them is for their authors to self-archive them in
their own institution's open-access archives. Otherwise
their research impact just keeps being lost, cumulatively:

> But it would be neat to incorporate together self-referred online
> publishing and the opensource and free software movements in some sort
> of theoretical framework. These are exciting times we are living in!

I'm not sure what you mean by "self-referred online publishing". We
are talking about 24,000 refereed (peer-reviewed) journals here. The
refereeing is always done by the referees: qualified experts on the topic
of the submitted paper, selected by the editors, also qualified experts:

    The Invisible Hand of Peer Review.

    Peer Review Reform Hypothesis-Testing

    A Note of Caution About "Reforming the System"

    Self-Selected Vetting vs. Peer Review: Supplement or Substitute?

And although they sound alike and share some of the same goals, there
is a deep difference between the open-source/free software movement
and the movement for open access to refereed-journal articles: all
refereed-journal article authors want to give away their articles (in
order to maximise their research impact), but not all software authors
want to give away their software. Moreover, software can be modified
and built upon by others; article-texts cannot: Only article *contents*
can be used and built upon.

    On the Deep Disanalogy Between Text and Software and Between Text
    and Data Insofar as Free/Open Access is Concerned

> I found many of your excellent papers online along with eprints. I think you
> state the ideas quite well, so well, in fact, that I'm not sure what exactly I
> could possibly write for []. The problem is that this isn't just an issue
> within the discipline of [], it is for all disciplines, except physics.

Although physicists were the first to self-archive systematically,
this is still an issue for physics, because much of the physics literature is
still not open-access yet.

So open access remains an open issue for *all* disciplines -- but I think
we're at last beginning to close in on it!

> Of course, once again, the physicists are leading the way... and the other
> disciplines aren't following, maybe 20 years from now they'll figure it out.

The physicists showed one way to provide open access (central,
discipline-based self-archiving). Since then a new and potentially
more powerful and general way has emerged (because of the OAI
standard http://www.openarchives.org that makes all OAI Archives
interoperable): distributed institutional self-archiving.

    Central vs. Distributed Archives

    Central versus institutional self-archiving

Institutions share the benefits of open-access and maximised impact
with their researchers; hence they (and research-funders) are the
ones that can extend their "publish or perish" policies to mandate it:

None of the disciplines have quite "figured it out" yet, but we're getting

> The head of my program [], has been wanting to start a new journal
> of []. So I mentioned eprints, and how we could do it online
> for free, and make it available for all, and it could be the next
> really cool thing for [this department and university]

Eprints http://eprints.org is mainly for the self-archiving of articles
published in toll-access journals. There is a variant of the Eprints
software under development by Mike Jewell, Jprints, that can be used to
create a new online journal. (Example: http://psycprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/ ).
And that new online journal can be an open-access journal.

But starting new journals is always risky; starting new online journals
is cheaper, but many of them fail after a short time. Starting an
open-access online journal is even riskier at this time, because the
open-access model is still new and untested -- and, most important,
neither the money for paying the author-institution publication charges
nor the culture of paying for them is here yet -- although a lot of favorable
open-access consciousness in their support has grown lately with the
launching and promotion of the existing open-access journals, especially
those of http://www.biomedcentral.com/ and http://www.plos.org/journals/

> but, he wants to do it the traditional way because that means they'll have
> to get money to hire an editor, and that will mean a larger department,
> and more funding... I don't know how to respond to this, when technology
> is overruled by social reasons (ie prestige/money)... It's funny because
> we were just discussing in class the resistance in [] to technological
> change

Starting a new refereed journal *does* cost money, and I'm afraid I
have to tell you that start-ups based on no more than thinking it's
"really cool" appear and disappear all the time! Starting up a new
journal that survives and endures requires, at the very least, (1)
a subject niche that is not yet filled, (2) authors, (3) articles, (4)
referees, and (5) a qualified editor and board to implement the
refereeing. (I make no mention of (6) copy-editing and mark-up, which
might be optional under certain conditions.) The sustained flow of
high-quality articles and the rigorous and reliable implementation of
the refereeing (peer review) are the usual points on which new journals
founder, whether or not they are online-only, and whether or not they
are open-access. The other question is: who covers their costs, how.

    "Savings from Converting to On-Line-Only: 30%- or 70%+ ?"

    "2.0K vs. 0.2K"

    "Online Self-Archiving: Distinguishing the Optimal from the Optional"

    "Separating Quality-Control Service-Providing from Document-Providing"

    "Distinguishing the Essentials from the Optional Add-Ons"

    "The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)"

    "The True Cost of the Essentials

    "Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review - NOT!)"

    "Journal expenses and publication costs"

    "Re: Scientific publishing is not just about administering

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist Open Access Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
    Post discussion to: american-scientist-open-access-forum_at_amsci.org

Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Fri Dec 19 2003 - 12:21:51 GMT

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