I am involved with two different open access, online, academic journals. Both of which were started here at the Open University, both of which have had minimal financial resources and both of which depend on the commitment of academics to survive. Both are – in different way- struggling in the increasingly resource thin environment of UK higher education.
Until last week I felt firmly committed to the ideology and practice underpinning independent open access academic publishing – then I heard Ian Rowlands of the UCL Centre for Publishing and the CIBER research group speak, and my confidence is shaken. Ian is one of the authors of the report E-journals: their use, value and impact. – Probably the most thorough empirical report on the ways in which journals are being used and how they are changing.
Ian discussed the fact that traditionally the four functions of academic journals have been: registration, certification, archiving, and dissemination. All these were functions that were most important to the author/researcher rather than the reader/scholar. However, he argued that commercial publishers now have the needs of the reader/scholar as the primary driver of what they are developing, and researchers such as those in CIBER have been able to gather good data about readers’ behaviour and expectations. Commercial publishers of journals are now bringing a significant amount of financial resources to developing ‘value added’ aspects to the traditional 4 functions since most of these can now be carried out by authors themselves without the involvement of commercial organisations.
Examples of the new added value functions we mentioned were
- Ability download datasets and other supp materials
- Addition of podcasts and social media
- Addition of third party apps- eg co-author mapping, semantic searching, grabbing data.
- Tabbed articles – texts designed as hypertext which allows tabbing between contents sections and citations etc
- The addition of information systems which support research workflow publishers now see themselves as supporting the whole research process not just the end product, and offer support to researchers at all parts of the process
- Semantic mark-up of text – to allow data-mining
I find it hard to imagine the two journals I work with having enough resources to administer these functions – even if we had access to free software that enable all these.
So what role can we play in an increasingly well funded commercial research environment?