I first wrote about open access publishing models last year in November. Because I work on two non-commercial open access journals that are produced almost completely by academic time, and a commercial journal that runs the usual subscription model I am looking for new business models for sustaining these journals. That is why I have been very interested in the Finch Report and its implications for both these models of academic publishing.
Open access journals that currently have no financial support at all, struggle to produce quality issues and rely on the efforts of academics doing every job from copy editing to publicity. The two open access journals I work on have been innovatory and are respected in their different fields but both struggle against a tide which pressures authors to submit to ‘high impact’ journals and where academic time for non-REF and non teaching activity to give to producing this kind of journal is ever more tightly squeezed.
Both the open access journals have debated the ‘author pays’ model and are reluctant to adopt it, or attempt to adopt it. Few of the authors in either journal are writing up funded research projects and many have no easy access to institutional funds to pay for publication. The Finch Report has little to say to non-commercial open access journals. It offers no new business model that will solve our funding problem and instead appears to erect a new barrier to publishing by requiring authors to pay.
The Finch report suggests that UK university departments should fund their staff to publish, but this discriminates against papers coming from the global south in particular where funds are even more difficult to access. The impact on those of us who publish in the field of gender (or other critical interdisciplinary areas) is likely to be negative. Many of us would find it hard to get access to departmental funds to pay to have our papers published. If there are scarce resources in an institution our experience tells us that the challenging interdisciplinary fields do not usually get first call on those funds. They go first to traditional high status areas.
There are also the authors outside institutions. I was interested in a recent email by Jorgen Burchardt to science mailing list in which he says: ‘I have recently made a study of Danish academic journals that shows that 30 % of the authors are unemployed, retired, students or are working for not-research companies/institutions.’ That certainly resonates with what I see submitted to the journals I work with.
The Finch Report also suggests that for some years there will need to be ‘hybrid’ journals with some papers open access because authors have paid and other papers only accessible for a fee, because authors have not. Some commercial journals already offer this option to their authors when papers are accepted. When we discussed this in the commercial journal I work on we were reluctant to operate what at first sight appears to be an unequal two tier system of papers.
The list of negative impacts in the areas in which I am involved with academic publishing seems so clear I have been trying hard to come up with some possible positive impacts. Unfortunately I could come up with only two highly speculative scenarios that might benefit the non-commercial open access journals:
- As more journals adopt the ‘gold’ author pays model, it may be that more authors who cannot access funds to pay for publication will choose to publish with non-commercial open access journals and counteract the ‘pull’ of commercial journals.
- If universities advise their staff to publish only in open access or hybrid models then non-commercial open access journals could become a preferred publication outlet for UK authors.
Unfortunately I cannot come up with even one positive speculative scenario for the commercial journal I work on – yet I hope.