Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Author-owned journal cooperatives

Gavin Baker, Author-owned scholarly journal cooperatives: a win-win situation?  This place is pretty ugly, December 1, 2007.  Excerpt:

Abstract: Rewarding authors and referees with ownership stakes in the journal could provide attractive incentives for individuals and rein in abusive publisher practices.

From the body of the post:

Since becoming a freelancer, I’ve spent a fair amount of time looking for publications that might want to publish my writing. One criterion I look for is: Do they pay? I’ve been surprised by how many publications are sustained without paying their contributors — and not just academic journals....

In theory, the authors could publish anywhere — potentially earning author fees — but the academy rewards the prestige of a publication within a specific and relatively fixed hierarchy. Scholars want a promotion, that fat grant, and their peers’ attention, so they publish without honorarium — even though the journal turns a healthy profit from the publication. In some journals, the author even pays the publisher, on top of the free labor. Academics also serve as reviewers for no remuneration.

The free labor aspect of academic journal publishing is frequently noted in a variety of contexts, such as:

  • “If academics write and review for free, why are some subscription journals so expensive? I don’t understand where the money goes.” (To which I say: profit! — for commercial journals, at least.)
  • “Since academics write and review for free, journal subscriptions should be more affordable. We deserve a better quid pro quo.”
  • “Because academics write and review for free in the journal system, that makes it easier to convert the system to open access — authors will be less concerned with loss of royalties from the change in business model.”
  • “The problems in the peer-review system — the delays, the sometimes arbitrary decisions — stem from the fact that reviewers are busy people and don’t have much incentive to do a good job.” ...

What if journals — in lieu or in addition to other payments or incentives — offered authors and reviewers a stake in ownership? There are a number of forms this could take:

  • A workers’ cooperative, where a given number of articles authored or refereed qualifies the individual for membership
  • A consumers’ cooperative, run by subscribers/members, where authors or referees are rewarded with a free membership
  • A corporation where authors or referees are rewarded with equity shares of stock....

[T]hese ownership shares could prove helpful incentives to attract and retain authors and referees, and to encourage prompt reviewing. And unlike honoraria, these ownership stakes don’t require payment up front — the author only earns a dividend if the journal makes money....

While there’s been a fair amount of previous discussion of cooperative academic publishing, most of it seems to posit the institution (university, scholarly society, etc.) rather than the individual as the actor-unit. Although we use the same word, the implementation and implications would be quite different due to the difference in the scale....