Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A society publisher explores its OA options

Peter A. Jumars, Charting a Course through the Riptides, Cross Currents, and Undertows of Scientific Journal Publishing, Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin, March 2008. Accessible only to subscribers, at least so far. (My link points to the login page for the issue, not to the article.) Excerpt:

...Gold open access is the holy grail in which users have free access to all content of a journal immediately upon its publication and in perpetuity. Nowhere to be found, however, is a publicly revealed, successful financial model for open access that can be emulated by all society journals to make them freely available upon first issue to any and all users. Like cold fusion, it would be wonderful, but is it possible? ...

Weaning authors from overly expensive journals is, in game theory terms, a coordination problem (C.T. and T.C. Bergstrom 2006). One author leaving quietly does not do the trick. As a matter of self interest and public interest, scientific societies should join with library associations to make individual users, authors, and reviewers aware of the issues.

There does not seem to be any one-size-fits-all approach to journal economics. The half-life of journal citation varies widely among fields, from the order of six months in some fields of biomedicine to over a decade in limnology and oceanography. A moving wall of six months or one year in biomedicine therefore endangers journal profitability less than it would in aquatic sciences. In a process reminiscent of biological evolution, societies large enough to support many journals intentionally diversify them to gain experience with varied models, a few of which may be best suited to the future. The American Institute of Physics (AIP) recently launched a gold open access journal in biological microfluidics to gain experience with true costs of gold open access publishing, but the AIP is meeting those costs through subscriptions of its other journals and other AIP income. Few societies have the resources and number of titles to mimic this approach, but they certainly can monitor this battle for survival of the fittest models.

Societies fear, in their most common economic models of publishing, a tipping point in mixed open access when a large majority of authors have paid for open access or in green open access when nearly all journal articles are self-archived. I think this fear is paranoia....

A fundamental question is how much [society] members are willing to pay in volunteerism or dollars to provide a [society] journal with open access. My informal discussions suggest that the answer varies widely, but that there is some latitude to increase dues with this end made the explicit cause....Your ASLO [American Society of Limnology and Oceanography] Board, however, would benefit greatly from knowing where in this spectrum you stand.

Users will likely do what is easiest, and that default continues to bode well for open access....

It is difficult to answer the question of why reviewers continue to review free of charge for journals that use that service to make a large profit at the expense of institutional subscribers....I currently decline to review for journals that my library cannot afford and give low priority to review for commercial journals unless the topic is of extreme interest to me. How do you prioritize requests for review? ...

PS: For background, see the ASLO Statement on Open Access (undated) and Free-Access Publication option (a hybrid-journal program).

Update. The article is now OA.