Small scholar-led open access publishing

This post provides some background and a status update on one the Resource Requirements for small scholar-led not-for-profit open access publishing project, flowing from the second objective of  Sustaining the Knowledge Commons:

2. an examination of the resources needed by small not-for-profit scholar-led publishers (e.g. needs for editorial or technical support)

Background and rationale

Up until the end of the Second World War, virtually all scholarly journals were published by scholarly societies. In the latter half of the previous century there was a tendency for increasing commercial involvement in scholarly publishing, and within the commercial sector a tendency towards concentration. Today, a very large proportion of scholarly journals are published by a small number of highly profitable large commercial publishers, particularly in the sciences, technology and medicine (STM) areas, while other areas of scholarly publishing, particularly social sciences and humanities publishing and monograph publishing, suffer from a lack of financial support.

In recent decades, one factor in the trend towards commercial publishing and outsourcing of the technical work of publishing by scholarly societies was the difficulty and expense of creating online journals in the relatively early days of the computer and the internet, up until the end of the last century.

The not-for-profit scholar-led sector of scholarly publishing is still very large and active in scholarly publishing; even many of the journals published by commercial publishers are actually partnerships with scholarly societies, or in effect scholarly society publishers that have outsourced some of the work to commercial companies.

It should come as no surprise that at about the turn of this century – about the time of the official start of the open access movement – the underlying conditions pushing scholars to outsource the work of publishing change, thanks to the internet. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, there were free online journals, but not that many; it wasn’t easy to publish online, for many people this required equipment, software and expertise that they didn’t have. Today, this is no longer the case. Anyone with a computer and internet connection can publish a blog, using free software.

This has led to what Edgar & Willinsky, reporting on a survey of over 900 journals using the open source Open Journal Systems, describe as a renaissance of scholar-led publishing. As I discuss in my 2013 First Monday article, the figures reported by the journals in this survey suggest the potential for a fully open access scholarly publishing system that costs a small fraction of what academic libraries (the major source of support for scholarly journals) currently spend, on average, for scholarly journals on a per-article basis.

The First Monday article reflects early stage research that the SKC project is intended to pursue to the next level by more fully articulating the needs and potential costs of a scholar-led open access publishing system. The next phase of research involves two separate paths: articulating the needs of scholarly journals (through interviews, possibly focus groups and/or surveys, followed by economic modeling) and university (usually) library-based journal hosting services.

Resource Requirements is the first phase of this research and involves conducting brief interviews with people involved with scholar-led journals that either are open access, or would like to become open access if the means can be found. These interviews focus on the needs of these journals expressed in qualitative terms, such as what work is done, who does the work (e.g. volunteers or paid staff, academic, professional publishing staff, support staff etc.), the technical work of journal hosting and support.

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