Sabbatical projects 2019 – 2020

Following is what I am working on during my academic leave (sabbatical) from July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020.

Overall project:   Transitioning economics of scholarly publishing for open access: Sustaining the Knowledge Commons

Summary: this project is a phase in my Sustaining the Knowledge Commons (SKC) research program currently funded through a SSHRC Insight Grant (2016 – 2021). The overall goal of this research program is to advance our knowledge on how to transition economic support for scholarly publishing from demand side (e.g. purchase of books and journal subscriptions) to supply side economics (e.g. sponsorship such as the SSHRC Aid to Scholarly Journals program, support for scholar-led publishing such as library publishing services, article processing charges) to facilitate economically sustainable open access to scholarly publishing.

This phase will focus on 3 major sub-projects: a major literature review, a holistic theoretical analysis from a global political economics perspective, and a major release of a large dataset and documentation. Anticipated outcomes are all non-traditional formats, for reasons explained later in this letter, in case this might be of interest to reviewers of this request.

Major literature review: a neutral academic literature review is needed because there is a great deal of substantial research published recently or in progress in this area. The majority of this research focuses on just one of the approaches, potential and currently in use. Most of the major research is this area is business research conducted by organizations with a primary or exclusive focus on their own needs, regions, and/or preferred approach. For example, the Research Councils U.K. several years ago made a business decision to support article processing charges (APC) for U.K. scholars; they publish substantial and very useful research that is focused on the needs of U.K. scholars and universities and the APC model. The Public Knowledge Project (PKP) and érudit, both originating in Canada, have developed and support popular software to support journal publishing. Both conduct research with a focus on collaborative approaches to economic support for journal publishing, such as developing new consortia of journals and/or libraries, or working with existing consortia. The International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers (STM) regularly conducts research focused on market opportunities for their members. Anticipated outcome: major literature review in the form of a report made available for open peer review (approximately 30 – 40 pages).

Holistic theoretical analysis from a global political economics perspective: there is currently substantial agreement on a global scale regarding one common goal of open access, that is scholarship that is free for anyone to read. However, there is limited understanding of the necessity to move forward towards this goal in the context of multiple and often conflicting socio-political contexts. For example, the U.K. is unilingual, its university system is highly centralised, and the U.K. enjoys a favorable balance of trade in the existing scholarly communication landscape as the corporate home of some of the largest commercial scholarly publishers (Relyx, parent company of Elsevier, and informa.plc, parent company of Taylor & Francis). These are motivating factors behind the current U.K. approach, designed to transition to open access while protecting the profits of traditional scholarly publishers. In Canada, universities are under provincial jurisdiction, the country is bilingual, and the U.K.’s positive balance of trade is a negative balance of trade for Canada, and so there is motivation to question the wisdom of sustaining the existing system in the process of moving to open access. In the developing world, there is an additional motivation to increase the participation and impact of scholars in global scholarly communication in the transition process. There is scholarship on the latter topic, but this has never been brought together in a holistic way along with conditions particular to the developed world. Anticipated outcome: major theoretical analytic paper made available for open peer review (approximately 30 – 40 pages).

2019 open access article processing charges (APC) dataset: since 2014, the SKC project has been annually collecting and collating data on fully open access journals relating to APC. Although the primary focus is on APCs (whether or not journals charge, and if so how much), the dataset includes rich metadata that can support a wide variety of correlational studies. The dataset (currently over 17,000 journals and over one hundred metadata points per journal) is released as open data periodically with full documentation. Anticipated outcome: release of an open dataset with approximately 18,000 journals and close to two hundred metadata points per journal with detailed documentation (about 10 – 15 pages) for open peer review.

Anticipated outcomes: why a non-traditional approach: there are several reasons for following a non-traditional approach to publication. 1) The most useful formats for outcomes do not fit traditional scholarly publication formats. A major literature review or theoretical analysis in this area will be far too long for a peer-reviewed journal article. For example: recently, in order to fit the page length for the peer-reviewed ELPUB proceedings, I was forced to eliminate entire sections of research even though these logically fit with this work. A major literature review or theoretical analysis in this area will be far too long for most peer-reviewed journals or for a journal chapter, but too short for a monograph. 2) Open peer review is becoming a standard in open scholarship, and this works well in my area. I consider my scholarly and research blogs to be my most important works. When I publish a blogpost about a particular scholarly publisher, I frequently receive review comments from that particular publisher and/or questions as well as comments from funders and other scholars. 3) Timeliness. For example, recently, I posted about high price increases by one particular publisher. Almost immediately, I received a request from [an APC payer], in the process of making annual budget decisions about support for the APC approach, regarding the practices of other publishers. The SKC team had already gathered the data and so I was able to quickly analyse and publish this research. One publisher that was not included spontaneously conducted research on their own data using my methodology, published it via a listserv, and agreed to re-publication on the SKC blog. This rapid sharing of research made it possible to identify early on an essential conflict between the market-based approach of some new publishers (i.e. charge as much as you think you can get) and the accountability-based approach of most payers (i.e. universities, libraries and research funders have fixed and cost-based budgets). This gives the publisher an opportunity to consider business models moving forward that are a better fit with the budgets of payers.

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