Publisher: N/A, or the complexity of understanding “the publisher” (method notes)

This is a note on method arising from work on the OA APC longitudinal trends study that may be of broader interest to those studying scholarly communication and open access as it is important to understand the role of “the publisher”. A story approach seems the best means to explain. One publisher name in DOAJ is N/A. This is not an error; the publisher of the Journal of Peer Production is N/A, that is, there is no “publisher”, just the journal. There are many journals for whom the “publisher” is the title of the journal, the name of the editor, or the university that hosts the journal, even if there is no university press so no formal publishing by the university.

Not-for-profit university and society publishing is very much evident in the open access landscape. As reported at ELPUB (Morrison, 2018), as of 2017 there were over 7,300 active fully open access journals published by universities or societies with no publication fees. This was the majority of the sample. The full sample includes journals with publication fees, journals for which publication fee status is unknown, and ceased journals. While 2019 full analysis will have to wait until data collection and quality analysis is complete, a visual check indicates that university and society publishing continues to be a large part of open access publishing.

Identifying a university “publisher” is more complicated than one might think. Universities may have a university press as well as another publisher such as a library outside of the press. University journals’ publishers may be indicated by names of regional campuses. A single University publisher may have two different names based on language. This is the case for my own University; both the University of Ottawa and Université d’Ottawa are listed as publishers in DOAJ.

Commercial publishers often have variations in names, sometimes simply name variations and at other times reflecting mergers and acquisitions or different brands of a single publisher. For example, SpringerNature’s open journals are listed under SpringerOpen, Nature, and BioMedCentral. DeGruyter publishes open journals under both DeGruyter and Sciendo. To understand the nature of such publishers, it is necessary to have some knowledge of the underlying business.

Many journals are published by societies, universities or governments, in partnership with commercial publishers. The nature of such partnerships (who does what) can vary, including attribution as publisher. The not-for-profit sponsor or the commercial publisher, or both, can  be identified as the publisher.

There is also journal publishing software and platforms whose functions are part of the publishing process, and to a greater or lesser degree. In Canada, érudit is closer to the classic definition of publisher while Open Journal Systems is an open source journal publishing software but also an organization also offers journal hosting and may be used as the publishing platform for another publisher.

Method notes (for 2019 dataset and analysis in progress)

To prepare for fall 2020 data collection from “publisher” websites, I created an excel pivot table of publishers from the OA Main spreadsheet.The purpose of this exercise is to determine publishers by size to make decisions on sampling.

This spreadsheet starts with and includes DOAJ metadata, but goes beyond. The purpose of the pivot table was to watch for duplication of publisher names. This can easily happen due to variation in publisher names, sometimes reflecting acquisitions (e.g. Medknow, Wolters Kluwer Medknow) and sometimes reflecting slight variations in the name such as presence or absence of accents, typos, inclusion or exclusion of an acronym. The original pivot table included over 8,500 publisher names. The method involves manual checking, a tedious process and sometimes uncertain as it is not always clear whether a variation actually reflects a different publisher. 407 duplications of publisher names were found and eliminated in this process. Errors in the remaining data are quite possible, with failure to identify duplicates (e.g. for reasons of language or lack of understanding of the nature of a university system in a foreign country) being most likely, and minor risk of incorrect duplication of separate publishers. It would be difficult to calculate an accurate count of the number of open access journal publishers from this data for the reasons explained above. The number is clearly in the thousands, but how many thousands would depend on how a publisher is defined and accurate identification of such “publishers”.

In this context, publisher: N/A is both a unique anecdote and an idea worthy of consideration. The idea that every journal has, or has to have, a “publisher” may be a myth.

Reference

Heather Morrison. Global OA APCs (APC) 2010–2017: Major Trends. ELPUB 2018, Jun 2018, Toronto, Canada. ⟨10.4000/proceedings.elpub.2018.16⟩. ⟨hal-01816699⟩

To cite this post:

Morrison, H. (2019). Publisher: N/A, or the complexity of understanding “the publisher” (method notes). Sustaining the Knowledge Commons August 22, 2019. https://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/2019/08/22/publisher-n-a-or-the-complexity-of-understanding-the-publisher-method-notes/

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