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.

Cite as: 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: …

Merci à CRSH / Thanks to SSHRC

Je veux remercier le Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines (CRSH) du Gouvernement du Canada de confirmer une Subvention Savoir pour continuer le travail de Soutenir les savoirs communs jusqu’a le 31 mars 2021.

I would like to thank Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for confirming the award of an Insight Grant to continue the work of Sustaining the Knowledge Commons until March 31, 2021.

Total: $182,455

Cite as:

Morrison, H. (2016). Merci à CRSH / Thanks to SSHRC. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from

Forthcoming research and an invitation to cooperate

Here is what we are up to, why, and plans for the near future, shared in the spirit of open research and by way of invitation to others working on overlapping research to share your own plans through comments on this post, so that we can combine efforts and all get to the goal of figuring out how to sustain open access as quickly as possible.

Resource requirements for small scholar-led open access journals

  • Interviews and focus groups with small scholar-led journals that either are, or want to become, open access, on the resources required. This is a qualitative-to-quantitative, idea-gathering and partial action research project. To date, 8 interviews conducted with journals from 4 countries, 1 focus group. Initial writing / blogspots will begin to appear this summer. More invitations to participate forthcoming soon. The primary reason for this project is a hypothesis that this sector is both the most cost-effective and the best option from the perspective of scholarship and the public interest. According to my analysis, the average revenue for OJS journals of $188 per article according to a survey by Edgars and Willinsky is about 4% of current global average spend per peer-reviewed journal article by academic libraries. This may not be enough to sustain these journals, but there is a lot of leeway between an average of $188 per article and the over $4,000 per article current spend. The purpose of this project is to figure out what these journals need to survive into the future; for example, what is the work, who does it (academics and/or support staff), journal hosting and sources of support.

Open access article processing charges

For me, the primary reason for this research stream is that in an online environment, cost-per-article is a rational measure of efficiency. The APC study is important in the macro-analysis of the potential for full transition to open access publishing, and worthy in its own right as a model used by a minority of journals and in an minority of disciplines. Studying APCs does not imply endorsement of the model. I have never paid an APC. Now that I am a researcher even the idea of diverting funding from research to pay APCs when so much money is still going into subscriptions is a concern. Institutional funding for APCs sounds like a great idea, but when universities are strapped for cash this kind of support could be reduced or dropped. The focus of this research is trends over time, particularly looking for the potential for the same dysfunctional market that has plagued scholarly publishing for decades will appear in APCs too.

For published work see the Publications and Presentations page.

In progress

  • Correlating subjects and APCs, based on May 2014 data (tendency to charge and how much) (Progress: see which subjects are charging the most? and this post with links to data and documentation.
  • Correlating content in DOAJ and APCs, based on May 2014 data (hypothesis: at least some types of journals, particularly commercial journals, are charging low or no fees initially with plans to initiate or raise fees once they become established). Example: Hindawi provides free publishing for a number of their journals on a rotating basis, even though it is clear that this is an APC model. Progress: a significant positive correlation has been found in the DOAJ data (i.e. journals with more content in DOAJ, if they use APCs, tend to have higher charges), however a check against the actual publications of the journals suggests that the DOAJ publication size only roughly corresponds with actual journal publication size. A check of DOAJ in May 2015 suggests that recent tech changes at DOAJ mean that this data is different today and perhaps even less reliable. A tech tips post for journal publishers contributing content to DOAJ has been released. The large size of the sample and the at least roughly comparable journal sizes is still worth reporting on. Currently I am pondering whether a follow-up study based on publisher website counts is necessary or worthwhile. If anyone has this data in a dataset that identifies journals (by title or ISSN) for cross-referencing purposes please let me know.
  • Varying impact of APC based on regional differences and currency fluctuations. Early work contrasts the Egpyt-based commercial OA APC success story Hindawi with the difficult financial situation for researchers at Egypt’s public universities.

Theoretical work

  • Exploring theoretical frameworks such as the commons and the gift economy for potential for ideas on how to sustain a global open access knowledge commons.


  • May 2015: update of 2014 APC survey and longitudinal comparisons with data from 2014, 2013 and Bjork and Solomon’s 2010 study
  • Impact factor / APC correlation. Hypothesis: some types of journals, particularly commercial journals, will tend to increase charges disproportionately when they obtain an impact factor or increase in rankings.

A bit farther into the future

  • Case studies: library journal hosting services costs
  • Publisher survey(s): follow-up from interviews and focus groups
  • Revist macro analysis for potential for global transition to OA based on academic library budgets

Related projects

  • Creative Commons and Open Access Critique: a call to abandon the idea of CC-BY as default for open access and open the conversation about how best to address issues such as copyright, licensing, attribution and re-use
  • Updating 2010 survey of  Canadian libraries journals and university presses’ support for open access (with team leader Brent Roe, Don Taylor, Kumiko Vézina and Andrew Waller (in progress)

Some details about the open research approach and the reason for this invitation

One of the primary reasons for the existence of this blog is to support the project’s open research approach. Scholarly traditions tend to favor competition which gives researchers an incentive to keep what they are doing, and their data, secret until they are ready for formal publication, ideally before the competition so we can prove we are the best researchers.

Research in an area like open access article processing charges provides a good illustration of the potential advantages of collaborating rather than competing. Last May we downloaded the DOAJ metadata file and gathered in-depth quantitative and qualitative information about article processing charges for a large sample of the minority of journals using this approach. Our main dataset is available through the dataverse. We have other information gathered (e.g. full publisher APC lists including journals not in DOAJ and various DOAJ screen scrapes including content by year, publisher and provider). The reasons for not sharing all data openly have more to do with the learning curve of working with this much data (e.g. if we added all the data to one dataverse would that make it too difficult for people to find?) and the complexities of documentation. At last count we had well over 300 files of various types (mostly large spreadsheets) that we share among team members.

Cite as:

Morrison, H. (2015). Forthcoming research and an invitation to cooperate. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from

Soutenir les savoirs communs à Érudit

Merci beaucoup d’Érudit de l’invitation de faire une présentation à leur réunion annuelle, le 2 avril 2015, a l’Université de Montréal. Voici ma présentation:


Morrison, H. (2015, April). Soutenir les savoirs communs. Panel presented at the Réunion annuelle d’érudit, Montréal. Retrieved from


Sustaining the Knowledge Commons team at CASRAI Reconnect 2014


The Sustaining the Knowledge Commons Team (left to right Heather Morrison, Alexis Calvé-Genest, Jihane Salhab and Tony Horava) presenting at the CASRAI Reconnect conference in Ottawa, Nov. 20, 2014. Click the link below to view the team’s presentation in PDF. The uO Recherche (IR) link can be found in the citation.


Cite as:

Morrison, H., Calvé-Genest, A., & Salhab, J. (2014, November). Sustaining the knowledge commons: Open access scholarship. Presented at the CASRAI reconnect, Ottawa, ON, Canada. Retrieved from

Introducing Sustaining the Knowledge Commons (Open Access Scholarship)

This blog has been created to support the work of a suite of research projects which I’m very pleased to acknowledge have been selected by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for funding support in the amount of $71,000 Canadian for the period 2014 – 2016. A summary of the suite of projects is available in the blog’s About page. Watch for further details as the research unfolds, demonstrating an open research project.

Cite as: This blog has been created to support the work of a suite of research projects which I’m very pleased to acknowledge have been selected by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for funding support in the amount of $71,000 Canadian for the period 2014 – 2016. A summary of the suite of projects is available in the blog’s About page. Watch for further details as the research unfolds, demonstrating an open research project. Brief post, this is the full text.