Resource requirements for small scholar-led open access publishing

This page features early results of the resource requirements for small scholar-led open access publishing project that culminated with the publication of this article:

Morrison, H. (2016). Small scholar-led scholarly journals: can they survive and thrive in an open access future? Learned Publishing 29:2, pp. 83-88.

In brief: small scholar-led journals (editors are full-time academics) have diverse needs, but some common ones are:

  • journal management software and hosting (at least 2 sources can provide this for about $3,000 Canadian annually per journal); library publishing services, where available, are appreciated
  • funding for a part-time support staff position – duties may vary with the journal, e.g. communication with authors; social media is important to some journals, but not others
  • time to commit to editing the journal – my personal perspective is that a journal editor needs a teaching course release to take this on ($ amount will depend on local cost of replacement teacher)
  • a small amount of extra funding for various needs that come up from time to time, e.g. graphics

How much should one budget in total? SSHRC has done a lot of work in this area and come up with a formula of up to $30,000 CDN in base funding and up to $5,000 in supplemental funding. Other funders have similar arrangements.

cite as:

Morrison, H. (n.d.). Resource requirements for small scholar-led publishers. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons. Retrieved from

July 2015

This page includes early results of the resource requirements for small scholar-led open access publishing project and discussion notes. See below for background and links.

Library support in the transition to open access: membership cancellations. One interviewee noted that when their journal transitioned to open access, all libraries cancelled their memberships in spite of the very modest $30 a year cost. It is suggested that libraries find a means to provide alternative support, and consider engaging editors of journals like this to support cancellations or tough “big deal” negotiations in order to free up funding for this purpose.

Sustaining scholarly societies and society publishers: key challenges for open access. This post is a call for the open access movement to understand and help find solutions to some very real challenges to scholarly societies (and hence the benefits they provide to scholars and the public interest) and scholarly society publishers (who overall have a track record of high quality publishing at relatively low costs).

$1,300 per article or $25,000 per year can generously support scholar-led OA publishing. Presents one scenario for subsidy for open access journals.

Library-led journals using Digital Commons: 94% open access, no article processing charges. In brief, library publishing services are one of the options to support sustainable open access.

Language editing is one of the common resource requirements for scholarly publishing. The amount of work involved can vary a great deal, and there are different ways of approaching the work. Traditional publishing has tended towards a publisher-centric model; but is it time to consider more author or institution centric models? For example, if a university or funder expects authors to publish in international journal in a language other than their native language, why not provide authors with editing services?

Wanting to be open does not mean we want to be open about everything.. So far none of the 8 interviewees have taken me up on the offer to make their interviews open. In retrospect, this makes sense – being for open is completely compatible with being for privacy when this is warranted.

From conference to newsletter to journal: a challenge to the emphasis on peer review. This post looks at whether the technical emphasis on peer review overlooks the communication  / community aspects of scholarly communication of which formal publication is just one part.

Background and links

This page provides some background and links to status updates 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 the trend was increasing commercial involvement in scholarly publishing, and concentration within the commercial sector. 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 changed, 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 online publishing 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 or website, 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.

For further background and citations, see the second chapter of my dissertation Freedom for Scholarship in the Internet Age.

Call for participation.

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