Sustaining the knowledge commons (open access scholarship)
Open access literature is digital, online, free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions (Suber, 2012). Open access to the scholarly literature is a public good that will “accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge” (Budapest Open Access Initiative, 2002). Much has been accomplished in transitioning scholarly works to open access in the past decade. The Directory of Open Access Journals lists about 10 thousand fully open access, peer reviewed scholarly journals. The relatively new Directory of Open Access Books lists over 1,500 open access scholarly monographs from more than 50 publishers. There are thousands of open access archives around the world, housing millions of documents. Hundreds of research funding agencies and universities require open access to the results of research they support, as listed in the Registry of Open Access Material Archiving Policies. However, much remains to be done, and in particular there is a need to address the challenge of ensuring sustainable funding mechanisms for open access publishing, especially high-quality publishing led by scholars that is free to prioritize the needs of scholars and the public good (as opposed to the single bottom line of profit).
The proposed research would create a macro-level analysis on the economics of an open access scholarly journal publishing system through the examination of three separate but related areas of research: 1. a thorough in-depth analysis on the article processing fees charged by some open access journals; 2. an examination of the resources needed by small not-for-profit scholar-led publishers (e.g. needs for editorial or technical support); and 3. supplementing the work of Edgar & Willinsky (2010) that found an average revenue of $188 per article for journals using Open Journal Systems, by factoring in infrastructure costs for journal hosting services. The proposed budget allocates over 80% to research assistantships as this proposal is my first step towards the creation of a research centre and the active participation of students is a crucial first step to the research centre. In addition, the proposed research will help university libraries to make prudent decisions to transition the underlying economics of scholarly publishing (currently the vast majority of funding for the system comes from university library budgets) from a subscriptions / purchase to an open access basis. An open research approach to knowledge dissemination will help journals and libraries struggling with the transition early on in the process through sharing knowledge to date through a dedicated website. This research falls under the SSHRC priority area Digital Economy. Knowledge gained through this project is expected to benefit the other newer “open” movements, including open education, open data and open government through the development of scenarios for transition that might be worth considering in these other areas.
This proposal builds on research developed for my 2012 doctoral dissertation, Freedom for scholarship in the internet age (Morrison, 2012) and published in First Monday (Morrison, 2013) that strongly suggest a potential for transitioning to a scholarly communication system that is more cost-effective than the current system as well as being fully open access.
The overarching objective is to understand how best to bring about the transition of published scholarly works to a knowledge commons. The knowledge commons is conceived of as a system where the world’s scholarly knowledge is available to everyone, everywhere, to draw from and contribute to, one that prioritizes the values and needs of scholars, scholarship, and the public good, and is open to all by default, with exceptions as necessary to accommodate other social values such as the right to individual privacy.
The specific objective of the proposed research is to address the question of how to transition the underlying economics of the system from a subscriptions / purchase model to one that funds works at the production stage. This research will develop a macro analysis of the economics of scholarly publishing that demonstrates the potential to transition the global spend of the world’s university libraries from support for subscriptions / publishing to support for open access production and to achieve significant cost savings at the same time. This issue was developed as part of my dissertation research (Morrison, 2012) and subsequently published in First Monday (Morrison, 2013).
The proposed research will make it possible to develop more accurate scenarios for the potential for overall transition of the scholarly publishing system by collecting and analyzing data on key components of the system: the current costs per article charged by existing open access publishers; the necessary future costs based on the actual resource needs of scholar-led publishers; and infrastructure costs for support services such as university library and university press journal hosting services. A more accurate economic analysis will assist university libraries with making the case to collaborate to transition support for scholarly publishing from subscriptions / purchase to support for production so that works can be open access.
The context section consists of several sub-sections, covering the history and present of scholarly publishing, the theoretical framework and major research to date on the three sub-projects.
Until the Second World War, scholarly societies published nearly all scholarly journals (Mabe, 2003, 2011). Journals were published in print and distributed to society members and subscribers, many of which were university libraries. After the Second World War, the commercial sector became involved in scholarly journal publishing, particularly in the area of science, technology and medicine (STM), areas of scholarship that the commercial sector in general had become interested in as technology was viewed as having the potential to open up new areas for commercial exploitation (Price, 1963). In the next few decades a “serials crisis” developed, as documented by the Association of Research Libraries (1989). Even the largest university libraries were no longer able to purchase all of the scholarly journals. Average journal prices increased at rates above inflation year after year. During the same period, scholarly monograph purchases by university libraries declined from about 3 – 5,000 copies per monograph to about 300 – 500 copies per monograph, causing a different kind of crisis in scholarly monograph publishing (Thompson, 2005). Brown (2007) describes a university press system in crisis.
This situation illustrates what I call irrational rationality (Morrison, 2012). Universities, through their libraries, fund a system where a small number of very large commercial publishers enjoy exceptional profits in the 30-40% range while in the same time frame they reduce or eliminate the modest subsidies traditionally provided to university presses. Every element of this system is rational. For-profit corporations are expected to return maximum profits to their shareholders. In tight financial times, it makes sense that universities cut services like university presses that serve the whole system but are not essential to their own operations. However, all of these rational elements add up to a system that funds extraordinary profits for a few scholarly publishers while threatening the existence of other scholarly publishers and even the careers of scholars who need to publish monographs and find it increasingly difficult to do so (Harley et al, 2010). The concept of irrational rationality builds on the intellectual tradition initiated by Weber (1968) in the nineteenth century, Lukács (1967) and Marcuse (1964) who articulated the difference between rationality based on values and goal-oriented or instrumental rationality. A real world society-wide example of this in modern society is the contrast between the common human value of having an ongoing ecosystem capable of sustaining a high quality of human life for ourselves and our children and our inaction on climate change, identified by the World Economic Forum (2013) as one of the ten top global trends for 2014.
Rather than analyze irrational rationality I propose a holistic or systemic approach. This is illustrated by my macro level analysis of the global spend on scholarly journal articles by university libraries (approximately $5.6 billion annually) and the global production of articles (approximately 1.5 million annually) (Morrison, 2013). In recent years the commons has emerged or re-emerged as one potential alternative. A number of scholars have written about the potential of information technologies to facilitate enclosure of intellectual property as an emerging stage of capitalism. In 1989, Mosco described this as the pay-per society in which emerges usage charges for things that used to be free or charged for on a blanket basis as having the potential to radically change society; Lessig (1999) makes similar arguments in Code: and other laws of cyberspace. Enzsenberger (1974) described the potential of new media to facilitate a new more democratic form of communication, while warning that social action would be necessary in order for the technology to fulfill this function. Ostrom’s (2000) groundbreaking Governing the commons effectively debunks arguments against the impossibility of collaborative approaches such as Hardin’s notion of the “tragedy of the market” and provides substantive evidence of highly effective commons-based approaches. Heller (1998) warns about the tragedy of the anti-commons. Bollier (2007), Boyle (2003), Lessig (2004), Vaidhyanathan, and Hess & Ostrom (2007) discuss the enclosure movement and the potential of the commons in terms of culture, knowledge and information. Caffentzis (2012) focuses on the knowledge commons. In seeking alternatives it may be wise to consider the perspectives of other societies such as the first nations approach to intellectual property as articulated by Young-Ing (2006) and the idea of the gift in traditional societies as explicated by anthropologist Mauss (2002).
This research builds on macro analysis of the economics of scholarly publishing conducted by the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers (STM) designed for the purpose of business planning for STM members (Ware & Mabe, 2012, 2009). The United Kingdom has been a leader in conducting in-depth economic analysis of the scholarly communication system at a national level. The Research Information Network (2008) released the report Activities, costs and funding flows in the scholarly communications system in the UK. Houghton and colleagues have conducted major macro-economic analysis of the potential for transition to an open access system at a national level. The most in-depth research, conducted in the UK, found that cost savings could be achieved with a full switch to open access by the UK for its own research with 3 different methods, with the smallest savings resulting from a full switch from subscriptions-based to open access publishing, greater savings with open access archiving, and the greatest potential savings through a more transformative approach, using open access archives with a peer review overlay (Houghton et al, 2009a, 2009b). This research also draws on global best estimates of the world’s scholarly peer-reviewed journal production (Björk et al, 2008, 2010).
The third project in the overall proposal deals with research on economic models for supporting open access, including Crow’s (2006) work on publishing cooperatives, and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition’s Income models for open access: an overview of current practice (Crow, 2009), and an overview of innovative models for support for open access focusing on collaborative support by libraries that I wrote as the literature review for a national survey on library and university press publishing (Taylor, Morrison, Owen, Vézina and Waller, 2013). One result of this survey was a finding that Canadian university libraries would be willing to support a number of different approaches to funding open access, with collaborative approaches being the one option that all libraries would support to some extent, and none would (a priori) oppose. Examples of collaborative models for support including the ongoing work of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to use library funding (similar to subscriptions) to build an endowment to fund ongoing open access for this scholar-led encyclopedia (Sanville, 2005). Another example: as of January 2014, the Sponsoring Consortium for Particle Physics Publishing (2014) is implementing a new fully open access publishing system for all articles in high energy physics, a remarkable accomplishment involving global cooperation among libraries and negotiations with all publishers involved in this area.
A key element for the macro analysis of the economics of scholarly publishing is the average cost per peer-reviewed journal article. Previous research indicates a wide range of actual costs, with Willinsky reporting a range from 0 to $20,000 per article (Willinsky, 2006). The low end of the range is made possible by the large percentage of work contributed by academics on a voluntary basis by scholars. Harvard’s Shieber (2012) explains how the high-impact peer-reviewed Journal of Machine Learning manages on $10 per article. My macro analysis (Morrison, 2013) illustrates the importance of this key element. If the average cost per article in an open access environment were $1,350 (the current cost per article for publishing in PLoS ONE), then libraries could fund a global system at one third the current global library spend. Even at an average cost of $2,000 - $3,000, substantial savings are possible. However, at an average of $5,000, the system would cost more than at present.
Edgar and Willinsky’s (2010) survey of over 900 journals using the open source software Open Journal Systems found an average spend of $188 per article. This suggests that in addition to prioritizing scholarship this “renaissance of scholar-led publishing” described by the authors might be a great deal more affordable than the current system as well. The proposed research builds on the work of Edgar and Willinsky, aiming for a more accurate costing taking into account such elements as the cost of universities’ hosting and support of journals, as well as whether these new journals have factored in the necessary resources for sustainable open access publishing in the long term. For example, do these journals reporting such low costs have all of the resources needed to sustain their journals in the long term, or is there an over-reliance on volunteer labour with the potential for burn-out? If this is the case, what resources could be provided (copyediting, teaching relief, technical support and training, etc.) that would prevent this from happening? Currently I am conducting preliminary interviews designed to develop one or more focus groups and survey research and several interviewees to date have expressed their perspective that this research is very much needed.
This project draws on existing and emerging research on costs of the production of scholarly journal articles, including a major report conducted by the Wellcome Trust (2004) on the cost of open access journals, a body of research based on print journals relying on subscriptions as reported by Tenopir & King (1998), and the data gathered by the Sherpa RoMEO service on publisher open access article processing charges (based on publisher self-reported average prices and with an emphasis on UK-based publishers and the commercial sector). This project will supplement and extend existing knowledge about costs of producing scholarly journals articles through sampling open access article processing fees of journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals, a broader and more international set than that included in the Sherpa RoMEO list, and by triangulating data from interviews, focus groups, surveys of scholarly publishers and infrastructure costs from case studies of university hosting and support services to develop a more accurate range of scholarly journal production costs.
A mixed methods approach is used because the macro level analysis of the potential for economic transition to support open access publishing requires several different types of variables.
Open Access Article Processing Charges
The Directory of Open Access Journals is a vetted list of about 10 thousand fully open access (articles freely available on publication) peer-reviewed journals. About a quarter of these journals charge article processing fees, with a small percentage charging article processing fees on a conditional basis (about two-thirds do not charge article processing fees). DOAJ notes whether journals charge article processing fees and provides a URL to look up information, but does not list the amount. A copy of the DOAJ list of journals charging article processing fees was made in November 2013 and the process of looking up the amounts was initiated in December 2013. Preliminary results indicate a skewed distribution with most of these journals published by relatively large publishers (20 or more journals charging article processing fees) or very small publishers (1 to 3 journals, with 1 being the most frequent number of journals). A stratified random sampling method is used to ensure that a selection of journals from large, medium and small publishers is included. Preliminary analysis indicates a much more complex situation than anticipated. While some journals have a straightforward article processing fee, a large portion have variable fees depending on such variables as location of author, membership in a society and article length. There is a wide range of article processing fees, from about $20 US per article to $5,000 per article. The purposes of this portion of the overall project are to capture another set of data for comparative purposes, a step which is advisable as some charges may change (e.g. one publisher, providing a complete set of article processing fees, advised that some of the journals’ charges might be changed the following month, and one rationale for this research is to track the possibility of the commercial sector raising prices at rates above inflation as happened with subscriptions), and to complete the in-depth analysis of existing charges. Examples of questions to be explored include whether some of the journals listed as charging article processing fees are actually producing both print and online open access journals, with traditional page charges for the print version and no open access article processing fee. Preliminary analysis suggests that this is the case for at least some of the journals.
Resource Requirements for Small Scholar-Led Journals in an Open Access Environment
This project builds on preliminary research in the form of informal interviews with editors of small scholarly journals currently underway. Responses to date for a call for participation sent to select scholarly publishers’ and open access listservs (Canadian Association of Learned Journals, Scholarly for Scholarly Publishers, Global Open Access List) indicate a keen interest among publishers in the results of this research. Inductive methodology will be used to develop one or more focus groups with publishers from the qualitative results of this research, to be held in conjunction with the annual general meetings / conferences of the publishers’ associations, and an online survey to be sent to stratified samples of open access and non-open-access scholar-led journals (i.e. scholarly society and independent scholar-led journals).
Infrastructure costs estimate
3-4 case studies of library publishing services will be conducted, representing different types and sizes of library journal hosting services. For example, the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) provides a collaborative journal hosting service for member libraries, while many other university libraries in Canada and elsewhere offer services targeted to their individual faculty members. An attempt will be made to include at least one larger centralized service and one individual institutional service, as well as organizations offering a slightly different package of services.
Macro analysis of costs for a global shift to open access
Results of these three research projects, in addition to other relevant information gleaned through an ongoing review of the scholarly literature and monitoring of related initiatives, such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Councils’ Aid to Scholarly Journals Program and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries’ open access group, will be used to develop cost projections for a global shift to open access based on the range of needed costs uncovered in the study.