Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dramatic Growth of Open Access Dec. 11, 2010 comment and reply

Revised Dec. 17, 2010 - comment on renaissance of the scholar / publisher from Willinsky & Edgar added.

Phil Davis on the Scholarly Kitchen has posted the comment, For Open Access Journals, the Size does Matter, as a comment on my Dec. 11, 2010 early year-end edition of the Dramatic Growth of Open Access.


In brief

The growth of open access is particularly amazing given how little economic support has been made available so far. The economic target that I would suggest is high-quality, fully open access publishing that is economically sustainable or cost-effective. The number of open access journal titles is an indirect indication of the growth of open access publishing per se, which would ideally be measured by the number of articles published open access. As the DOAJ search by article service grows, this measure may become more feasible over time. Nevertheless, the number of titles per se is important as an indication of OA infrastructure, that is, the ability of open access to grow rapidly, given a little support. Behind the many fairly new, relatively small journals listed in DOAJ is a substantial new publishing system which can support many more titles; and small journals with relatively few articles could easily grow with even a little redirection of funding. These are just a few of the reasons why it makes a lot of sense for libraries to join the Compact for Open Access Publishing Equity. Online-only, open access journals are not the same as print or subscription-based journals, and so it does not make sense to apply the same measures to assess the success of these journals - for example, the need to bundle a certain amount of articles for a print artefact, or to justify subscriptions has implications for the number of articles needed for a successful print and/or subscription-based journal that does not necessarily apply to an online open access journal. Willinsky & Edgar, reporting on a major survey of journals using OJS, describe the current situation as a renaissance of the scholar publisher.


This is a welcome discussion of this important topic. Phil's main point seems to be that OA publishing is not yet a clear-cut success, particularly from an economic viewpoint. I would agree with this point. What is amazing to me is how much OA has grown with so little funding made available. To create further growth and to transition scholarly communication as a whole to open access, what libraries need to do is to transition funding to OA support. A good first step, one that does not require tough budgetary decisions, is simply joining the Compact on Open Access Publishing Equity - highly recommended as an OA New Year's Resolution.

Phil's first question, with respect to the dramatic growth of DOAJ is: "But does this type of growth really indicate economic success in open access publishing?". My comment: there is an assumption in this question, that the purpose of open access is economic success. From my perspective, this is worth querying. Why success rather than sustainability or cost-effectiveness? What kind of success is Phil looking for? High profits? Why not fully open access, high quality publishing at sustainable or cost-effective rates? - this is what I recommend.

Phil goes on to cover an article in First Monday by Frantsvåg which takes issue with the size of publishers in DOAJ, noting that most (90%) are publishers of single journals. One of Frantsvåg's key points is that small publishers lack economies of scale. From an economic perspective, I would first like to note that due to an inelastic market, mega-publishers with large portfolios of journals and fat profit margins are part of the problem, not part of the solution (a topic I deal with at length in my book, Scholarly Communication for Librarians, unfortunately not OA).

Next, I would like to point out that small publishing is typical of scholarly publishers, as Raym Crow points out in his paper on Publishing Cooperatives, downloadable from the SPARC Papers and Guides website. The dramatic growth of open access journals may reflect a renewal of scholarly leadership in this area. Publishing cooperatives is one of the solutions to creating economies of scale for smaller publishers.

Also, with modern publishing software, such as the free, open source Open Journal Systems, it is quite feasible for a single scholarly journal to manage on its own with modest support services provided by a university library or service such as Scholarly Exchange.

Another important point is that the early proliferation of many small publishing outfits likely reflects the growth in publishing support services, particularly new scholarly publishing services at university libraries. That is, behind a great many of these small publishers stands a very new publishing service representing a significant infrastructure ready to take off - just one of the reasons that I very much look forward to future editions of The Dramatic Growth of Open Access.

Edgar and Willinsky describe the flourishing growth of journals using OJS (over 7,500 journals worldwide) as a renaissance of the scholar publisher, in their report of a major survey of OJS journals.

"In marked contrast to the findings of other studies, only 6 percent of these journals are
published by commercial houses, compared to the 64 percent reported by Ware and Mabe (2009) and Crow (2005). Scholarly societies published 32 percent of the titles in this sample, exceeding the 23 percent that Crow found scholarly societies “self-publishing” in his study of journals as a whole (with societies having turned over 17 percent of the journals being published to commercial publishers to publish on the society’s behalf). This leaves the vast majority of the journals in this sample as published or sponsored by an academic department (51 percent), a non-profit publisher (16 percent), research unit (10 percent) and independent group (10 percent), although these percentages cannot be added up, as respondents could choose more than one sponsor (Table 2). As well, it needs to be allowed that commercially published journals would be less likely to complete such a survey, given a noted reluctance among this constituency to share information about publishing practices (Houghton et al., 2009). Still, these results suggest that the majority of these journals fall into what can be identified as the independent or scholar-publisher titles." AND "Yet this sample also stands apart from the majority of journals. Where a small number of large commercial publishers now dominate journal publishing (Crow, 2005), this study found that commercial entities formed the smallest category of publisher. The scholar-publisher – or more accurately the group-of-scholars-as-publisher – is responsible for the majority of journals in this study, constituting a type that dates back to the earliest days of the journal, when Henry Oldenburg launched the Philosophical Transactions as an independent, albeit commercial, venture. The scholarpublisher is now experiencing, this study suggests, a certain renaissance, facilitated by online, open access."

Phil goes on to comment on an article by Walters forthcoming in College and Research Libraries, Characteristics of Open Access Journals in Six Subject Areas. Walters notes the wide variety in open access journals in publishers, with one journal publishing more than 2,700 articles in a year, while many others publish less than 25 articles per year.

Phil seems to think that journals must be of a certain size to be successful. With electronic-only, online open access publishing, I would challenge this view. A print-based journal needs to have a certain quantity of articles for regular mailings to make sense; generally somewhat the same quantity for consistency. This is not the case with online journals at all; there is no a priori reason why an online journal needs to have a particular number of articles to be a success.

One of Phil's points, that the growth of gold OA is better measured by articles than by journal titles, is something that I very much agree with (and the reason I always include the number of articles available through a DOAJ search). On the other hand, the number of journal titles is an important indication of infrastructure for OA. That is to say - if there are many OA journals that are currently publishing relatively few articles, it is highly likely that these journals could easily accomodate tremendous growth in demand for OA publishing - particularly if this transition were accompanied by a redirection of funding from subscriptions to open access. This is an indication of readiness for further growth, which is important to know!

This post is part of the Dramatic Growth of Open Access Series