Open Access venues need a business model and long term planning if they are to achieve sustainability. The perennial question of “Who pays for OA?” can be answered in a variety of ways. Each method of financing OA has its pros and cons, and not every path is equally feasible for every discipline. PLoS was able to grow to world-wide prominence fairly rapidly because it was funded with generous grants at infancy and now it sustains itself with high author-fees (n.b. these can be reduced or waived in some cases).
What worked for PLoS isn’t necessarily going to work for cultural anthropology, generous funding is less abundant in the humanities and social sciences. One option that should be given more thought is library supported publishing as a variety of green OA. I will describe some publishing models from China and Japan that produce publications through a different kind of peer review process. This will be a challenge for some readers who hold that peer review as we know it is the defining quality of serious knowledge production, if something is not peer reviewed than it must be of less value or no value at all. In fact there are shades of peer review, if we see peer review as existing on a continuum new possibilities for OA publication present themselves.
Currently most American universities have or are in the planning stages to have a library managed institutional repository. When faculty self-archive by depositing publications, pre-prints, and working papers into the IR this is called green OA. The result is scholarly information that is free to use. But the majority of IRs all share a serious problem, people don’t use them. Some campuses have a mandate to persuade faculty to make deposits but mostly these are toothless, include opt-out language, and there are no consequences for faculty who do not comply.
The result is that a lot of IRs are like ghost towns, they are not the kind of vibrant sources of new knowledge that would attract readers. What we need is something that will fill up our IRs with content and get faculty in the habit of making deposits.
As institutional repositories have gone mainstream the next big thing on the horizon are publishing programs housed in university libraries. If you are currently at an elite American university you probably already have publication support through your library, if you’re at a large state school you’re probably in the planning stages to get one in the next couple of years. Small schools with tight budgets like most liberal arts colleges just aren’t there yet.
These library publishing programs are designed to forward the university’s mission by helping faculty put out new OA journals (the excellent Museum Anthropology Review is produced with the support of U. Indiana libraries), convert established journals to an OA model (Cultural Anthropology,
while put out by Duke U. Press while published by the SCA receives a lot of technical and staff support from Duke libraries), and much, much more: student run journals, campus magazines, digitizing rare materials — the sky’s the limit. The funding for these programs typically come right out of the library’s regular operations budget or are the result of some special initiative at the university level.
So basically your key funder and key stakeholder is the university itself. You want to keep those dollars coming in? Use the library publishing program to raise the profile of the school. That’s where these different publishing models come in. Xia (2009) calls them institutional journals. In the Chinese model the institutional journal would have faculty at one university responsible for all phases of knowledge creation, from research to peer review and editing. This means that the journal’s thematic content encompasses the entire university, in theory this supports every department.
An issue of concern is how this business model, a university sponsoring a journal that only publishes the same university’s faculty, would effect the quality of the scholarship. And that is a fair concern to have. You would have to think that being peer reviewed by your colleagues would be very different kind of experience! What if the venue became an instrument of departmental politics? Even if you expended a significant amount of energy insuring the politics were kept in check there would still be some. Right?
And then there’s the matter of having your work reviewed by non-specialists. Ordinarily when you submit your work to a journal the editors and their assistants put some degree of thought into selecting the persons most qualified to review the material. Are Joe from the psych department and Jane from the business school really the best people to be reviewing your study of the effects of neoliberalism upon how seal hunters raise their children in Greenland? You would be justified in thinking this may result in a lower quality article than one sent outside the institution to disciplinary journal.
However, it is also possible that an institutional journal would serve to integrate the faculty. There is so much lip service paid to being interdisciplinary, more is said about it than actually done. As a faculty member it is easy to stay in your silo. You might have a departmental picnic, but when are you going to have the occasion to work with the probably very talented in their own right faculty from other departments? In the right social environment an institutional journal could be great for morale and make the university a better place to work.
Moreover, learning to write for a nonspecialist audience could be a good thing. The writing style would have to rely less on jargon and debates of minutia in order to address that broader readership. The result would still be of high caliber (or rather, it would be reflective of the caliber of faculty at the institution) but yes, it would be qualitatively different than the kind of articles published in disciplinary journals.
If the journal showcased the faculty’s research it would draw positive attention to the university, which would keep the university interested in funding it. So this has the potential to be a sustainable model for creating more OA content, albeit content that is produced through a different process than what has been taken for granted in the United States as THE way to run a journal.
Xia (2009) goes on to describe another kind of alternative to peer review that also results in content free to the user, the Japanese kiyo. Here one or several senior scholars supervise a departmental level venue that prints works from their current grad students as well as their former students now junior professionals. According to Xia, kiyos typically print research studies, but also lab records and field notes all produced by the students under the editorial guidance of the senior scholar. It sounds kind of like an apprenticeship for the grad students/ junior faculty with the resulting publication being a sort of vehicle to publicize the department. Being that they’re similar to promotional materials they are usually free and distributed locally, which helps to build a connection between the university and its community. So the accountability is different too, it is not the top scholars in the field who are reading and critiquing the papers but the locals.
But aren’t these just glorified student papers? Wouldn’t this business model result in a publication that is of lower quality? These are fair questions to ask. Yes, these are a lot like glorified student papers. My friend Chris reports from Japan, with kiyos “the quality is pretty uneven” but notes they “do publish some good work, and pretty timely too.” He once found a Japanese translation of an essay by Levi-Strauss about Okinawa that he was unable to find in French. That’s pretty cool!
While these are not the kinds of things that would be published in the US this model is not meant to replace high end journals. Reviewed by a senior scholar is not the same as peer reviewed but it can produce some interesting and useful information that is free to the user.
How about it? Can you imagine an institutional journal or kiyo at your university? How would you like your next essay to appear alongside a piece from the Chemistry department or a student’s fieldnotes? Can you imagine high quality scholarly communications coming out of a process that is different than what you think of as peer review?
Open Access is not going to replace the commercial publishers, but it can grow its share of the scholarly communications pie. In order to do so OA venues need a sustainable business plan. For a discipline without deep pockets like cultural anthropology we may not be able to create more than an handful of top flight OA journals. However we might make modest gains with library supported publications if we had an open mind about new kinds of journal models, even rethinking peer review.
The result would fill up those sleepy institutional repositories with more free to use content, teach our colleagues and students to produce and value OA content, and show administrative decision makers that giving faculty the resources to make homebrew publications is a worthwhile investment.
2009 Library Publishing as a New Model of Scholarly Communication. Journal of Scholarly Publishing 40(4): 370–383.