Open access challenges for small scholarly societies
I am very much in favor of open access. I believe it is the natural extension of the scientific enterprise. Scientists no longer record their results in code, or disseminate them via cryptic anagrams. Instead, the work of scientists is shared with others so that they may, in turn, make new discoveries.
Yes, this is idealistic, but I’m okay with that.
As a result, I have no hesitations in pushing the big for-profit publishers towards greater rights for authors and more open access options, and I applaud the effort behind the Cost of Knowledge boycott of Elsevier. And just being a not-for-profit scholarly society will not make me sympathetic to high subscription costs, aggressive price increases and restrictive copyright practices (like the American Chemical Society).
But for smaller scholarly societies, I can see how the open access movement has caused a lot of soul searching and a wide variety of opinions and options.
For small scholarly societies, subscriptions to their scholarly publications can make up a large portion of their operating budgets. Moving to an open access model may mean the loss of some of this revenue, and society members may question whether an author-pays model of open access publication will be able to offset the cost of publication. On the other hand, many societies may see a greater fulfillment of their mission by expanding open access options.
Happily, I am seeing more small scholarly societies embrace various aspects of “openness” in their publications. The Ecological Society of America demonstrates some interesting examples of branching out and offering more open access options.
First, they recently started a new open access journal, Ecosphere. The new journal conforms to what we tend to expect from “gold” open access publishers: online only, author fees for accepted manuscripts, and authors retain copyright of their articles. The recent ESA annual report suggests that they have been pleasantly surprised but the success of the new journal.
Second, although ESA requires transfer of copyright to the society for their other publications, they do grant the right to post a copy of the article on the authors personal homepage or institutions website. This is “green” open access, an option that more researchers need to take advantage of.
Finally, their journal Ecology provides and interesting example of a hybrid publication. Ecology is available via subscription and publishes a wide variety of article formats, including brief reports that are “expected to disclose new and exciting work in a concise format.” Several reports are published in each issue, and all are open access. As a result, a certain portion of each issue is freely available.
As scholarly societies and other publishing entities come to terms with new expectations for scholarly publishing, I expect that more societies will experiment with a variety of open access options. A three year old report from SAGE suggests that this will happen. I’m looking forward to seeing what folks come up with.