Friday, December 19, 2008

Adopting Open Access

Analysis is switching publishers from Blackwell to OUP, and it isn't the only high-profile philosophy journal with such migratory rights. This raises the question: how can we as philosophers ensure that the next time one of our journals' editorial boards ditches their commercial publisher, they aren't forced into the clutches of another? How can we secure the requisite funding to make open access publication (on the model of Philosophers' Imprint) a live option?

There's no shortage of funds in principle. After all, university libraries are already funding journals. They're just doing it in a ridiculously inefficient way -- buying subscriptions from commercial publishers, rather than funding the journals directly. The latter would end up being much cheaper on net, especially since the only significant expense (I gather) for online publication is the employment of an "editorial assistant" to take care of the administrative work. So in theory the decision for universities (collectively) to fund open-access journals seems like a no-brainer. The only question is how to bring this about. (I guess that's really two questions: what is the precise plan, and who has the power to implement it?)

The simplest option may be a piecemeal approach, whereby individual universities independently arrange to "adopt" -- and henceforth fund -- some prestigious journal. (Just as the University of Michigan funds the Philosophers' Imprint.) This won't solve everything, but every step helps.

Some questions:
(1) How difficulty would it be, in practice, to organize such an 'adoption'?
(2) Who, in each university, is in a position to authorize it? (Who should I be discussing this with?)

Alternatively: is there some appropriate academic body that can extract the requisite funding from its member libraries, and so solve the collective action problem in one fell swoop? (I assume we can't wait for Congress to fix this for us...) Any other ideas?

(N.B. A lot of philosophers share this ideal -- the 'Open Access Philosophy' Facebook group alone has over 350 450 members, including some very prominent philosophers -- so it seems like we really should be able to make progress here, if only we can figure out how.)


  1. Great idea, bad timing. University library budgets are being hacked. They're not likely to be enthusiastic about large new expenditures. If the stock market follows historical patterns, with endowments and tax receipts following course, things will look much better in a few years.

    (This isn't to say you shouldn't try. But if you're only going to try once, now is probably not the time.)

  2. Yeah, I guess that's a difficulty with the piecemeal approach. Though it's worth emphasizing that if we could solve the collective action problem, funding journals directly would actually save libraries money (no more expensive subscription fees). So in that sense, the financial crisis makes universal open access all the more appealing right now. I'm not sure who's in a position to solve the collective action problem, though. (Anyone?)

  3. Check out my piece on access to information in the APA Newletter on Philosophy and Computers. I'm on the Committee on Philosophy and Computers, I'm listening and looking for more comments and information.

    The Committee will be doing sessions at forthcoming APAs, including a panel at the Central at which I'll be discussing free and semi-free online resources for philosophy.

    Thanks for the Facebook link--I'm about to hit it...

  4. I imagine that any conversation we could have about this would be improved if librarians were involved. They'd probably have a better idea how to do an adoption and what the obstacles would be.

  5. I'm the director of the Scholarly Publishing Office at the University of Michigan Library and thus the publisher of the Philosopher's Imprint. I can say a little about our ability to invest in PI, and my perception of other library's willingness to do something similar. For my library the cost of publishing PI is minimal and is far outweighed by the benefits of assisting in the dissemination of scholarship. The costs are minimal for two reasons. First, the UM Library has a well established technical infrastructure, including a delivery system that is adequate to the needs of PI. Hosting the journal via that infrastructure is a small marginal cost. Second, PI is made possible my many people working for free. The editors are volunteers and are also willing to do light copy-editing. The peer reviewers are not compensated. The library provides data preparation and delivery services for free. The only place where cash money changes hands is when the library pays a proofreader (but we are able to use our graduate student workers, who are also engaged in other tasks, to do the proofreading.)

    There are many, many academic libraries who are ready and/or willing to provide the infrastructure to publish and online journal of quality scholarship. My own library would thrilled to do more projects like PI. Even and especially in these difficult budgetary times we see investment in alternative means of scholarly distribution as a high priority. I believe that there are many scholars who are willing to provide scholarly labor in exchange for rewards other than monetary ones. Our challenge is to find ways to bring all these willing parties together.

    If you know of journals in search of "adoption," please do not hesitate to be in touch. I might be able to be of assistance.

  6. Thanks Maria, that's very encouraging to hear!

    (Thanks also to H.E. for the APA newsletter article.)

  7. We're a project at Stanford, Simon Fraser, UBC -- -- that provides free software known as Open Journal Systems for managing and publishing new and existing journals -- e.g., one of about 2500 using OJS --, and a good number of libraries now host OJS installations -- e.g, UToronto All of this can greatly reduce the funds needed (we also provided technical support) and bring the operation pretty well within volunteer and student assistantships levels, as a number of journals are demonstrating. If you'd like more on this, including case studies, visit the site and contact us.

  8. Interesting post. Librarians are usually in favor of open access journals, for obvious reasons, and have supported such efforts as SPARC and the Directory of Open Access Journals ( You've identified one of the important issues when you refer to high-profile journals. If you look at the list of philosophy journals at the DOAJ, you probably have heard of few of them. Scholars (esp. untenured ones) want to publish in high quality journals that have established reputations. So far few open access journals have such reputations compared to the ones already established. Thus, it would be good to get established journals to move to open access platforms. I can't think of any cases of this happening, but it certainly could theoretically.

    If one is starting a new journal, it could be years, if ever, for that journal to establish the sort of reputation that could compete with the existing top journals.

    Coordination is another issue, I suppose, but not insurmountable. Universities and libraries certainly host journals. Some Princeton departments already publish journals, such as the Princeton Political Quarterly and the Princeton Journal of Bioethics. Those aren't open access as far as I know, but the capacity is there.

    The biggest barrier is often faculty concern or will. A friend of mine has been researching Elsevier, which publishes some of the most expensive journals around, and her research indicates that Elsevier's response to open access and journals costs changed not because of library protests, but because the faculty who make up their editorial boards and do all the intellectual work of the journals for free started to protest. If editors and editorial boards started resigning and reforming journals with open access platforms, that's really all it would take. Instead, we see moves from one commercial entity to another. From Blackwell to OUP is fairly benign. I think the journal of the American Anthropological Association moved from Blackwell to Wiley, of all places. The journals can move around, but the people responsible for the journals have to know about, care about, and want to move to open access. Doing it after that is relatively easy, especially at richer institutions.

    For philosophers, the incentive can't be financial. Humanities journals in general are cheap, and except for the philosophy journals on the borders of science, philosophy journals are also cheap. The drive for open access began in response to science journals, which might be $10K a year and which for many years were rising considerably faster than the inflation rate. These journals are also owned almost exclusively by commercial publishers (esp. Elsevier, Wiley, and Kluwer), which are definitely for-profit entities. A lot of humanities journals are published by academic departments or associations, and are quite reasonably priced, though they aren't open access.

    The importance of making scholarship findable and accessible could be its own motive. Some article I read discussed the increasing fact that journal articles not findable through search engines are increasingly invisible. People do a Google or Google Scholar search and take what they find. If they don't find it, it doesn't exist. This goes along with another study showing that scholars disproportionately cite articles that are easily available online and increasingly ignore articles available only in print. Scholars who want their work to be read and cited outside the narrow confines of a few professional colleagues should want open access online journals, at least for journal articles that they aren't making money from anyway. But again, the people writing the articles, editing them, and reviewing them have to want the change. How many do?

  9. the people writing the articles, editing them, and reviewing them have to want the change. How many do?

    You had better jolly well believe that I do after, as an author, going through the Springer Experience. After negotiating their web-based system to submit my article, going through their bizarre proofreading/copyediting process, I finally get these documents to sign: give us copyright or retain copyright for a $3000 convenience fee. I'm tenured, don't have to put up with this crap and wouldn't have if these Springer jerks hadn't said but oh yes you can post the article at your personal website--which I did.

    What's the point since we can put them up at free websites? They want to be able to sell rights to people who want to put this stuff in hardcopy anthologies which they sell to libraries and people who are too out of it to look for the stuff online. Springer, and all those paper publishers know they don't have a future and are doing all they can to make money before people wise up.

    The textbook publishers are bugging me to commission them to create course-packs and customized textbooks for my courses which I'm not about to do. I suggest that if you're tempted to use a textbook anthology, get the table of contents, put it up to your class website and link the texts. Logic is still a problem because you need exercises, but I'm working on that. Of course we want to change: the problem is that most members of our profession don't yet realize that change is feasible. And that will change.


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