Monday, January 28, 2013

Open Access, seriously (2)

Let's continue with the open access theme...

(2) Do not do ANY work for non open access journals. 

This includes reviewing, suggesting reviewers, etc. Let's assume a bunch of people have made the conscious decision to stop submitting their work to non-open access journals. What impact would that actually have on the publishers? Frankly, not a big immediate one unless we're assuming a massive migration to open access journals. That is rather unlikely and therefore, everyone should consider step two: stop all other work for those journals, i.e. decline to review articles for them, don't even make suggestions for alternative reviewers, and do not serve on the editorial board. Yes - ignore the emails!

For those who feel uneasy to publish exclusively open access but still are skeptical of the traditional publishing market this might be a good starting point and if done by many it probably hurts even more. Why is that?

All these jobs are done on a voluntary basis. Peer review is an essential part of scientific publishing and when done right it helps to improve publications and also prevents bad science from getting any attention. At least that's the theory and most often it works. All journals need our expertise in order to assess the quality and scientific integrity of a publication and we are all happily provide it free of charge. We even volunteer some of our time to serve as editors thereby essentially relieving publishers from at least one management level in their company. As good and important this community driven review process is there is no real return of investment for me as editor or reviewer aside from providing service to the community. Don't get me wrong here, I am not arguing for paid services as this would bring up costs even more. But, for a moment just picture this scenario - you serve as a volunteer for a local sports club or as I do, for a choral organisation. My time and efforts are spend to support the members of the organisation by enabling the group to do more for its members but certainly not to increase revenue. That's why I am not volunteering for a company which would gain the benefit of reduced expenses and higher profit if I did. 

I am not an economist but this business model seems to be flawed as it relies very strongly on other peoples good will. Instead of changing it over time to make it more self-sustaining it looks like the publishing companies kept building on it and over the years they started to push more and more responsibilities towards authors, reviewers, and editors. An example are ever growing rule sets for formatting (length, line spacing, fonts, citations...). We even had to learn to include DOI's for some journals. In any other branch of publishing this is the job of the publishing company. In our little world it is a requirement for submission (and rejection for that matter). I hope nobody believes that these things are intended to help reviewers or editors. They are not! Actually it is a nuisance to pay attention to this instead of focusing solely on content. I wouldn't mind if it would help to bring down the costs for us authors and our institutions but this doesn't seem to be the case. On the contrary with increased outsourcing subscriptions paradoxically went up. I wonder whether prices will climb again when all of a sudden all reviewers and editors resign and move to open access journals. For once some companies would face the true costs of publishing and the real hardship other sectors in the industry are already going through.

For my part I feel much better to provide my service as reviewer and editor for an open access journal. I still devote a part of my time to do service to the scientific community - as we all should - but I think I am doing the right thing to set us up for the future of scientific publishing.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! I agree with pretty much all of this (and have said so in Times Higher Education. But I have just one important tweak to suggest:

    "Stop all other work for those journals, i.e. decline to review articles for them, don't even make suggestions for alternative reviewers, and do not serve on the editorial board. Yes - ignore the emails!"

    I think it's much better if, instead of ignoring the emails, we reply explaining why we are withdrawing our free labour. It's an opportunity to explain the OA issue to an audience that is intensely interested in that interaction, and we shouldn't pass up such an educational moment.

    For what it's worth, I've had surprisingly positive responses from both authors whose work I have refused to review and editors who I've refused to review for.