Paid Access journals: some thoughts

In a recent post (Open Access: needs more work!) I wrote on how Article Publishing Charges (APC) can hinder equality in the gold route of OA publishing.

Today, I want to discuss the paid access traditional journals and publishers.

The boycott of Elsevier highlighted like nothing else the downsides of the business model employed by many professional publishers. I list only a few below:

–          Using Government/taxpayer funded research to generate profit without contributing to research funding

–          No sharing of revenues with authors

–          Not paying the reviewers members of editorial work for their labour

–          Bundling of several journals and selling journal access at very high prices

Yet I argue that these journals and publishers have an important role and place in academic publishing in the future, provided they make some key changes (given later).


Well, here are some reasons:

–          Some journals have been established for decades and are well recognized. There is benefit to authors by publishing (citation, impact, recognition, prestige) and to readers as they feel the quality of work is good.

–          It takes a long time and a lot of resource to establish a new journal, and so should we neglect what has been built over the years, if it can be adapted?

–          OA (gold route) shifts the cost burden entirely onto authors via APCs- pricing out some authors, see Open Access: needs more work! while traditional subscription-based journals put the entire cost burden onto readers, allowing authors (even those that are resource-strapped) to publish in good journals. (Caveat: these may increasingly have lower citation rates and impact factors than the top OA journals)

–          Membership of editorial boards of such journals is a factor in success with promotions, jobs and grant applications; it is a marker of seniority in the profession.

So clearly the gold OA (authors pay all) and traditional journal publishing model (reader pay all) are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Each has its benefits and problems. I think we need journals from both business models to meet the diverse needs of a global research community.

However, the ‘reader pay all’ or traditional model needs changes to survive and thrive in the advent of OA.

What changes would I suggest?

–          Charge for individual journals rather than bundles, with a sensible pricing model

–          Pay editors and reviewers fairly for their work

–          Share revenue with authors: for example, after each year work out the profit a journal has made and share a percentage of the profit with authors (profit/number of articles)

In addition, by revenue sharing these publishers will incentivize authors and the larger academic community to continue reading, publishing and reviewing articles for their journals.

While this will obviously reduce the profit to publishers and their shareholders, it will perhaps make them sustainable. Sustainability and survival, in my view, make a sufficiently strong business case for change.

All of the above will no doubt be hideously complicated and perhaps not implementable in form suggested. I hope though, that it leads people to propose improvements that are indeed feasible.


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