Flipping Scientific Journals to Open Access Can be the Shortest Route to Changing the Dynamics of Academic Publishing

Recent descriptions of the stalemate in the scholarly publishing market, where large publishers continue to maintain they sway over prestigious, in-demand journals and Open Access transition proves to be evolutionary and costly in the short term, overlook the shortcut path to reducing the nearly natural monopoly positions of incumbent publishers by switching existing, reputed journals to Open Access.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


Though David Matthews’ blog piece published on March 2, 2018, bemoans the seemingly unchanged status-quo in the scientific publishing market, where Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Routledge and Wiley continue to claim the lion’s share of its revenues with double-digit profit margins and sizable executive remuneration packages, the alternative between business as usual and possible regulatory intervention it presents does not necessarily take into account alternative transition paths toward a market situation in which the benefits of Open Access prevail over its costs. This goes beyond the long game that the transition to Open Access involves, since it can reduce the access-related fees that university libraries pay in the long term, as the share of recognized Open Access journals continues to grow.

Namely, David Matthews zeroes in on the short-term dynamics of the publishing market in which the behavior of scholars that are rewarded for publishing at highest ranking academic journals with research funds and career promotions cements the market positioning of large publishers that sell subscriptions to high-impact journals to institutions. However, this situation may primarily apply to the United Kingdom, since in the European Union around 67% of researchers receiving its funds, such as in the framework of the Horizon 2020 program, already publish in Open Access. In other words, the power of country-level or regional Open Access mandates that de facto encourage the transition away from the subscription-based publishing models cannot already be overestimated.

While Europe-wide frameworks stimulating the adoption of Open Access are complemented by global initiatives, such as those of the Wellcome Trust and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in the short term the behavioral dynamics on the micro level of individual researchers are likely to be most effectively affected by flipping reputed scientific journals into Open Access, as has been the case with Glossa the editorial team of which has split from Lingua with the financial help from the Open Library of Humanities and LingOA, a fund supported by the Association of Dutch Universities and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research that encourages the transition to Open Access among journals in the field of linguistics. For this reason, Glossa cannot forgo inviting its authors to pay optional article processing charges, if they can.

That similar dynamics may be taking place in continental Europe is suggested by the ongoing resignations of German scientists from Elsevier-published journals, in a collective, Germany-wide push in favor of Open Access. However the situation with Open Access adoption plays out in Germany, its ramification for impact factor rankings and the market power of large publishing houses are most likely to be felt in the long term only.

Therefore, similar to Glossa’s case, in the short term switching established journals to Open Access promises to be among the more effective contributions to shifting the balance of power between academic publishers and university libraries in the favor of the latter.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Utrecht University Library, designed by Wiel Arets in De Uithof, Utrecht, the Netherlands, March 5, 2013 | © Courtesy of Wojtek Gurak/Flickr.

This article has originally appeared in OpenScience, 04/03/2018, http://openscience.com/flipping-scientific-journals-to-open-access-can-be-the-shortest-route-to-changing-the-dynamics-of-academic-publishing/.


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