Yet another post on open access, but this time featuring a non-Disorder voice. I recently exchanged emails with Dr Eva Erman of Uppsala University on the possibilities and constraints of open access publishing. Eva is the Chief Editor of Ethics & Global Politics, a fully open journal that not only attracts authors of note in normative international political theory (Zygmunt Bauman, Saskia Sassen, Bruno Latour, John Agnew, R.B.J. Walker, Heikki Patomäki, Lea Ypi, Catherine Lu, and our own Rahul Rao!), but has also achieved an Impact Factor above that of many well-known and ‘closed’ journals (0.808, putting it 20th in Ethics and 53rd in Political Science). As we have already discussed, fully open journals of this kind (what might be termed ‘No APC Gold’ journals) can face serious resource constraints, so it is worth understanding what might be possible. My exchange with Eva is book-ended with some thoughts on what it all means.
1. Who began the journal, and why?
I got the opportunity to start the journal in 2007. A woman from a newly established publishing company, Anne Bindslev who runs Co-Action Publishing, who knew about my work, asked if I thought there was a subfield/niche within political science that was lacking among prominent journals. And I thought that back then, journals in ethics were not very good at publishing articles in political philosophy and, more specifically, on international political theory and global politics; and journals in international affairs, such as Ethics & International Affairs, were not very theoretically impressive. So, this is why I said yes to launch Ethics & Global Politics. Another reason was that I became interested in open access (OA) as a publishing model, and also for normative reasons thought that a journal that publishes in global ethics, global justice and so on, should do so open access to all people.
2. How is the journal funded? Are Editors or their assistants paid?
Together with Co-Action publishing (who now run more than 25 OA journals in natural and social sciences), I have managed to get funding for OA publication from two different Swedish funders, the Swedish Research Council and FAS. The last year, FAS has been replaced by funding from Uppsala university, where the journal is editorially based. Of course, this is an insecure situation, economically, since I have to apply for renewed funding every year, which is always a bit uncertain.
The exact budget for 2013 consists of 165,000 Swedish crona (from the Swedish Research Council) and 70,000 Swedish crona from Uppsala university. This is in total an annual cost of around £23,500 or $36,000.
Pretty much everything goes to Co-Action Publishing, who are responsible for production management, webpage, copyediting and type-setting, as well as getting everything out on professional proof reading. Co-Action Publishing do not make any profit from running OA journals. Of course, the voluntary or almost voluntary work on the editorial side, by me mostly, is more difficult to measure.
3. How do you organise, and pay for, your online presence?
Co-Action publishing has professional web designers and web experts, so they take care of all that (I don’t know many details, since I try to stick to the editorial side of the work with the journal). But I am the one who decides how I want to rearrange the homepage as well as work out proper functions in the submission system (which has become increasingly developed the last years).
4. How do you organise, and pay for, your submission system?
We organise our submission system via OJS (Open Journal System), that Co-Action Publishing uses for all their journals.
5. Your website says that publication is ‘free’ from 2013 but that APCs are charged if there is a university fund for them. Could you clarify if OA is free just for 2013 or if that is the norm? How often authors are actually charged to publish in Ethics & Global Politics?
Our norm is of course to always be OA, which in my view is the most defensible publication model for academic journals from a normative point of view. And thus far no author has been charged for publishing in the journal. Concerning the question of what financial model would best fit this publication model, our publishers are strong believers in the future for the possibility of having publication fees in the social sciences and humanities, similar to what has been the default system in the natural sciences for decades. Personally, I am less sure that this is the best alternative. I think we are more likely too see the continuation of what we have experienced so far, thus, that academic OA journals (at least in political philosophy and the like) could be financed via universities, university libraries and research councils. However, their guess is (at least) as good as mine, so we will see what happens in the future. The last couple of years most research councils have started to require that all financed research must be published OA, one way or the other.
6. How difficult was it to get included in a journal ranking system like Journal Citation Reports?
We submitted an application to Thompson Reuters just to try, and surprisingly, got positive news that we were to be included the following year (2011). From what I have heard, it is pretty unusual to get impact factor and ranking only after four volumes so we were very happy about that.
7. Have there been any difficulties around peer review because of the open nature of the journal?
In the beginning it was a bit difficult, perhaps because social scientists (and philosophers in particular!) are very conservative, and skeptical of OA as they equal OA with bad quality (in contrast to, say, in physics and medicine, where they have been using to OA for a long time). But the more people have come to understand that OA is a publication model, not a financial model, and, thus, OA does not mean that there must be publication fees (since social scientists, in contrast to natural scientists are not used to that idea either), they have become more positive. Moreover, many scholars have been impressed with the huge spread we have had, in terms of number of downloaded papers and from the wide range of countries. So, it has become increasingly easy to get peer reviewers and now it is no problem at all, I would say.
8. Have you encountered reluctance from particular groups of academics (by seniority, region or discipline) in submitting to an open access journal?
Yes, a bit in the beginning, see answer 7. But since we have managed to avoid publication fees, academics have become increasingly positive to submitting. I have also had the luck to have a very well-remunerated editorial board, whose members have spread good words about Ethics & Global Politics around leading and up-and-coming political philosophers and theorists.
A few things stand out as open access lessons for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) here.
First, this is a much more viable model than some may have feared. Breaking down individual journal cash flows is beyond my ken (and the relevant information is seriously lacking), but £24,000 per year is not a horrifyingly high figure in journal costs. It is particularly notable that this figure has been maintained, despite no one having been charged to publish in Ethics & Global Politics, whilst still attracting such prominent scholars, and whilst also satisfying some of the more conservative elements by achieving a strong initial impact factor.
Second, the key seems to be getting library and research council support, which may indeed be difficult. Perhaps the real challenge is better understood as getting this kind of support for lots of journals, rather than just for one or two (not because one or two are bad, but because profiteering will never end without critical mass).
Third, although Co-Action seem to do a good job, it would be interesting to see if the costs levied by them could be brought down. Since they provide copy-editing as well as web infrastructure, this might mean having authors take more responsibility for final texts and bringing more of the website design ‘in-house’ (particularly attractive if we imagine economies of scale in universities themselves taking on these functions). It is also possible that other open access platform/publishers, like Open Humanities Press, offer a superior model.
Fourth, a challenge remains in sustainable funding cultures. This is far from an open access only issue, but where journal editing happens voluntarily, without any relief from other duties (lecturing, research, admin), there are clear dangers. We should not, for example, seek a system of openness build on the back of unpaid postgraduate labour. Different institutions will likely treat Editorial work in different ways, but it is reasonable for journal sweat to be compensated in coin, and a trend towards ‘open’ editing meaning ‘no-pay’ editing consequently needs to be guarded against.
All this still leaves open the question of a super-repository or mega-journal which might be able to rival ‘traditional’ publishers can emerge (an arXiv for AHSS, if you will). It will require prominent academics to defect from profiteer models, and some proper start up money. Are Research Councils and universities capable of providing this money, and matching rhetoric with funds that do not simply flow in the usual directions? On this information, it seems worth pushing the question.
 This is of course not to endorse the spurious ranking of journals according to Impact Factor. Nor is it to endorse the quantification of journals in general. But academics do take Impact Factors and similar into account for publishing and career progress. That it is possible both to be fully open access and to be successful on standard disciplinary measures will be relevant to anyone fearful of open access in principle, even if it is obvious to others that there is no necessary contradiction.
UPDATE (13 August): That Impact Factor has just slipped in the latest figures. Which goes to show you how unreliable they are as indicators. Point stands.