Open Access, Institutionalised?: Or, Another Reason Why International Relations Is Failing As An Intellectual Project

Soc Sci Tweet

The American Sociological Association (ASA) has announced that it will launch an (as-yet unnamed) open access general sociology journal as soon as possible (this year, maybe next). Its proposed features are a mix of traditional and new: there will be start-up cash and a stipend for Editors, peer-review is to be on the standard, appropriately ‘prestigious’ model (but expedited and light on style corrections), a traditional publisher (SAGE) is involved, authors will retain copyright, there will be no hard copies and therefore no limit on how much can be published in any given time period, all articles (accepted or not) will be subject to a $25 processing fee, and a variable tariff of Article Processing Charges (APCs) will be implemented, from free for scholars from “non-competitive” countries to $100-150 for students and $700 for non-members (for the first 12 months, APCs can also be waived, no questions asked).

The editors at Sociological Science (one of whom we interviewed last month) have noticed that this borrows heavily from their own initiative. Sniping aside, this is surely all to the good. An indication that major academic institutions are, at last, taking open access seriously. Not quite overhauling their systems, but adopting publishing platforms considerably more reasonable than the $3,000 APCs and business-as-usual structure previously threatened. This is an important point, since it supports the claim of some OA advocates that APCs may be financially better for the academy than historical subscription rates (I leave exacting comparisons of costs and the burden of double-dipping during any transition to one side). The problem has always been that the prestige economy (and therefore the social reproduction of universities) is not venue-blind. Low cost APCs in marginal journals are therefore of little help for those still seeking the (shrinking) securities of a formal academic post. But when the reputational power of learned societies is applied, it becomes much easier to envision a world of reputable (and hopefully high quality) open access journals charging APCs at a lower net cost than we currently pay through library subscription models.

The ASA is a powerhouse in these terms, and enjoys more market influence than the International Studies Association (boasting 13,000 members to our 7,000). It is all but inevitable that the mainstreaming of open access in this way will put the squeeze on the smaller open access journals, very many of which are labours of love, and some of which seem to actively treasure their reputation as insurgents or irrelevancies. If we want more material (and particularly the kind of material that carries value in an academic market) to be open access, imitation is the right kind of problem to have. Cultural Anthropology is another example of that shift (we got the gossip from them too last year), funding an open access conversion through the largest section of the 12,000 member American Anthropological Association.

Journal Profits

Profitability data from Harvie et al., 2012.

And yet this scenario is once again an embarrassing one for International Relations, which otherwise likes to imagine itself the most engaged and relevant of disciplines (state power! trade rounds! war and peace!). Continue reading

What Does It Mean To Become An Open Access Journal?

Following an earlier interview with Eva Erman on editing the open access journal Ethics & Global Politics, another set of enlightening responses on academic publishing. This time with Professor Brad Weiss of the College of William & Mary and President of the Society for Cultural Anthropology, which publishes Cultural Anthropology, the premier journal of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). It is a major journal by other metrics too (take your pick of GoogleScholar or Impact Factor). All of which is as preamble to the point: Cultural Anthropology will be a fully open access journal from 2014. Not just that. It has a web presence and offers a set of connected resources that are without compare (at least in my experience). Brad was kind enough to offer his time to answer some questions on taking a learned society journal of prestige open access.


Cultural Anthropology Cover Trimmed

1. How did the decision to make Cultural Anthropology open access come about? Who initiated it, and why?

There is a longish story here. For several years prior to this action, many members of the Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA) Board, and our Editorial Board had been interested in pursuing an open access option. That really wasn’t up to us, as we are only one section of the AAA that maintains a contract with Wiley-Blackwell to publish more than 20 of its sections’ journals. However, the director of publications with the AAA, Oona Schmid, proposed the possibility, last August (2012) to all of the publishing sections that one of them could be permitted to go open access for the duration of the Wiley-Blackwell contract (which expires in 2017) given certain provisions. Our Board formed a task force, including some real experts on publishing and open access in particular, and this group determined that it was a good idea to pursue this option. As it happened, we were the only AAA section to elect to do so, so were authorized to make the transition, which will begin in February 2014.

2. How was the move to open access funded?

Again, a little complicated. For one thing, the SCA is the biggest section of the AAA, and our membership dues are important sources of revenue; but in and of themselves, they don’t cover the costs of publishing, as well as all of the other activities (workshops, board meetings, special sessions at the AAA meetings, a biennial conference, etc.) that the SCA undertakes. We have been able to build our fund balances over the last several years, when the Wiley-Blackwell contract brought us significant royalties. Between these two sources of funding, we are confident that we can make open access work – for now. In the long term, we are looking to develop an open access model that will incorporate many more sections of the AAA, so that whatever happens next in publishing (post-Wiley contract) allows sections to share editorial and distribution costs, which will substantially reduce the costs of publications for everyone. Our hope is that the costs of open access become so reduced through cost sharing, that each sections’ member dues will provide sufficient revenue to fund, not only their publications, but all of their other activities. This will probably mean that open access won’t be profitable, but will at least not be prohibitively expensive – and, crucially, that the professionals we hire to edit, publish and design the journal will get paid for their work.

3. It seems that your open access model, as paid for through membership dues, could be characterised as Article Processing Charges by another name. How would you respond to the objection that this is another drain on academic funds? 

We are seeking a middle ground. We cannot sustain open access for long on just membership dues; and we already have a broad membership, so we’re not asking for more money from members, we’re just using these funds for this purpose.  Moreover, we added the membership requirement primarily to reduce the number of unwarranted submissions that take literally hundreds of hours to process.  We are trying not to charge our members extra, but hoping that the fund balances we already have will keep our enterprise going until the AAA can generate a new publication model, which we hope will at least make open access more widely available, if not the standard model.

Continue reading