Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Emerald Group Publishing tests ZEN, increases prices: what does it mean?

When in July 2012 Research Councils UK (RCUK) announced its new open access (OA) policy it attracted considerable criticism.
Photo courtesy of swiftjetsum626
Initially this criticism was directed at RCUK’s stated preference for gold OA, which universities feared would have significant cost implications for them. In response, RCUK offered to provide additional funding to pay for gold OA, and agreed that green OA can be used instead of gold (although RCUK continues to stress that it “prefers” gold).

At the same time, however, the funder doubled the permissible embargo period for green OA to 12 months for STM journals and 24 months for HSS journals. This sparked a second round of criticism, with OA advocates complaining that RCUK had succumbed to publisher lobbying. The lengthened embargoes, they argued, would encourage those publishers without an embargo to introduce one, and those who already had an embargo to lengthen it.

There was logic in the criticism, since one rational response to the adjusted RCUK policy that profit-hungry publishers would be likely to make would be to seek to dissuade authors from embracing green OA (by imposing a long embargo before papers could be made freely available), while encouraging them to pick up the money RCUK had put on the table and pay to publish their papers gold OA instead (which would provide publishers with additional revenues).

It was therefore no great surprise when, in April 2013, Emerald Group Publishing — which until then had not had a green embargo — introduced one. Nor was it a surprise that it settled on the maximum permitted period allowed by RCUK of 24 months.

It was likewise no surprise that Emerald’s move also attracted criticism, not just from OA advocates but (in May of that year) from members of the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee, which was at the time conducting an inquiry into open access.

When taking evidence from the then Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts, for instance, the MP for Northampton South Brian Binley said “We have received recent reports of a major British publisher revising its open access policy to require embargoes of 24 months, where previously it had required immediate unembargoed deposit in a repository.” Binley went on to ask if Willetts could therefore please have someone contact the publisher and investigate the matter.

At the time I also contacted Emerald. I wanted to know the precise details of its new policy and to establish who would be impacted by it. This proved a little difficult, but it turned out that Emerald had introduced a “deposit without embargo if you wish, but not if you must” policy — an approach pioneered by Elsevier in 2011, but which it recently abandoned.

While the wording of the Emerald policy may have changed a little since it was introduced, at the time of writing it appeared to be the same in substance: authors are told that they can post the pre-print or post-print version of any article they have submitted to an Emerald journal onto their personal website or institutional repository “with no payment or embargo period” — unless the author is subject to an OA mandate, in which case a 24 month embargo applies.

Monday, June 22, 2015

HEFCE, Elsevier, the “copy request” button, and the future of open access

At the 2001 meeting that launched the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) the newly-fledged OA movement outlined two strategies for making the scholarly literature freely available. Later dubbed green OA and gold OA, these are now the two primary means of providing open access, and both types have been mandated by research funders in the UK. For instance, in 2013 Research Councils UK (RCUK) introduced an OA policy that favours gold open access, and in 2014 the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) announced what is essentially a green OA policy, which will come into force next year. So how does the future for open access look?
Just to remind ourselves: With gold OA, researchers publish their papers in an open access journal and the publisher makes them freely available on the Internet as a natural part of the publication process. With green, OA researchers continue to publish in subscription journals, but then self-archive a version of their work in an open repository, either a central repository like PubMed Central, or an institutional repository. Meanwhile, the official version of the paper (version of record) remains behind a subscription paywall on the publisher’s site.

BOAI did not specify that OA journals should levy an article-processing charge (APC), but while OA advocates point out that most OA journals do not charge a fee, the reality (unless something changes) is that the pay-to-play model is set to dominate OA publishing.

Importantly, this means that although BOAI attendees assumed OA publishing would be less costly than traditional subscription method, use of the APC will make scholarly publishing more expensive, certainly during the transition to open access (which could last indefinitely).

And to the chagrin of OA advocates, much of the revenue generated by APCs is currently being sucked up by traditional publishers like Elsevier and Wiley, especially through the use of hybrid OA.

In reviewing the figures for 2013-2014, for instance, Wellcome’s Robert Kiley reported that Elsevier and Wiley “represent some 40% of our total APC spend, and are responsible for 35% of all Trust-funded papers published under the APC model.” (74% of the papers concerned were published as hybrid OA).

The story is similar at RCUK. As the Times Higher noted in April: “Publishers Elsevier and Wiley have each received about £2 million in article processing charges from 55 institutions as a result of RCUK’s open access policy.” In total RCUK paid out £10m, which is in addition to the subscription fees universities are already paying.

In effect, it would seem, traditional publishers are in the process of appropriating gold OA, and doing so in a way that will not only ensure they maintain their current profit levels, but that will likely increase them. And the profits of scholarly publishers, OA advocates argue, are already obscenely high.

Almost OA


But green OA advocates maintain that this is not inevitable, and have long argued that if implemented wisely, and strategically, open access can squeeze out the excessive costs of scholarly publishing, and so reduce publisher profits. However, they insist, this will only happen if researchers self-archive their subscription papers rather than opt for pay-to-publish. If researchers do this, they say, publishers will have to compete with repositories for access provision, and so will be compelled to downsize their operations. This in turn will put downward pressure on costs (and thus any publishing fees). Only at the point where these costs have fallen, argue green OA advocates, should researchers consider paying to publish.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Open Access Interviews: John Willinsky

Born in Toronto, Ontario, John Willinsky taught school for 8 years before taking a doctorate in the study of education, and subsequently became a professor of education at the University of British Columbia (UBC). In 2008, he moved to Stanford where he is currently the Khosla Family Professor in the Graduate School of Education.
John Willinsky
Willinsky’s interest in what later became known as open access began in 1998, with his efforts to bring the evidence of research to bear on local journalism. He quickly realised, however, that his ambitions were significantly challenged by the fact that most scholarly journals required a subscription to read, and many had yet to move online.

So he shifted focus, and instead began trying to convince journals and conferences that they should go online, in the hope that this would enable greater public access to research. To help persuade editors and journals to make the move he founded the Public Knowledge Project (PKP), which subsequently evolved into a partnership with the Simon Fraser University Library (which is where the development team is based, led by SFU Associate University Librarian Brian Owen) and Stanford University.

PKP’s first project was to develop an open source publishing platform called Open Journal Systems (OJS). This proved hugely successful, and by 2013 around 8,000 journals were actively using OJS as their online publishing platform.

PKP has gone on to develop a portfolio of other open source tools as well, including Open Monograph Press, Open Conference Systems and Open Harvester Systems.

Willinsky is greatly valued and respected by the open access movement, although he does not have the high public profile of OA advocates like Peter Suber, Stevan Harnad and Jean-Claude Guédon. This is partly because he was not present at key OA initiatives like the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), but mainly I suspect because he did not actively participate in the often-heated public discussions and debates that initially made the case for open access, and which brought the movement to the attention of the public.

While others were doing “the heavy intellectual lifting”, says Willinsky, “I was essentially tinkering away in the garage over the software, and scrambling with Brian Owen to find funding for the master builders of OJS.”

This of course is far too modest, if only because it ignores the fact that in 2006 Willinsky published one of the key texts of the open access movement — The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship.

The Access Principle, explains Willinsky was an attempt to establish open access as a worthy topic of scholarly treatment. “I wanted to assert that this was not simply a side line, like choosing the title of a journal, but really was part of what it meant to do research and scholarship, part of what it meant to claim to be producing knowledge for the benefit of the world.”  ...

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If you wish to read the interview with John Willinsky, please click on the link below.

I am publishing the interview under a Creative Commons licence, so you are free to copy and distribute it as you wish, so long as you credit me as the author, do not alter or transform the text, and do not use it for any commercial purpose.

To read the interview (as a PDF file) click HERE.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Open Access Interviews: Publisher MDPI

Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, or more usually MDPI, is an open access publisher that has had a challenging few years. It has been charged with excessively spamming researchers in order to maximise APC revenue, it has been accused of publishing pseudoscience, and it has been criticised for publishing papers of very poor quality. This has occasionally led to editorial board resignations e.g. here and here.

The criticism came to a head in February last year, when University of Colorado (Denver) librarian Jeffrey Beall added MDPI to his controversial list of “Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers”.

Today I am publishing a Q&A with MDPI. First however, in the way of background, I want to rehearse some key events (in date order). Please scroll down if you want to go direct to the interview.
From left to right: Alistair Freeland, Delia Costache, Dietrich Rordorf, Maria Schalnich, Martyn Rittman, Shu-Kun Lin, Franck Vazquez






A target for criticism, but favoured by some


MDPI AG was spun out of the MDPI Sustainability Foundation in 2010 by the owner of both organisations Shu-Kun Lin, along with the then CEO of MDPI Dietrich Rordorf. In the process a number of journals were relocated to MDPI, and since then MDPI’s portfolio of open access journals has grown to 137. Last year MDPI published over 12,000 papers.

MDPI’s difficulties appear to have started in December 2010, when one of its journals — Life — published a paper by Erik Andrulis called Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life. Aiming to present a framework to explain life, the paper was greeted with scepticism and ridicule. The popular science and technology magazines Ars Technica and Popular Science, for instance, characterised the ideas in the paper as “crazy” and “hilarious”.

The publication of the paper led to a member of Life’s editorial board resigning, and Shu-Kin Lin published a response to the criticism. In his response, Shu-Kin Lin conceded that he had taken over responsibility for the review process when the researcher assigned to the task (a Professor Bassez) has pulled out for personal reasons. But he insisted that the paper had been properly peer reviewed, and that it had been revised in response to the reports of two reviewers. His explanation, however, attracted further criticism.

In April 2011 a second controversy erupted when the MDPI journal Nutrients published a paper called The Australian Paradox: A Substantial Decline in Sugars Intake over the Same Timeframe that Overweight and Obesity Have Increased. This too attracted criticism, and an Australian economist created a website in order to launch a campaign to have the paper retracted. (There is also a Wikipedia page on the paper here).

The Australian Paradox paper has not been retracted, but it has twice been corrected by the authors (in 2011 and 2014), and in 2012 the Editor-in-Chief published an editorial about the paper, along with a response to the criticism from the authors. In addition, in July 2014 the University of Sydney (the institution where one of the authors is based) published an independent report concluding that of the seven criticisms that had been levelled at the authors the “only allegation substantiated concerned two ‘simple arithmetic’ errors, specifically an inconsistency and an incorrect calculation”.

Notwithstanding these controversies, MDPI has attracted many supporters, not least amongst OA advocates and cognoscenti of open access. When, on 31st October 2012, MDPI launched a new open access journal called Publications, for instance, it was able to recruit well-regarded scholars who specialise in research on open access to its editorial board. Currently, membership of the board includes Mikael Laakso and Bo-Christer Björk (Björk has also published in the journal), and at one time de facto leader of the open access movement Peter Suber also served on the board.

OA advocates have also proved more than willing to publish in the journal. Contributors include Heather Morrison (here and here), Martin Eve (here), John Wilbanks (here), and David Solomon (here). And in 2013 Björn Brembs agreed to edit a special issue for the journal.

Also of note, the Editor-in-Chief of Publications is John Regazzi, a former CEO of Ei Inc. (where he founded the first professional engineering online community — the Engineering Information Village). Regazzi is also a former CEO of Elsevier Inc. (I interviewed him for Information Today in 1998).

Likewise, a number of open access advocates serve on the editorial board of MDPI’s journal Data, including Peter Murray-Rust and Ross Mounce (although the journal does not appear to have published any papers).

Finally, we could note that at one point Suber was also on the editorial board of Future Internet, an MDPI journal that in January 2010 published an article by Jeffrey Beall called Metadata for Name Disambiguation and Collocation (a contribution that Beall later said he regretted).

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Co-publishing with Against the Grain

I recently agreed to co-publish four interviews with the ATG NewsChannel. The first of the Q&As is with librarian Marcus Banks, and can be read on the Against the Grain website here (or in the post below).

Marcus is a former editor-in-chief of the open access journal Biomedical Digital Libraries, a journal that had to cease operations in 2008.

Amongst other things, Marcus discusses the lessons he learned from his experience with Biomedical Digital Libraries, the economics of OA publishing, and the possibility of journals evolving into blogs.

Against the Grain publishes news about libraries, publishers, book jobbers, and subscription agents. Its goal is to link publishers, vendors, and librarians by reporting on the issues, literature, and people that impact the world of books and journals.  

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Life and Death of an Open Access Journal: Q&A with Librarian Marcus Banks

Librarians have been at the forefront of the open access movement since the beginning, not least because in 1998 the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) founded the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). Today SPARC is arguably the world’s most active and influential OA advocacy organisation.
Marcus Banks
It is important to note that librarians’ interest in open access grew primarily out of their frustration with the so-called “serials crisis” — the phenomenon that has seen the cost of scholarly journals consistently grow at a higher rate than library serials budgets.

SPARC’s initial strategy, therefore, was to encourage the growth of new low-cost, non-profit, subscription journals able to compete with the increasingly expensive ones produced by profit-hungry commercial publishers. As SPARC’s then Enterprise Director Rick Johnson wrote in 2000, “In 1998, after years of mounting frustration with high and fast-rising commercial journal prices, a group of libraries formally launched SPARC to promote competition in the scholarly publishing marketplace. The idea was to use libraries’ buying power to nurture the creation of high-quality, low-priced publication outlets for peer-reviewed scientific, technical, and medical research.”

In the wake of the 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative (an event attended by Johnson), however, SPARC began to focus more and more of its efforts on open access. The assumption was that this would not only allow research to be made freely available, but finally resolve the affordability problem faced by the research community. As the BOAI text expressed it, “the overall costs of providing open access to this literature are far lower than the costs of traditional forms of dissemination.”

Ironically, despite their high profile advocacy for open access many librarians have proved strangely reluctant to practice what they preach, and as late as last year calls were still being made for the profession to start “walking the talk”.  

On the other hand, many librarians have embraced OA, particularly medical librarians. In 2001, for instance, the Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA) began to make its content freely available on the Internet. And in 2003 Charles Greenberg, then at the Yale University Medical Library, launched an open access journal with BioMed Central called Biomedical Digital Libraries (BDL). One of the first to join the editorial board (and later to take over as Editor-in-Chief) was Marcus Banks, who was then working at the US National Library of Medicine.

Four years later, however, BDL became a victim of BMC’s decision to increase the cost of the article-processing charges (APCs) it levies. This meant that few librarians were able to afford to publish in the journal any longer, and submissions began to dry up. Despite several attempts to move BDL to a different publishing platform, in 2008 Banks had to make the hard decision to cease publishing the journal.

What do we learn from BDL’s short life? In advocating for pay-to-publish gold OA did open access advocates underestimate how much it costs to publish a journal? Or have publishers simply been able to capture open access and use it to further ramp up what many believe to be their excessive profits? Why has JMLA continued to prosper under open access while BDL has withered and died? Was BDL unable to compete with JMLA on a level playing field? Could the demise of BDL have been avoided?  What, if anything, does the journal’s fate tell us about the future of open access?

I discuss these and other questions with Banks below. The issue of affordability, it seems to me, is particularly apposite, as librarians are having to confront the harsh truth that, far from reducing the costs of scholarly communication, open access appears more likely to increase them.

It turns out that Banks has an interesting perspective on this issue. As he puts it, “At the risk of frustrating many librarian colleagues, I must say that the framing of open access as a means of saving money has been and remains a serious strategic error.”

He adds, “A fully open access world may not save any money and could cost more than we pay now — this world would include publication charges as well as payments for tools that mined and sorted the now completely open literature. That’s fine with me, because in this world we’d be getting better value for money.”

The interview begins …


RP: Can you say something about your background and career to date?

MB: I have been a librarian since 2002. My first position after earning my Masters of Library and Information Science was as an Associate Fellow at the US National Library of Medicine (NLM), from 2002-2004. During this time NLM was developing PubMed Central (PMC) as a freely accessible digital archive of biomedical literature.

Growth at PMC was slow, as deposits to it were voluntary — this was years before PMC became the required repository under the terms of the NIH Public Access Policy. Publishers rightly worried that a fully open access archive would challenge their business model, a concern that persists today.

Watching this debate unfold raised my awareness of the various agendas in scholarly publishing, as well as of the potential for open access publishing to expand the reach of biomedical literature.

RP: What are you doing currently?

MB: My most recent position was as the Director of Library/Academic & Instructional Innovation at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, California. Since then my wife and I have returned to the Chicago area for both personal and professional reasons. I am currently pursuing employment while building a consulting practice devoted to transformation in scholarly communication. Even with “gainful employment” I would continue the consulting.

RP: You said that the growing debate about scholarly communication made you aware of the potential for open access publishing. You were later involved in the creation of an open access journal called Biomedical Digital Libraries, which I think was launched in 2004 but ceased operations in 2007. Can you say what your role at the journal was, why the journal was created, and why it did not succeed?

MB: Charles Greenberg, then at the medical library of Yale, launched Biomedical Digital Libraries (BDL) at the Medical Library Association meeting in May 2003. It was an open access title published by BioMed Central (BMC). His first task was to recruit an editorial board, and I joined in as an Associate Editor. Our first papers appeared in 2004. As Charlie moved on to other projects, I became co-editor and then sole Editor-in-Chief in 2006.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

UCL Vice-Provost comments on the Independent Review of the Implementation of the RCUK Open Access policy

Guest Post by Professor David Price, Vice-Provost (Research), University College London

David Price
Research Councils UK (RCUK) has today released the Report of an independent review body on the implementation of its Open Access policy.

It is not a review of Open Access policies and their implementation in the UK. The Report is quite clear about this – it is a review of the impacts of the implementation of the RCUK Policy on Open Access for its funded research outputs. This is a review which is being undertaken at an early stage in the history of that OA policy. As such, there is much that is good and helpful about the Report’s findings and I will touch on some of these points below.

Overall, however, the Report is a missed opportunity to look at the deeper implications of the move to Open Access in the UK. There are broader issues, in many of which RCUK is a leader, which would have benefited from a more confident treatment by the panel. There is still a great deal of work to do!

The Report looks in some detail at the question of embargoes. While the short embargoes of 6 and 12 months have been taken up by the research community, there is still unhappiness. As the Report says, some of this is due to poor communication of the policy and resulting confusion in the academic community. Another aspect of it, however, is a genuine concern among some communities, for example History scholars, that short embargo periods are harmful to academic freedom to choose where to publish. RCUK needs to look at the issue of embargo periods again.

The Report also highlights a number of problems with the RCUK recommendation of a CC-BY licence for research outputs. If this is the RCUK position, then compliance with the policy would require academics to use this licence. In its review of policy implementation, the Report shows that this has not always been the case. The Report also, quite rightly, highlights the unhappiness of the Arts and Humanities community in the requirement for a CC-BY licence. From the evidence presented, it looks as though this community feels they are being made to dance to a biomedical and scientific tune, where CC-BY is more acceptable. The Report is right to highlight the need for further investigation.

The Report has further nuggets of wisdom. It highlights the administrative costs for universities of implementing the RCUK Open Access policy, building on the London Higher Report supported by SPARC Europe. It also suggests that university and publisher systems should be developed to accommodate ORCID  (for author IDs) and FundRef (for funder information), which will help monitor implementation of the policy in future years.

Table 7 presents some really interesting data on the mean costs of Article Processing Charges (APCs).


OA journals published by non-subscription publishers

Full OA journals published by subscription publishers

Hybrid journals published by subscription publishers

5-year mean (2010-14)
£1,136
£1,164
£1,849

Why are the costs in the final column for Hybrids so much bigger than the rest? It was beyond the remit of the review to investigate this in detail, but this question does need further study. RCUK derives its money from public funds and this is a question which the taxpayer would certainly have a right to understand in more detail.

While the Report contains much that is useful and thought-provoking, there are some big gaps that it should have covered. The Report consciously limits itself to the implementation of the RCUK policy, and does not look at the wider UK Open Access scene in detail. This is a mistake because the RCUK position would be more intelligible if such a wider comparison had taken place. The Report says that the RCUK policy position is broadly complementary to other UK OA policies. Any misunderstandings on this front may be due, it says, to poor communication of the policies. Really? Are there many universities who believe this? The new HEFCE policy for REF 2020 seems to me to be quite different from the RCUK policy, and it is the REF policy that is capturing university attention at the moment. It is only the REF policy which is insisting on ‘deposit on acceptance’. And it is the RCUK policy which encourages Gold OA publications and requires the use of a CC-BY licence. The REF policy is neutral, for example, as to the colour (Gold or Green) of the OA output. To say that the RCUK and REF policies are complementary defies logic. The RCUK Review panel needs to think this one through again.

The Report highlights the shortcomings of universities in gathering data for the review. It is right to do so. There needs to be more accurate reporting next time. In that respect, I would have expected the Review panel to draw up a template for reporting, addressing the issues it identified as weaknesses in the first set of reports. The Report recommends that a template be constructed, but why (when this is such an important issue) did it not draw up this template itself? Not good practice.

Finally, the Report cautiously advocates that RCUK look at the level of funding it gives to fund OA dissemination in future years. A welcome recommendation, but rather weak. Wellcome funds all OA outputs that emanate from its funded research. Why did the RCUK review not make a similar recommendation? As things stand, once RCUK funds are exhausted, universities either have to find monies for APCs themselves or advise the authors to publish their outputs as Green outputs. This is unsatisfactory and will lead to a fragmented publication framework for RCUK research which is in no-one’s interests.

To conclude: the independent Review panel which has produced the review of the implementation of the RCUK Open Access policy has only half done its job. It has produced a detailed analysis about implementation, which is useful. But, in walking away from broader policy issues, it leaves many questions unanswered which should have been tackled. Will future reviews take these issues forward? They should.