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Open access will cause problems for learned societies' journals, accepts Finch

The UK’s move towards open-access publishing will inevitably place some learned societies’ journals into financial jeopardy, according to the chair of the committee that recommended making the transition.

Dame Janet Finch today told the first hearing of the Lords Science and Technology Committee’s open-access inquiry that the government-convened Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, which she chaired last year, spent “a lot of time” debating the likely effect of a move to open access on the viability of journals.

She pointed out that the group, which included representatives from learned societies, librarians, publishers and universities, envisaged a “mixed economy” of open access and subscription publishing persisting during a steady transition to full open access.

But she conceded there was “no doubt” that some journals produced by learned societies would “find some difficulty finding a business model that will work in the mixed economy”.

For this reason, she said it was important to give learned societies, which are often heavily dependent on income from their publishing arms, “time to adjust”.

“Different learned societies will take different views of where their interests lie and whether it is appropriate to modify their [journals’] business models. For the foreseeable future, they could decide to remain subscription journals,” she said.

The Finch report was adopted by the government last summer. Soon afterwards, Research Councils UK announced that, from April, it will require all journals in which its funded researchers publish to offer either an upfront “gold” open-access option, or a repository-based “green” option with an embargo period of no more than six months for science and 12 months for humanities and social science papers.

Many learned societies in the humanities and social sciences in particular have warned that embargo longer periods are required if their journals are to remain viable.

Before Christmas more than 20 UK history journals said they would only permit embargoes of 36 months.

Dame Janet admitted it would take longer for the humanities and social sciences to move towards full open access because they were not as far down the road as the sciences.

“This is why we emphasised the speed of transition is likely to be different in different disciplines,” she said.

The witnesses at a second hearing of the committee’s short inquiry, on 29 January, will include universities and science minister David Willetts and RCUK chair Rick Rylance.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

Readers' comments (4)

  • I see no reason why the RCUK policy should be a problem for Learned Society journals. They just need time to adapt. And some willingness to change. The only 'problem' I foresee is a lack of willingness to change. There are hundreds of high-quality, high-impact gold open access society journals listed here: http://www.eigenfactor.org/openaccess/index.php (Note also that many of these gold OA journals are £0 APC, free to publish-in as well as free to read - many scholars unfortunately appear to be under the false impression that all gold OA journals charge APCs) Good examples include: Journal of Economic Perspectives (American Economic Association) Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica (published by BioMed Central on behalf of the Veterinary Associations of the Nordic Countries [a society]) Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (need I say which society...?) and the European Geosciences Union publishes 14 different (gold) Open Access journals via Copernicus Publishing. Furthermore, I'd bet there are many different societies operating subscription access journals that *already* allow self-archiving of pre-prints so that they'd be compliant with the Green OA route which the RCUK policy also allows (and with additional leniency on the humanities, allowing a 12 month embargo). Of course many Learned Societies have contracts with certain publishers and it may be difficult to negotiate compliance with these publishers. So time will be needed to adapt. But adaptation is far from impossible.

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  • It's very disappointing to see the same tired old complaints being trotted out here by people who clearly haven't made any realistic effort to understand about the issues faced by learned societies. Please, people. You're reducing the comment stream here to the level we'd expect to see on a Daily Mail article.

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  • less sarcastically, could I direct @ross Mounce and others who say "I see no reason why the RCUK policy should be a problem for Learned Society journals" to actually read what - for example the learned societyu employee has written above, or my blogpost http://deceasedcanine.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/learned-societies-impoverishing-academia.html the concern is not about the journals, but about the societies and the knock-on effects. This is especially a concern for area studies, and especially my own concern of African studies, where most conferences and other events are only possible because of funding from journal income.

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  • @Mike Taylor and other proponents of Gold OA. Dismissing the position of learned societies as "tired old complaints" and arts & humanities journal editors as archaic, reactionary elitists cannot hide your collective incapacity to make a sound case for Gold OA. For starters, like the Finch Report, you cannot provide an accurate costing of the system of scholarly communication and of peer review in particular. There is no such thing as a free scholarly publication. Most journal editors and members of learned societies contribute to our publications because they see science and scholarship as a public good and their voluntary contribution as a service to the profession. Reducing scholarly communications to a series of transactions governed by market mechanisms will force us to charge for peer-review; this would be one way to bring transparency into the system. Gold OA will simply redirect public subsidies to private enterprise and undermine voluntary organizations performing a public service. To convince us that Gold OA can work, you also need to show us the money. RCUK underestimates the costs at £100m a year but accepts that they will not have the funds to cover these costs. Universities will foot most of the bill and to do so, they will either charge their sudents or ration scientific and scholarly production. It would also be good if RCUK could tell us how their £10m pump-priming grant will be spent before the end of March, since no major publisher currently meets their licensing and embargo requirement. See http:// www.pierrepurseigle. info for more details

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