Reform and reality - experiences of a 'gold' OA publisher

Dan Scott, the founder of the gold open access website Social Sciences Directory, wants to provide an alternative to traditional scholarly publishing.

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Scholarly publishing - 'a badly run system'

If scholarly publishing was well-organised and effective - but expensive - I for one would probably not be overly concerned. However, this is not the case. It is a profligate, badly-run, wasteful and archaic system that allows immense profits to be garnered at taxpayers' expense and is ripe for the sort of overhaul recommended in the UK by the Finch Report.

An alternative to traditional scholarly publishing

In January 2012, I set out to offer an alternative and established a 'gold' open access website, Social Sciences Directory, which published its first issue in September. A sister site Humanities Directory will be launched in November/December 2012. These would:

  • be online only, thus dispensing with the print legacy of limited pagination and unnecessarily high rejection rates
  • respond to changing user behaviour by providing a multi-disciplinary and multi-content type platform make content freely available and allow copyright ownership retention by authors under a Creative Commons CC-BY licence
  • concentrate peer reviewing on technical soundness
  • offer low article processing charges and/or institutional memberships to set the company on a sound financial basis but without imposing the barrier of subscription paywalls

Having set my face against the status quo, I am now encountering at first hand many of the obstacles that are built into the system. After reaching an agreement with Eduserv to offer a low-cost institutional membership to British universities, the information was widely disseminated to academic librarians in the UK. Despite good levels of support, we have encountered six key, recurring objections:

1.  No budget

Social Sciences Directory has set Article Processing Charges at £100 and institutional memberships at £2,000. If the objection about price is genuine then it demonstrates how tight budgets are in many cases.  This shows how unsustainable the present model is because there is no sign that publishers are slowing their rate of output as they try to increase their share of library budgets. Library budgets could not keep pace before and, since the Global Financial Crisis and the imposition of austerity measures, they certainly cannot now.

2.  Lack of ownership for OA funds

The notion of OA publishing, particularly outside STM in areas such as social sciences and arts & humanities, is still not established. Several librarians that I have spoken to have said that they simply don't know who would pay the APCs or memberships. Effectively, they are falling down a crack between the library and faculty departments, neither of which is taking a leadership role in putting in place effective systems and examples of best practice.

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