Scholarly publishing is an important part of research. Not only does the peer-review process of publishing add a level of scrutiny to your work, scholarly publishing allows you to share your work with the field…and the world. Or does it? We’ll get to that. First, let me provide some background. There are three options for scholarly publishing:
- Toll Access: Traditional journals offer a subscription model in which readers pay for access. In addition, authors may pay a fee per page or per color figure.
- Open Access: Authors pay a flat Article Processing Charge (APC) and readers have free access.
- Hybrid: The journal offers Toll Access or Open Access and the author chooses.
A subscription model sounds good, right? We pay subscriptions for everything these days, Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, you name it. Here’s the problem, they are expensive, especially considering their limited value-added in the digital era. Universities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year financing the scholarly publishing companies. It turns out there are 5 main companies (namely Reed-Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, and Taylor & Francis) that control the market and they make bank! From a 2015 article on PLoS One (a peer-reviewed, open access journal by the way), “Combined, the top five most prolific publishers account for more than 50% of all papers published in 2013.” And as the Virginia Tech Open Access website points out, the subscription model does not cater to everyone that needs access:
Who Needs Access?
- Faculty, because no institution can afford to subscribe to all of the peer-reviewed research faculty need.
- Students, because they lose access upon graduation, after having learned about the importance of peer reviewed research and how to cite it.
- Taxpayers, who fund research through federal agencies, and support public land-grant institutions like Virginia Tech.
- Researchers in the developing world, whose institutions cannot afford expensive subscriptions, which poses a barrier to producing their own research.
So are we really sharing our work with the world when we publish? I would say it depends on how we publish, and I encourage researchers to publish Open Access. There are often resources and financial aid available to help cover APCs. I recently published an article in Sensors, a peer-reviewed open access journal by MDPI. MDPI is based out of Basel, Switzerland and includes 203 journals, all peer-reviewed and open access. Sensors focuses on the science and technology of sensors and biosensors and my work was on Non-Invasive Detection of Respiration and Heart Rate with a Vehicle Seat Sensor. For publishing in Sensors, my article went through multiple rounds of peer-review and I had to pay the APC of 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs) or $1803.61. I couldn’t believe it the first time I saw the cost! Who knew publishing was so expensive?! (I guess that’s something you learn on the job as a graduate student.) Luckily, through Virginia Tech I received a discount and the Institutional Open Access Program (IOAP) at Virginia Tech covered the balance. To be honest, I didn’t have a good understanding of what it meant to be Open Access prior to my publishing experience, and really prior to this past week of Virginia Tech’s Open Access Week. Now I see the benefit of publishing OA and paying that APC. OA allows a wider audience to see my work and my university offers a lot of support to make it happen. Unfortunately, I also have to mention, my inbox, more specifically my spam, has been flooded ever since publishing with Sensors with invitations and offers from random, possibly fake, journals. Turns out there’s a name for this: predatory publishing. I’ve learned the OA publishing business model can be exploited and that assessing the legitimacy of journals comes with the territory.
The Toll Access model no longer makes sense in our digital age, and we, as researchers, have literally bought into the system for too long. We are the ones producing, reviewing, and editing the content, so why are we (and our universities) still paying so much? While yes, OA still comes with the APCs I mentioned, they are nothing compared to the amount our universities pay each year for subscriptions to Toll Access journals. I encourage young researchers to help facilitate the movement towards Open Assess by choosing OA scholarly publishing. While there seems to be a cost to prestige, I think that this is beginning to change and can only progress further with the backing of researchers. More senior reviewers and editors in OA journals will increase their quality and prestige over time. Finally as I learned this past week through VT’s OA Week, the “Open” concept extends far beyond scholarly publishing with Open Source, Open Data, Open Education, Open Pedagogy, etc. If we are really interested in our research and our teaching having a positive impact on the world, I believe we should strive to share our knowledge and be Open.