notes from “The Future of Scholarly Journals Publishing Among Social Science and Humanities Associations”

Notes from:

Waltham, Mary. 2009. “The Future of Scholarly Journals Publishing Among Social Science and Humanities Associations”,
Report on a study funded by a Planning Grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

This is an interesting report that reveals how large scholarly associations popular in the U.S. are adapting to new publishing environments. Unfortunately the article is perhaps too focused on the journals from these associations and it makes some rather bold conclusions based on these findings, that I think would look different if the study included more open access journals inside and outside the U.S.  This is mostly related to costs to publish a page, and how peer review fits in. But the report is about scholarly publishing within these big scholarly associations, and it shows the logic behind their publishing strategies even if I find the numbers a bit murky.

Publications from the American Anthropological Association generated revenue largely from print subscriptions. The report points out that print costs are high, but that if print publications were dropped, net income would drop. From this it infers that online publications are undervalued, being that they are subsidized by their print subscriptions.

It also points out that while an author pays OA model has been incorporated into most of the journals, very few authors used it.

While Science, Technical and Medical (STM) journals keep track of authors geographical distribution, Humanities and Social Science (HSS) journals do not pay much attention to it according to this comment in the report:

“v) STM publishers regularly record and report on the country of the corresponding author of articles
published. Such data is further reviewed and discussed by agencies such as the National Science
Foundation in the “Science and Engineering Indicators” series of reports published alternate years

  • This group of association publishers had collected relatively little data on the topic. Several commented that they believed that most of the authors of articles were from the US and this was borne out by a random review of the country of corresponding author for 25 articles published in 2007 by each journal and shown in Table 1.1.”

This ties into the previous post of notes discussing the distribution of Open Access journals (from Max Forte’s post) in relation to Wallerstein’s comments on the historical foundations of social science.

Peer review is also shown to be pretty restrictive:

“The ratio of article submission to publication is also distinctly different and since these journals publish fewer peer-reviewed articles they are often highly selective. Selectivity through peer-review takes in-house staff time (included in the study) and external reviewers’ time (not included in the study), and drives costs up.

  • Taking three consecutive years of submission and publication data together, five of the eight journals published less than 10% of the articles submitted to them.”

Although in one interview I had, a paper was rejected not based on peer review but rather editorial control. Is it selectivity through peer review, or by editor? How often is it the peer reviewers who decide a work shouldn’t be published?  And too bad they didn’t include external reviewer costs too, because from the few interviews I’ve done no one had been paid to peer review.

Specific to Open Access, the report states that while many of the associations adopted an author pays open access model, very few academics went for it:

“Open Access: There has been a dramatic increase in the percentage of publishers offering optional open access to authors, from only 9% in 2005 to 30% in 2008. This applies to a total of 1,871 titles. 53% of these publishers have enabled an open access option for all of their titles. However, the takeup of the open access option is low; of those publishers which have offered this option for two or more years under an author-pays model, 52.9% had a take-up rate of 1% or less, 73.5% had a take-up rate of 5% or less, and 91.2% had a take-up rate of 10% or less. The author fees set by these publishers range from under $500 to over $3000, but the majority (69%) charge between $1,000 and
$3,000. Bjork et al. calculated that of the estimated 1,350,000 journals articles published in 2006, 19.4% are freely accessible (4.6% OA immediately on publication, 3.5% freely accessible after an embargo, usually at least one year; and 11.3% through self-archiving).”

Of course, the AAA supports self archiving too, not that a quick look at the website would let you know. I wonder how many of these authors were aware of the option. I’m not necessarily in favor of an author pays model either, and other solutions are necessary,  which seems to be the conclusion of the scholarly associations and the report.

Also, publishing contracts are changing:

“Copyright: In 2003, 83% of publishers required copyright transfer, in 2005, the figure stood at 61%. In 2008 this has dropped to 53%, and those which only require a license to publish have increased from 17% to 20.8%.”

The report also found that the number of academic journals has been steadily increasing, along with the amount of peer reviewed research. While the climate is changing, it is still growing.

Why are researchers publishing in these big reputable journals not taking the OA option? For one, the report shows that average prices to publish are extremely high:

“If print costs are removed the publishing costs per page for these journals now average $360 or at an average article length of 19pp, author fees of $7,000. For the journal with the lowest publishing cost per page ($90) and an average article length of 25 pages, author fees could be set at $2,500 to provide full cost recovery on the peer-reviewed articles published. Since just 59% of this particular journal’s pages are peer-reviewed Open Access payments would still not sustain the journal.”

This is also perhaps why many OA advocates are promoting mandates at the institutional level. Getting the people funding research to mandate OA is a great strategy to making research accessible online.


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