SIPTA & Open Access

Dear colleagues,

On Wednesday 15 May, I participated in the meeting ‘Open access versus Commercial Publishing’ organized by the maths and computer science section of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences. The speakers consisted of two clear proponents of Open Access, an Elsevier Senior VP presenting her Company’s efforts in the Open Access area, and somebody giving a more descriptive overview of the issues at hand.

I found the meeting very interesting and I think the topic is relevant to all researchers. I also feel that SIPTA, as a learned society, and its members, as authors, reviewers, and editors, have a role to play.

The basic  issue is that the big publishers, such as Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley, seem to offer a bad deal to researchers and the society at large, which funds the researchers: Journal subscription costs are too high for libraries to pay and are often offered in bundles including many unwanted journals. This results in people not having straightforward access to papers relevant to their research. The posting of papers on personal websites does not provide a structural solution to this problem and is sometimes even prohibited.

The academic world is slow to form a coherent response. Some funding agencies and institutes have started to require that the publications of the researchers they finance or employ be made available under some open access model. But currently the libraries are still struggling. Publishers seem to adapt their business model only at a glacial pace. Grassroots initiatives, usually started because of outrage over publisher behavior, have managed to generate enough pressure to effect more rapid, but still quite limited changes.

So pressuring publishers does help, and this is where I think we as a community and individuals can make a difference:

  • Authors can add Open Access and publishing under a Creative Commons license to the factors that determine where they publish. This is mostly something established researchers with permanent positions have the opportunity to do. Also with big publishers this is now an option, usually costly, but some funding agencies specifically provide support (check with yours!).
  • Reviewers for journals published by entities with absurdly high profit margins are usually not remunerated in any meaningful way for their work. Publishers such as Elsevier are considering options such as making review work count toward paying for their Open Access options. To keep up the pressure to make this a reality, include a cost estimate of your reviewing efforts, e.g., estimated time spent × hourly wage × (1+overhead percentage), with every review for a commercial journal, urging the editor to let the managing editor know you wish this to count toward making a paper of yours Open Access. A more radical option is to refuse to review a paper that, if accepted, is not going to be Open Access.
  • Editors and the editorial board of commercial journals can take a tough stance when negotiating with the publisher, to bring down costs for Open Access options, make copyright transfer a thing of the past, and investigating other options for providing freer access.

While I think commercial publishers will continue to have an important role to play, I also think structurally different alternatives would provide for some healthy competition. For example, SIPTA as a Society could consider creating an arXiv overlay journal.

I hope I have given you some food for thought and look forward to discussion this issue with you during ISIPTA ’13, so I hope to see you there!

Erik Quaeghebeur