Open Access and the Future of Academic Journals
A downloadable copy of this statement is available here: Open Access and the Future of Academic Journals November 2012
For those unfamiliar with the Finch Report, the full report and executive summary can be read here: http://www.researchinfonet.org/publish/finch/
History UK’s summary and responce to the Finch Report: History UK- Open Access Publishing Briefing and Strategy, 22 Nov 2012
On 16 July 2012 the UK Government announced its adoption of a ‘clear policy direction’ towards free Open Access to publicly funded scholarship, accepting almost all the recommendations of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, chaired by Dame Janet Finch. In so doing, it has positioned the UK as a major player in the international movement for Open Access. According to David Willetts, Minister for Higher Education at the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, ‘This development will provide exciting new opportunities and keep the UK at the forefront of global research to drive innovation and growth.’ 
Implementation of this policy has profound implications not only for the research environment within the UK but for the global production and dissemination of academic scholarship. In common with most researchers, the Editorial Board of the Journal of Victorian Culture welcomes the principle of free open access. We strive to facilitate the widest possible readership for the work of our contributors and we will be pleased to see our journal accessible to students across the university sector and to everyone interested in the Victorian period, in and beyond the UK.
We are alarmed, however, by some of the proposals made by the Finch Working Group in its report Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications (hereafter Finch Report, 18 June 2012). In particular, we are concerned about the business models that underpin the modes of Open Access Publication that look set to be introduced and about the implications these have for academic freedom and the autonomy of scholarly journals.
The costs of journal publication are to be transferred from the reader to the author. This will place tremendous burdens on existing research resources in UK universities and may severely impact authors who are not in a university post and scholars who do not receive Research Council funding. This development will also have consequences for overseas authors who wish to publish in journals produced in the UK. Journals that are currently subscription-based will offer a two-tier form of access, with the work of scholars who can pay the ‘Article Processing Charge’ (APC) immediately accessible to a global readership while the work of their fellow contributors who cannot pay the charge remains behind a pay-wall and an embargo period.
We hope our concerns will be addressed by a two-day conference, Implementing Finch, organized by the Academy of Social Sciences (London, 29-30 November 2012). Helen Rogers and Lucinda Matthews-Jones will be tweeting from the conference @JofVictCulture. On 28 November, JVC’s editors will attend a joint meeting with the British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS) Executive Committee to discuss the implications of Open Access Publishing for Victorianists with Prof Mark Llewellyn of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Ahead of these meetings, we invite you to post your own feelings about Open Access and the questions that should be raised now with publishers, research councils, universities and governments.
Open Access: Who Pays?
Digital Open Access promises to democratize knowledge and we welcome the UK Government’s adoption of the Finch Report’s proposal to provide ‘walk-in’ access to scholarly journals in public libraries. However, it seems to us that the freedom of the reader will be purchased at the expense of the author and the university sector.
There is, of course, a cost to all publication including digital publication. Globally, only a small (although growing) proportion of scholarship is offered free to readers and authors. Most academic journals are subscription-based which means the reader or their university library bears the cost. As is widely recognized, these costs are onerous. A 2011 report found that UK universities spend around £112m on journal subscriptions, £52m on providing access to journals, and £11m on article processing charges for open access journals. In addition, in 2010, UK institutions across all sectors paid £150m for licences to ‘journal bundles.’
The Finch Report indicates two main routes by which research, currently published in subscription-based journals, could be made free to readers:
- the ‘Green route’ where researchers deposit a pre-publication draft of their scholarship in a digital repository, usually maintained by their university, or the published version of their article following an embargo period;
- the ‘Gold route’ where researchers cover the cost of immediate Open Access by paying an ‘Article Processing Charge’ (APC) to the publisher.
This represents a significant departure from the use of the terms within the Open Access movement, where Gold Open Access is ‘gold’ because it recognizes peer review, while Green Open Access, which relies on institutional repositories with no mechanism for peer review, does not. By linking the ‘Gold Route’ to a particular business model – the payment of APCs – the Finch Report effectively recommends a shift from the ‘Reader Pays’ to the ‘Author Pays’ system. Concluding that the ‘Green route’ has failed to deliver comprehensive access, the UK Government is backing a swift transition to the ‘Gold route’ via APC.
Article Processing Charges vary widely. Finch reports the average cost in open access journals is between £1,5k and £2k. Some UK universities have begun funding APCs. In 2010-11 the University of Nottingham spent over £318,000 on APCs for over 260 articles (c. £1,216 per article), a fraction of the 3,500 articles published annually by its scholars. But Finch also notes the impossibility of predicting whether the move to APCs will pressurize publishers to reduce their charges or conversely drive them up.
There will be substantial costs in the move to this APC-driven Gold route and the Finch Report recommends that Government allocate resources to help universities prepare for the transition, calling for additional expenditure for HE of £50-60m a year.Alarmingly, however, David Willetts has stated that ‘this funding will come out of existing research funds’ (our emphasis). The Government has emphatically rejected the Finch proposal that funds could be released to the HE sector by the removal of the 20% VAT (Value Added Tax) on e-journals and library subscriptions; print journals are exempt from VAT. The costs of Open Access Publication will detract, therefore, from resources currently used to support the production rather than the dissemination of research.
Already the Research Councils have been directed to prepare for Open Access Publication. Henceforth, UK researchers will be under pressure to publish via the Gold route. The Research Councils UK has announced that all publications emanating from their funded programmes will have to be published via the Gold route. Future audits of university research look set to make the same requirement, regardless of whether scholarship has been supported by a research grant. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is developing ‘proposals for implementing a requirement that research outputs submitted to a REF or similar exercise after 2014 shall be as widely accessible as may be reasonably achievable at the time.’ Universities are being encouraged to set up their own funds to cover the cost of supporting staff publication.
The Finch Report sets out the difficulties of assessing the cost to UK Higher Education of the transition to Open Access Publication (which it estimates to be between £38m and £70m a year). Its projected costs rest, however, on two untested assumptions: first, that other countries will swiftly follow Britain’s lead in moving to the Gold route; and second, that competition from non-subscription Open Access journals will force publishers to reduce APC levels. However, as some activists from within the Open Access movement caution, there is no evidence that commercial publishers will cut their charges.
While there are clear benefits of Gold Open Access to readers outside academia in the UK and to those overseas, British Higher Education will carry the cost of transition and this could be burdensome, especially if countries outside the UK do not rapidly follow suit. UK university libraries will have to continue to pay for subscription-based journals produced overseas at the same time that they meet the costs of article publication for their scholars. The Finch Report has not factored this in to the projected costs of the transition. Effectively British universities will pay twice.
This dual burden on UK universities looks likely to be exacerbated by the ‘hybrid model’ of journal publication developed by commercial publishers as an interim measure in the transition process. Authors in subscription-based journals can opt to pay the APC to make their article freely available upon publication while other articles, in the same journal, remain behind a pay-wall during the publisher’s embargo period. This hybrid model, at least during the transition phase, has been accepted by Finch and Government: ‘a clear policy direction should be set towards support for publication in open access or hybrid journals, funded by APCs, as the main vehicle for the publication of research, especially when it is publicly funded.’
As an Editorial Board we are deeply concerned that the hybrid model will establish different levels of access (and consequently, impact) for articles of equal quality within journals like our own. Below we outline our other concerns about the effects of the rapid move to Gold Open Access for scholars, universities and academic journals in the UK and overseas.
How this will affect us all
1. UK university academics
The Finch recommendations were drawn up principally with science journals in mind where, on the one hand, subscription charges have been exorbitant and yet, on the other hand, most scholarship is supported by Research Council grants or other funding bodies. In this context, Finch’s proposal that the cost of dissemination should be an integral part of research funding makes sense. By contrast, only a minority of articles published in social science and humanities journals are the product of such awards. In practice, universities rather than research councils will have to fund most journal publications in these fields and, as the Finch Report acknowledges, ‘the cost implications could be significant.’
Articles published in the Journal of Victorian Culture, as in most peer-reviewed journals, are produced by scholars working across the university sector and with very different institutional levels of research support. It is probable that most universities will consider very carefully which scholars and which publications they support. The introduction of APCs threatens to diminish the vibrant research culture which currently exists across the university sector and to which the articles in the Journal of Victorian Culture testify.
Currently, as scholars, we choose to submit our work to the journal that we consider the most appropriate forum for our research. In future, we will not make these decisions alone but will have to make them in consultation with – and at the permission of – university committees. At the very least, this will introduce a whole new level of bureaucracy into the research process. At worst, it will compromise academic independence and freedom.
Some universities are likely to make strategic decisions about the research areas they fund. Others may decide to limit the number of article publications they will support for each scholar. Why, for instance, would they fund article publication above the current ‘REF hand’ of four items?
Almost certainly the additional cost to universities of research publication will widen the gap between ‘research-leading’ and ‘teaching-only’ universities. This process has already begun. The RCUK has distributed £10m to 30 research intensive universities to prepare for Gold Open Access via APCs.
We are deeply concerned that, in future, scholarship that appears in the Journal of Victorian Culture will be determined not only by our own independent peer-review process but by prior decisions taken by university and Research Council committees.
2. Early Career, Emeritus and Independent Scholars
Securing publication in a peer-reviewed journal is one of the key ways that early career scholars can demonstrate the quality of their work and journal articles are one of the main criteria used by hiring committees. Between completion of postgraduate research and their first academic position, however, most scholars face a period without institutional affiliation. The Finch Report indicates that provisions should be made to fund their APCs.
While, we hope, the Research Councils are putting in place such provisions for their studentships, in the humanities and social sciences they fund only a minority of postgraduate students. What provision will be made for the rest? And what about the considerable number of independent scholars who are an important part of the research community? Will the commercial publishers waive charges for early career and independent scholars?
3. Scholars outside the UK
While researchers from outside Britain will undoubtedly benefit from free and immediate access to UK scholarship, unless their own funding bodies or universities quickly agree to release resources to pay APCs their own work will not benefit from the same degree of access and thereby dissemination. Though some countries may rapidly follow the UK lead in adopting the Author-Pays model, many scholars and universities in developing countries may find themselves priced out of the international journal market. There will also be problems where articles are jointly authored by scholars from within and outside the UK.
All this may well provide a strong disincentive to overseas scholars to publish in the UK, the effects of which will be to weaken the international reputation of British-based journals. As the Arts and Humanities Research Council has warned, ‘UK scholarship will risk becoming provincialised and our universities will be pushed down international rankings.’
4. Academic Journals
As an Editorial Board, we are alarmed by the prospect of our authors receiving different levels of access to their work especially in the hybrid model of publication which looks likely to be in place in the medium term. What will be the effects of scrolling through the content of the most recent issue of any journal to find some items instantly downloadable and others behind a pay-wall? Will potential readers remember to go back to those articles after the embargo period? What implicit messages about ‘quality’ might users infer?
The opportunity to publish in the most prestigious journals will no longer be a level playing field but rather will be determined by the policies and committee decisions of funding bodies and universities. In our view, this changing landscape may fundamentally alter the relationship between scholars and journal editors that hitherto has been independent.
Articles by scholars who have already benefited from Research Council or similar funding will, inevitably, receive swifter recognition and ultimately are very likely to garner greater attention and citations. In all probability, this will foster a virtuous circle where funded research generates wider engagement and thereby leads to further support. So far, only one article has been published in the Journal of Victorian Culture via the APC route, funded as a condition of a Wellcome Trust grant. Since its publication in November 2011, this article has always been in our top 3 downloaded items.
While peer-reviewed research articles constitute the majority of content in most academic journals, an important part of their content is solicited. About a third of JVC’s content comprises book reviews, roundtables, perspectives, the Digital Forum and other commissioned items. These are a vital part of Victorian studies scholarship, providing opportunities for inter- and cross-disciplinary discussion and debate, for highlighting new directions and innovative areas of research and pedagogy, and for peer-review of book publications and digital resources.
Authors can hardly be expected to pay for publication of commissioned work. Though scholars may still be prepared to write short reviews, will they be as willing to devote time to commissioned essays if these are not made instantly accessible and thereby eligible for research auditing? Will publishers cover the APC costs of this important element of our journals?
As a number of learned societies have begun to point out, the risks of the transition phase for their house journals are much greater than those faced by commercial publishers. These societies, who publish some of the most respected journals, often depend on revenue from their publications to support research activities, scholarships and studentships. While the Finch Report acknowledges such concerns, it concludes that ‘It would be wrong to over-protect societies and their publications, or to favour them over other publishers.’
In addition to the many inequities built into the APC and hybrid models of Open Access, there are also practical problems for the editorial process. As the Finch Report rightly notes, it would be impractical to require authors to pay an APC on the submission of their article for consideration. This means, however, that an essay could proceed through the entire editorial process only to be retracted when an author does not receive funding for the APC. In future, journal editors and reviewers may undertake considerable editorial work, unpaid and to no avail.
5. Academic Publishers
Of course, scholars will not be forced to submit their work to academic journals following the APC/hybrid models. They may well vote with their feet to avoid the commercial publishers in favour of the free publishing platforms. Indeed, the Finch Report clearly hopes that pressure from these alternatives will work to drive down the APC levels exacted by the commercial publishers. Many scholars argue that we no longer need commercial publishers and that the academic community can go it alone by creating and maintaining its own platforms.
A growing number of academic journals are freely accessible in digital form. Some of these journals are supported by an academic institution or funding council which bears the cost of production. Examples in our own field include Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, based at the Université de Montréal and supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century based at Birkbeck College, University London.
Free-standing e-journals have been much better able to take advantage of hypermedia than subscription-based journals that are still wedded to print, as in the inclusion of far more and higher-quality images. They, rather than commercially-produced journals, have been leading the way in the media for digital scholarship. Meanwhile, Open Humanities Publishing has sought to forge a new type of journal platform by establishing an ‘editorially-driven international press, focused on building respect through its brand’ which aims ‘to emulate the strengths and flexibility of commercial presses, while avoiding the institutional limitations of the university-based e-presses.’
While these alternative routes undoubtedly have many attractions, our experience of working with Routledge demonstrates the important contribution that commercial publishers have made to the research community. Routledge, we should not forget, has its origins in the early nineteenth century as a popular publishing house. After 1912, as Routledge, Kegan & Paul, it pioneered publishing in the emerging social sciences. Along with many other publishing houses, Routledge has provided an independent and often forward-thinking platform for intellectual work. By helping us build the Journal of Victorian Culture Online, for instance, Routledge has worked closely and efficiently with us to develop innovative ways of disseminating the journal and to foster an interactive site for Victorianists. Historically, commercial publishers have played an important part in the development of the public sphere and we should think carefully about jettisoning their contribution.
That said we are now at a stage where the academic community and the publishing world need to re-address their relationship, for the profits of commercial publishers depend on the largely unpaid labour of authors, reviewers and editors. Commercial publishers justify their subscription charges not only in terms of production and marketing costs but in the value they provide via peer review. Peer review, however, is overwhelmingly provided gratis by external readers, editorial boards, and editors who, for the most part, conduct their editorial responsibilities in their own time.
It is time for the publishers to be transparent about the actual costs of journal production, dissemination and preservation. As e-journals replace print journals so traditional forms of circulation and marketing are being superseded. As more and more work is published digitally, visibility and discoverability are key requirements and may require the development of increasingly complex search mechanisms.
But surely overall costs are falling? What are publishers prepared to put back into the academic community? As peer-review becomes increasingly necessary to help readers differentiate between scholarly and non-scholarly material, the publishers should provide their journals with more resources to support editorial work. If the academic community is now to pay for publication, then is it time for publishers to start ploughing some of their resources back into the research from which they profit?
6. Academic Journals and Digital Scholarship: Taxing Matters
The Finch Report focuses specifically on academic journal publishing but also notes that consideration should be given in future to free open access to monographs and book collections. Some publishers are experimenting with open access monographs by providing free pdf downloads alongside the option to purchase the printed book. This is a welcome development but we hope that neither commercial publishers nor government will seek to make academic authors responsible for book processing charges.
It is notable that the Finch Report makes no reference to the issue of open access to digital archives. But the question of who pays for the dissemination of research must be considered directly in relation to the question of who pays for digitized research materials. This is a live political as well as scholarly issue, not only in the UK.
The digitization of public archives and collections is currently providing a booming and highly profitable market for commercial publishers and one for which researchers and universities are paying. Why should scholars have to pay for access to the materials they need for their research only to have to pay again to disseminate that research? If readers have the right to freely access all publicly funded research outputs, as the government thinks they should as tax-payers, then why should they not also have free open access to publicly owned archives and collections, such as the British Library’s newspapers or the historical Census returns?
Finally, as noted above, the UK government rejected the Finch recommendation that VAT on e-journals, library subscriptions, and APCs should be removed. This 20% charge represents a tax on knowledge that hitherto has not been placed on scholarly print journals. In a high-profile and popular campaign, the British bakery industry recently succeeded in forcing the government to make a U-turn on the introduction of VAT on the sale of hot pies, the so-called pasty tax. It is time for academics and publishers to work together to demand the abolition of a new tax on knowledge.
We invite you to comment below and to circulate this paper freely to your colleagues, societies, and all interested parties.
Helen Rogers (firstname.lastname@example.org)
On behalf of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Victorian Culture
Joseph Bristow – University of California, USA
Thomas Dixon - Queen Mary University of London, UK
Ruth Livesey - Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Helen Rogers – Liverpool John Moores University, UK
Rosemary Mitchell - Leeds Trinity and All Saints, UK
Journal of Victorian Culture Online Editors
Lisa Hager -University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, USA
Lucinda Matthews-Jones – Liverpool John Moores University, UK
Michael Allis – University of Leeds, UK
Trev Lynn Broughton – University of York, UK
Supriya Chaudhuri – Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India
Nicholas Daly – University College Dublin, Ireland
Marysa Demoor – University of Ghent, Belguim
Stefano-Maria Evangelista – Trinity College, Oxford, UK
Ginger Frost – Samford University, USA
Michael Hatt – University of Warwick, UK
Rohan McWilliam – Anglia Ruskin University, UK
James Mussell – University of Birmingham, UK
Kate Newey – University of Exeter, UK
Francis O’Gorman – University of Leeds, UK
Morna O’Neill – Wake Forest University, USA
Alastair Owens – Queen Mary, University of London, UK
Wendy Parkin – University of Otago, New Zealand
Paul Pickering – Australian National University, Australia
John Plunkett – University of Exeter, UK
Talia Schaffer – City University of New York, USA
Helen Small – Pembroke College, Oxford, UK
Julie Marie-Strange – University of Manchester, UK
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, David Willetts, Letter to Janet Finch http://www.bis.gov.uk/news/topstories/2012/Jul/government-to-open-up-publicly-funded-research.
http://www.researchinfonet.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Finch-Group-report-FINAL-VERSION.pdf. For a summary of the Finch Report, see http://www.researchinfonet.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Finch-Group-report-executive-summary-FINAL-VERSION.pdf.
Heading for the Open Road: costs and benefits of transitions in scholarly communications.RIN, PRC, Wellcome Trust, RLUK and JISC, 2011, cited by Finch Report, p. 38
 Finch Report, p. 76.
 Finch Report, p. 16.
 Theodore C. Bergstrom and Carl T. Bergstrom ‘Can “author pays” journals compete with “reader pays”?’, Nature Web Focus, 2004 http://www.nature.com/nature/focus/accessdebate/22.html
 Finch Report, p. 61. Those which combine print and e-formats can be up to £9k but average £2.8k.
Finch Report, pp. 57, 69.
Finch Report, pp. 69, 137. For discussion of problems in the Finch calculations, see the blog post by the Editor of First World War Studies, Pierre Purseigle, ‘A Response to the Finch Report on Open Access’, http://www.pierrepurseigle.info/a-response-to-the-finch-report-on-open-access/
 Finch Report, p. 101.
Finch Report, pp. 9, 24, 64, 100, 105; http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/science/docs/l/12-975-letter-government-response-to-finch-report-research-publications.pdf, p. 1.
 Finch Report, pp. 101-2.
 See Stephen Harnad of EnablingOpenScholarship (EOS):http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/904-Finch-Report,-a-Trojan-Horse,-Serves-Publishing-Industry-Interests-Instead-of-UK-Research-Interests.html. For fears that the costs of Gold access may prove exorbitant, see Paul Jump, ‘Finch’s open access cure may be worse than the disease’, Times Higher Education, 28 June 2012, http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=420392
 Finch Report, p. 74-5.
 Finch Report, pp. 91-2.
 Finch Report, p. 76.
 Finch notes provision for this among some open access publishers; see Finch Report, p. 71.
 For concerns already expressed by US historians, see American Historical Association, Statement on Scholarly Journal Publishing, 24 September 2012, http://blog.historians.org/news/1734/aha-statement-on-scholarly-journal-publishing
 This applied to 46% of articles in peer-reviewed journals in 2010; see Finch Report, p. 71.
 See Colin Jones, Letter from the President, ‘Open Access Publishing and the Finch Report’, Royal Historical Society, October 2012, http://www.royalhistoricalsociety.org/RHSPresidentE-letterOctober2012.pdf; American Historical Association, Statement on Scholarly Journal Publishing, 24 September 2012, http://blog.historians.org/news/1734/aha-statement-on-scholarly-journal-publishing
 Finch Report, p. 110.
 Finch Report, p. 70.
 7,600 open access journals are listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals; see Finch Report, p. 32.
 See Finch Report, pp. 44-6.
 See for instance the EU-funded OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks) project, which includes some nineteenth-century studies published by Palgrave and Manchester University Press; http://www.oapen.org/home
 As the Minister, David Willetts stated: ‘We are firmly committed to improving access so the Government accepts the proposals in your report, except for one specific point on VAT. Reference was made to the issue of VAT being applied to e-journals but not printed books and journals. Consideration has been given to this, but, in consultation with Treasury it has become evident that current VAT rules agreed at EU level preclude a reduced or zero rate for e-journals’; see http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/science/docs/l/12-975-letter-government-response-to-finch-report-research-publications.pdf, p. 1.