Critique of New Elsevier Policies

Elsevier announced new article self-archiving policies, in many ways more restrictive, under the promising banner: “Unleashing the power of academic sharing.

Many have since read the fine print and there has been angry backlash. Library Journal has a good analysis of the back and forth, in case you missed it as it unfolded.

Heather Joseph cuts to the heart of the matter:

“For us, the embargo period and the licensing issues are elements of the policy that are visible problems. But the revision of the policy itself was a troublesome move to our community…. The investment that we’ve made in repositories over the last decade is an important way for us to ensure that the academic community is asserting control over its own [intellectual property]. We’re producing these articles, we’re surfacing these ideas, and we’d like to have a say in how and when we share them with people.”

“Oligarchy” of Publishers

From CBC News — an interesting report on a new study just published in PLoS One about the academic publishing industry.

While traditional book and magazine publishers struggle to stay afloat, research publishing houses have typical profit margins of nearly 40 per cent, says Vincent Larivière, a researcher at the University of Montreal’s School of Library and Information Science.


What he and his collaborators found was that the five largest, for-profit academic publishers now publish 53 per cent of scientific papers in the natural and medical sciences – up from 20 per cent in 1973. In the social sciences, the top five publishers publish 70 per cent of papers.

Essentially, they’ve become an oligarchy, Larivière and co-authors Stefanie Haustein and Philippe Mongeon say in a paper published last week in the open access, non-profit journal PLOS ONE.

UCL Launches UK’s First Fully OA University Press

UCLUniversity College London (UCL) has announced the launch of UCL Press, the UK’s first fully Open Access university press. The primary focus of the press will be scholarly monographs, textbooks and journals. Three inaugural monographs have just been published: Temptation in the Archives by Lisa Jardine,Treasures from UCL by Gillian Furlong and The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology: Characters and Collections by Alice Stevenson. All of UCL Press’s titles are freely available to download in open access digital editions.

From the 27 May press release: “The founding ethos of UCL Press builds upon UCL’s wider commitment to communicating and engaging with the world. Open Access ensures academic research is accessible to everyone, as all publications are freely available online with no payment restrictions.”

New Guide to Getting Rights Back

The Authors Alliance just published a free guide:  Understanding Rights Reversion: When, Why, & How to Regain Copyright and Make Your Book More Available.

When a book has been out for a while and is no longer selling well, the authors of this guide found that publishers may be willing to let rights revert back to the author. This presents great opportunities for getting new digital readership.

Today’s technologies offer tremendous opportunities for authors to make their out-of-print or otherwise unavailable books more widely available. Some authors want to revive their books by creating e-books, while others may want to use print-on-demand technology or deposit their books in openly accessible repositories. We hope that the guide empowers authors to advocate on their own behalf to make their works more widely available, and we believe that many authors can work with their publishers to increase their books’ availability by following the strategies articulated in the guide: Be Reasonable, Be Flexible, Be Persistent, and Be Creative.  More

The Boston College Libraries have experienced this firsthand. We send many out-of-copyright books to the Internet Archive to be reproduced as Kindle and ePub versions. A few years ago, Prof. David Northrup regained copyright to a book he had published in 1995 with Cambridge University Press, Indentured labor in the age of imperialism, 1834-1922. According to WorldCat the book is held by some 520 libraries worldwide.

With Prof. Northrup’s permission, we sent it to be digitized as part of the Boston College Collection. In the slightly more than two years it has been available through the Internet Archive and HathiTrust, it has been viewed 6698 times.

Faculty authors interested in making older work available may want to consult this guide or talk to their subject liaison librarian about our digitization program.


Hybrid journal article fees

All that glitters

“A review of the United Kingdom’s progress towards ‘gold’ open-access research is instructive — for funders, publishers and scientists both at home and abroad.”

This Nature editorial from April 7, cites a startling statistic about hybrid journal publishing fees:

And then there are costs. All experiments should be encouraged in the evolving gold open-access market, but academics should know that fees for papers published in fully open-access journals are lower than those of ‘hybrid’ subscription journals that allow an open-access option. The Wellcome Trust says that the average fee levied by hybrid journals is 64% higher than that charged by fully open-access titles. British funders are now pondering steering the market by dissuading researchers from publishing in hybrid journals, as other countries have done.

It’s hard to see how the higher fees could be justified, since hybrid journals are typically collecting subscription fees as well. The fully OA journals are not, and often the article processing fee is the only source of revenue, unless, as is the case with many OA journals, their support comes from institutional subventions.

Beyond Beall’s List: Better Understanding Predatory Publishers

In the March 2015 issue of College & Research Libraries News Monica Berger and Jill Cirasella published the article: Beyond Beall’s List: Better understanding predatory publishers. It’s an excellent nuanced overview of the relationships between open access, predatory publishing and low-quality publishing. The authors critique Jeffrey Beall who curates an influential blacklist of “potential, possible, or probable” predatory open access publishers and journals. Though rightfully praising many aspects of Beall’s blacklist and the criteria he uses for evaluating “predatory journals”, the authors take issue with a number of his views on open access and what they regard might be a lack of “a broader perspective on scholarly communication.”

Berger and Cirasella tend to prefer a whitelist to a blacklist of journals: “Given the fuzziness between low-quality and predatory publishers, whitelisting, or listing publishers and journals that have been vetted and verified as satisfying certain standards, may be a better solution than blacklisting.” They point to the revamped Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) as a good example of a valuable whitelist. However, they stress that blacklists and whitelists can only do so much and that authors should do their homework and thoroughly evaluate journals in which they’d like to publish.

Note: BC Libraries have a useful guide: Assessing Journal Quality.

Library Publishing in Context

escholarship_homepageimagePaul Royster’s article, A Library Publishing Manifesto, provides an excellent overview of the current state of scholarly publishing. He recaps the commercial publishers’ practices that have let us down and the challenges faced by the university presses. Read with  The “Wild West” of Academic Publishing: The troubled present and promising future of scholarly communication, cited in the previous post, the two articles provide a good primer on the scholarly publishing landscape.
He makes a strong case for the role that library publishing can fill.
I believe the academy has room for both library and university press publishing. I believe this because each has a radically different role and mission. I do not think that either one has the solution to the other’s problems. I don’t see library publishing initiatives as opposed to the university presses, but I think they are better off independent of them. I want library publishers to “come out of Babylon” (as Bob Marley might say) — to leave behind the ownership-based, property-accumulating, copyright-hoarding, commercially-driven publishing model practiced by the corporate giants and imitated to various degrees by academic presses struggling for self-sufficiency.
All of us have a chance to do more and do better. In fact, the universe of publishable materials has never been more exciting and energizing. There is more than enough to go around. To those who would say “that’s not real publishing” or “not good publishing,” I can only say: it’s not a contest. We are all seeking to serve the communication needs of scholars and researchers. The Copyright Office defines publishing as “offering copies for distribution,” and that’s enough for me. We can all get judgmental, or we can each take advantage of the opportunities that the new technology has handed us.

The “Wild West” of Academic Publishing

In the present issue of Harvard Magazine Craig Lambert has a thought-provoking piece on the state of scholarly publishing: The “Wild West” of Academic Publishing: The troubled present and promising future of scholarly communication. He discusses such topics as the precarious economics of most university presses; the growing uncertain relationship between scholarly monograph publishing and the tenure process; the frequently exorbitant cost of many academic journals and the resultant deleterious effect on monograph publishing and acquisition; the swiftly growing Open Access movement and the complementary business models associated with OA publishing; diverse, experimental new models, both print and digital, in scholarly communication.

The Digital Einstein Papers

einsteinOn 5 December Princeton University Press, in partnership with the Tizra digital publishing platform, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and California Institute of Technology, launched The Digital Einstein Papers. This is an open access site for the translated and annotated writings of Albert Einstein. Presently the site contains

5,000 documents covering the first forty-four years of Einstein’s life, up to and including the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics and his long voyage to the Far East. Additional material will be available on the website approximately eighteen months after the print publication of new volumes of The Collected Papers. Eventually, the website will provide access to all of Einstein’s writings and correspondence, accompanied by scholarly annotation and apparatus.

For more information see Einstein Papers Project.