Re-inventing Academic Publishing: 'Diamond' Open Access Titles That Are Free To Read And Free To Publish

from the web-native dept

As Techdirt has been reporting, the idea of providing open access to publicly-funded research is steadily gaining ground. One of the key moments occurred almost exactly a year ago, when the British mathematician Tim Gowers announced that he would no longer have anything to do with the major academic publisher Elsevier. This then turned into a full-scale boycott: today, over 13,000 academics have pledged not to work with the company.

Despite the growing acceptance of open access, there remains a key challenge. Unlike traditional academic journals, which require readers to pay, open access titles provide free access to all. But even though produced in a digital form, open access journals still have editing and production costs associated with them, and these are typically met by the funding institutions of the researchers when their papers are accepted for publication.

This is the so-called “gold” form of open access; another is “green”, which consists of posting papers to an institutional repository or open online archive. In an interesting development, a new form, dubbed “diamond” open access, has just been announced by Tim Gowers:

a platform is to be created that will make it very easy to set up arXiv overlay journals.

What is an arXiv overlay journal? It is just like an electronic journal, except that instead of a website with lots of carefully formatted articles, all you get is a list of links to preprints on the arXiv. The idea is that the parts of the publication process that academics do voluntarily — editing and refereeing — are just as they are for traditional journals, and we do without the parts that cost money, such as copy-editing and typesetting. was one of the earliest attempts to open up academic publishing in the early 1990s using the (then) new Net — basically, it’s an online server, where preprint papers are posted for anyone to read. Preprints are the draft form of papers before they appear in journals, although often they are highly finished, and require few changes for publication. The innovation of “diamond” open access is that these preprints, held on the arXiv servers, will be the main form of publishing. Indeed, the new journals, whose titles have not yet been announced, will consist largely of links to those preprints.

The huge advantage of this approach is that it costs almost nothing to produce one of these “overlay” journals, since it re-uses the work already done in first preparing the preprint, and then in posting it to arXiv. This means that as well as making the journals freely available to readers, it won’t be necessary to charge the academics to appear there — zero-cost open access.

As Gowers notes, building on arXiv in this way not only saves money, but opens up new ways of extending published articles:

One possibility being discussed, which I am very much in favour of, is each accepted article having not just a link to the arXiv but also a web page for (non-anonymous) comments and reviews. For example, the editor who accepts an article might wish to write a paragraph or two about why the article is interesting, a reader who spots a minor error might write explaining the error and how it can be fixed (if it can), and an expert in the area might write a review that could be very useful to hiring committees.

This may even go further, with comment pages being set up for other preprints and journal articles — not just the ones that have appeared in epijournals [the provisional name for these new kinds of publication.]

What’s interesting here is the thoroughgoing way these “epijournals” exploit the power of the Web’s key feature of linking — through pointing to articles held on arXiv, and the use of ancillary pages for comments, corrections and reviews. In a sense, this moves on the open access revolution, which so far has contented itself with using the Net to free up conventionally-published articles. Diamond access to epijournals goes further, and seeks to re-imagine academic publishing more completely for the digital age — without the publishers.

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Comments on “Re-inventing Academic Publishing: 'Diamond' Open Access Titles That Are Free To Read And Free To Publish”

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Anonymous Coward says:

The big questionmark is in the review process.

If the reviewers are second or third rank, the value of publishing in these journals will be low for the scientists.

On the other hand: If the reviewers are the famous and revered scientists, the value will be high.

Now, the question will be how many scientists are committed to free and how many are to fall for mammon. With the amount of mammon allotted to scientists today by publishers it is hardly likely for most to sign in blood, but the possibilities of monetising in the future might change that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What world have you been living in. Scientists provide the papers, review and editing of articles at their own cost, and usually have to pay page costs to get them published. Also ask any university librarian how mush of their budget goes to Elsevier, also ask about the quality of some of the journals they end up buying because of bundling. Just make sure you escape route is open when you do so, you may provoke an angry reaction.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Those costs are usually written off as expenses on the grants they got to do the research in the first place…
Besides, you really should try to find out what I am writing before your kneejerk ad hom. If you understood what mammon and signing in blood refers to, I am pretty sure you can interpret differently…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Now they can right off that same expense to something that is actually useful to themselves.

Like open source instead of paying some company based elsewhere, you hire a local programmer to do the job on some piece of software and put the result up for everyone else.

The local economy wins, the world wins and everybody is happy except for the grumpy monopolist that can’t compete anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The scientists that bow to mammon are those that seek patents and go on to form their own company to exploit them. Note patent seeking and publication are mutually exclusive until after the patent has been granted. It is also against the tradition of science, that of sharing information so that others can benefit from your work, and you from what they do with it.

Kevin says:

I think this online access thing is a little overblown. If a scientist publishes in a journal such as PLOS then that scientist has to put up the publication fee of $2900. To publish in some other journals it is free but the reader has to pay. A easy way readers have to pay is to go to their local library or university and apply for an account there. Now the reader has access to thousands of journals for a very low cost.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I am a librarian:

I am a librarian at a small four year university. What we pay for journal subscriptions varies widely from thirty or forty dollars a year for some mundane stuff, to several thousand a year for the hardcore upper level science and engineering. My most expensive subscription is $10,206 per year and it goes up every year. A typical price is between about $400 and $1,200. We only keep about 750 print titles, larger institutions often keep many more. Also, some of the titles that cost into the thousands might only be printed bimonthly or even quarterly, so you’re looking at hundreds or even thousands of dollars per issue. People could steal our laptops and Kindles and it wouldn’t hurt as bad as when some of the journals go missing.

Furthermore, because prices are generally based on FTE (full-time equivalency, or roughly the number of students we have), we pay only a modest fraction of what the larger universities pay. Also, you have to keep in mind that they count ALL students. We might have only a few hundred students in an upper level engineering or science program, but to get those subjects’ journals they count EVERY student, right down to the slack-ass stoner freshmen and the absentee football majors.

Don’t even get me started on the electronic journals and databases…

Also ask any university librarian how mush of their budget goes to Elsevier, also ask about the quality of some of the journals they end up buying because of bundling. Just make sure you escape route is open when you do so, you may provoke an angry reaction.

^^ Truth. ^^

Anonymous Coward says:

Dear Mr Moody — Gowers’ campaign goes back a long time — I think 20 or 25 years — to a campaign by Rob Kirby of Berkeley to do essentially the same thing. He advocated that mathematicians take over their own journal publishing and cut out the expensive middleman. Some entire editorial boards resigned, taking everything of value with them — consisting of nothing beyond their own contacts and expertise. When (at his instigation, I think) the American Mathematical Society published comparative journal prices, the publishing houses threatened to sue. It was called restraint of competition, or unfair advertising, or something. This is what I heard at Berkeley. Burt Tataro would know many more details.

Stevan Harnad (profile) says:


What is a peer-reviewed journal?

1. It is a peer-review manager (peers, chosen by editor, review free, editor adjudicated reviews and revisions) and copy-editor.

2. If the article is accepted, the accepted draft is certified with the journal’s name.

3. The journal generates and distributes (3a) a print and/or (3b) online edition.

A journal that does not generate a print edition (3a) is still a journal.

A journal that does not generate an online edition (3b) is still a journal.

If costs are paid by subscriptions, it’s a subscription journal. I

If costs are paid by subsidies, it’s a subsidized journal.

If caused are paid by the author, it’s an author-pays journal.

OA is free online access, immediately upon publication.

If OA is provided by the journal, it’s Gold OA publishing.

If OA is provided by the author, it’s Green OA self-archiving.

If the journal is OA, it’s a Gold OA journal. If not, not.

There is hence no need for (nor any nes information provided by) new terms like “diamond,” “overlay” or “epi” journal.

An OA journal that charges neither subscriptions nor author-fees is a subsidized journal (“diamond” adds no further information or properties).

An OA journal that generates neither a print nor an online version is an OA journal that generates neither a print nor an online journal: the self-archived version is the only version.

The reasons (some) physicists and mathematicians speak of “overlay” journals is because many physicists and mathematicians, before submitting their papers to a journal for peer review, self-archive their unrefereed “preprints” in Arxiv. They also self-archive their final, peer-reviewed “postprints” in Arxiv. They think of the peer-review, copy-editing, and certification as an “overlay” on their unrefereed preprint.

But, by the same token, the peer-review, copy-editing is an “overlay” on every author’s unrefereed preprint, whether the journal is print, online, both, or neither; and most authors don’t self-archive their unrefereed drafts at all.

Katie Foxall (user link) says:

Platinum open access

I’ve heard the term platinum open access used before to describe OA publishing which charges neither authors nor readers. There are a few platinum OA journals already, most staffed by volunteers, so this model does already exist.

The journal I work on, ecancer, is platinum OA and we are a not-for-profit funded by charity, sponsorship and grants. It’s fully peer-reviewed, typeset and edited. We offer everything other OA journals do but at no cost to users.

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