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.
arXiv.org 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]