from the here's-how-it's-done dept
A couple of years ago, we wrote about a new kind of open access. Alongside the traditional "gold" open access, whereby research institutions pay publishers to make academic papers freely available to all readers, and "green" open access, which consists of posting papers to an institutional repository or open online archive, the mathematician Tim Gowers came up with something he called "diamond" open access. At its heart lies arXiv.org, 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. Here are the key features of a diamond open access title:
While in most respects it will be just like any other journal, it will be unusual in one important way: it will be purely an arXiv overlay journal. That is, rather than publishing, or even electronically hosting, papers, it will consist of a list of links to arXiv preprints. Other than that, the journal will be entirely conventional: authors will submit links to arXiv preprints, and then the editors of the journal will find referees, using their quick opinions and more detailed reports in the usual way in order to decide which papers will be accepted.
That comes from a Gower's latest blog post, which announces the creation of a new diamond open access journal called "Discrete Analysis". It's not the first to adopt this model -- Gowers mentions a couple of others already in existence – but the post is interesting because it spells out in detail how this new kind of academic publishing works:
The software for managing the refereeing process will be provided by Scholastica, an outfit that was set up a few years ago by some graduates from the University of Chicago with the aim of making it very easy to create electronic journals. However, the look and feel of Discrete Analysis will be independent: the people at Scholastica are extremely helpful, and one of the services they provide is a web page designed to the specifications you want, with a URL that does not contain the word “scholastica”. Scholastica does charge for this service -- a whopping $10 per submission. (This should be compared with typical article processing charges of well over 100 times this from more conventional journals.)
It's that two orders of magnitude reduction in costs that is so revolutionary here. It means that with a very small grant from someone -- in the case of Discrete Analysis, the money is coming from Cambridge University -- a journal can be created that is not only completely free for everyone who reads it, but free for the academics who publish in it too. This gets around a problem with the gold open access model: the fact that academic institutions have to find quite serious sums in order to adopt it. Diamond open access is not just cheap but hugely cheaper, so this cost issue pretty much goes away. As Gowers writes:
In theory, this offers a way out of the current stranglehold that the publishers have over us: if enough universities set up enough journals at these very modest costs, then we will have an alternative and much cheaper publication system up and running, and it will look more and more pointless to submit papers to the expensive journals, which will save the universities huge amounts of money. Just to drive the point home, the cost of submitting an article from the UK to the Journal of the London Mathematical Society is, if you want to use their open-access option, £2,310. If Discrete Analysis gets 50 submissions per year (which is more than I would expect to start with), then this single article processing charge would cover our costs for well over five years.
Finally, for those who are wondering what advantages this kind of overlay journal offers over using arXiv on its own, Gowers makes three important points:
An obvious partial answer to this question is that the list of links on our journal website will be a list of certificates that certain arXiv preprints have been peer reviewed and judged to be of a suitable standard for Discrete Analysis. Thus, it will provide information that the arXiv alone does not provide.
All-in-all, this is an exciting development, and one that could have a major impact on scholarly publishing if it is taken up more widely. However, the fact that it took even its inventor over two years to create his first diamond open access title shows that it is likely to be a while before that happens.
However, we intend to do slightly more than this. For each paper, we will give not just a link, but also a short description. This will be based on the abstract and introduction, and on any further context that one of our editors or referees may be able to give us. The advantage of this is that it will be possible to browse the journal and get a good idea of what it contains, without having to keep clicking back and forth to arXiv preprints. In this way, we hope to make visiting the Discrete Analysis home page a worthwhile experience.
Another thing we will be able to do with these descriptions is post links to newer versions of the articles. If an author wishes to update an article after it has been published, we will provide two links: one to the “official” version (that is, not the first submitted version, but the “final” version that takes into account comments by the referee), and one to the new updated version, with a brief summary of what has changed.