Monday, October 24, 2011

It's Open Access Week

Open Access Week starts today. Interestingly a number of traditional journal publishers, like Springer, are sponsors as they try to figure out how to modify their business model in a changing publication environment.

We'd love all our papers to be as widely available as possible but no journals are truly free. They either need a revenue stream whether that comes from authors, readers, libraries or some other outside source, or require a considerable amount of volunteer effort and coordination beyond just editing and reviewing.

I found out about Open Access Week from the ACM as they are promoting their Author-ize service that lets authors give a link on their home pages that allows their readers to freely download the ACM version of their papers. I consider ACM one of the good publishers, reasonably priced, and they've already allowed us to publish our own papers on their website and use them in other publications. David Rosenthal has other opinions.

There is a pledge Research Without Walls going around to "assist in the peer review process (as a reviewer, board/committee member, chair, editor, etc.) only for conferences, journals, and other publication venues that make all accepted publications available to the public for free via the web." Are you signers willing to forgo serving on a STOC or FOCS PC?

I heard a great (though hard to parse) quote second hand from an economist about the ethics of illegally downloading music.
If if I had to pay for it I would pay for it then I will pay for it.
The iTunes model addressed this concern by pricing music so cheaply that one would feel better paying for it than not. Academic publishers should learn this lesson and also price downloads of research papers at $0.99.

My biggest fear of the open access movement is that without a strong alternative model it will just lead to even less CS papers getting published in journals. Even open access won't give access to a paper never written.


  1. Lance - Can you say more about why you feel open access would lead to fewer CS papers being published in journals? Is that you believe there will be fewer journals in such a world?

  2. A puzzle I cannot resolve is: we, authors, do the main job (prepare papers in their final form), editors also do their job (select referees and make decisions). All this is voluntary. (Or isn't it?) What is then a/the role of "publishers"?! Just fine-tuning of the layout? (Which nobody cares about.) Just putting their nice logos on the paper? (Nobody cares anyway, except of hiring guys.) Or is all sense in us allowing them to make profit from our intellectual work?

    The thing called "open access" does just the same, but only on the costs of the authors. I am a great fun of several REALLY open journals, like "Theory of Computing", "Electronic Journal of Combinatorics" and some others. These are REALLY free. Free from making money. Free to all scholars.

  3. P.S. The action pledge Research Without Walls is really NOT what we need. Until the current publication procedure is important for STUDENTS to get their jobs - I will not sign any such (short minded, needless to say) "will not do" form. We must change the WHOLE selection SYSTEM, change its mind first.

  4. Stasys- There are TWO things that the publishing companies give us:

    a) STABILITY. If an open-access journal is started by some academics can you guarantee it will still be there
    in a few years.

    b) Professoinal people managing the website, the stoarge
    of articles, etc.

    I think that really is it. These two items have value.
    The question is, can an open access journal have these two. Electornic Journal of Combinatorics seems to---
    however, when the current crop of editors and such stop doing it, will they survive (I would bet YES- the organization seems to know what they are doing.)

  5. Bill, if the issue would be just STABILITY, half so bad. But why are you so convinced that Elsevier, Springer or whatever WILL keep this? So many publishers had already gone away ... Well, we don't need this for 100 years, it would be enough to have the stability for 10-20 years. Do you really think that papers in El.JC or JoC will disappear after several years? They are already at desks of people working on them.

    I think that ARCHIVING is not that what many institutions are paying now for. They (their libraries) are paying for NEW information. The point is: publishers are taking their money for PUBLISHING, not for archiving.

  6. @GASARCH (#4): both of those functions (stability and professional management) seem more naturally provided by university libraries. Just as libraries currently keep physical copies of books and journals and hire professionals (librarians) to maintain and organize them, there's no reason they couldn't maintain a local mirror of digital articles from all of the open-access journals that institution "subscribes" to. The job of librarians would then shift from managing a physical set of journals towards managing the digital repository.

    Under this model, it's impossible for a journal to "disappear" since copies of all of its articles are backed up in perpetuity at every university in the world. The worst case is that the journal stops putting out new issues, because the editors give up and don't bother to find replacements. In many cases this probably isn't a problem (is it a such a bad thing if a journal dies from lack of interest?) but for the exceptions, I don't see why you need more than a person or two at, say, NSF, with the job description of identifying journals in trouble and finding new people to jumpstart them. Certainly that task alone doesn't justify the existence of an entire multibillion-dollar publishing industry,

  7. @Stasys (#3): the Research Without Walls pledge is a pledge not to review for closed venues, not a pledge not to publish. You're still allowed to encourage your students to submit all the STOC/FOCS papers they want.

  8. Given trends in publishing, it seems almost impossible that Elsevier or Springer will still be here in 100 years. Chances are 100:1 against. Their papers will be lost.

    The ACM is essentially evil. As a researcher, I want my research to be available and helpful. ACM tries to lock it away forever.

  9. Some of open access journals are certainly very good, but one problem with open access is that the other open access journals have very low quality, since it is so cheap to run an open access journal, anybody can run one in the basement. Students from poor countries can be lost in the sea of bad open access journals. Springer and Elsevier can not afford to have very bad journals.

  10. do you parse the quote?

  11. To Anonymous 8:54pm. Elsevier does NOT take care that much care about what type of journals it publishes. Just look at what happen with Chaos, Solitons & Fractals. (Perhaps they managed to clean it by now, although it took quite some complaints and time before they even looked into it.)

  12. These are repeated arguments without any new point. I don't see any point in transferring copyright to ACM. The only benefit it has is that some bureaucrats in ACM keep their jobs. Let face it, ACM and IEEE are not professional associations, they are big organizations with considerable number of employees they have to pay, and similar to all other organizations (including governments) these people are heavily resistant for any kind of change if they can avoid it, and like other organizations they are not very transparent about where they get money from and where it is spent. How much money are they earning from subscription of universities to their DL? How is that money spent? Is there any reason that these information are not widely available for members and general public to see?

    Is having ACM mark on a paper or a journal really a representative of quality of the journal? Of course not. Do we really need it? Of course not. Any expert in theoretical computer science knows what are the top venues for publication. ACM and IEEE need to change from being nontransparent bureaucratic organizations to professional organizations. ACM should make a poll about the issue of copyright from its members and we will know how many members are in agreement with current situation.

  13. @Anonymous 8:54 PM: You say: " access journals have very low quality", and this is right! But please do not mix "open access" with really FREE journals. The first is just a new stream of "new publishers" whose main goal is to make a profit. The second is something I respect very much: free journals made by free scholars. And most of them (as these mentioned by me above) are of very HIGH quality: just look at their editorial boards.

    @Anonymous 8:39: In my eyes, ACM and IEEE are still liberal enough when compared with these "real monsters" (Elsevier, Springer, Wiley etc.) But I share your wish: these are PROFESSIONAL organizations, and so their behavior should be crystal clear. Including the copyright issue. Nobody has convinced me so far that transferring my copyright is good for me, not ONLY for the publisher.

  14. As for cost, it is worth noting the cost of running $400K total, which works out to $7/upload, or 1.4 cents/download.

    Note also that the APS (American Physical Society) has changed its copyright policy in response to member pressure. This should also be possible in other professional societies.

  15. This seems to explain that where some of this extra ordinary profit that publishers make is going.

    > Even not-for-profit societies often make an enormous profit on their journals. In 2004 (the most recent year for which I have figures) the American Chemical Society made a profit of 40 million dollars on revenues of 340 million dollars. Not bad! This money is reinvested in other society activities, including salaries. Top execs receive salaries in the 500k to 1m range (as of 2006, I’m sure it’s quite a bit higher now.)

    Would like to know the numbers for ACM and IEEE.


    Since the issue of publishing in journals comes up often on this blog and is also related to this post.