APSR Open Access Publishing: A PKP User Group Workshop

On Thursday 4 December 2008, I attended the Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories (APSR) Workshop entitled, Open Access Publishing: A PKP User Group Workshop.

PKP is the acronym used for the Public Knowledge Project, a research and development initiative directed toward improving the scholarly and public quality of academic research through the development of innovative online publishing and knowledge-sharing environments (see “About the Public Knowledge Project”). PKP was founded in 1998 and is located at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University in Canada and Stanford University in California. PKP has developed Open Journal Systems (OJS) and Open Conference Systems (OCS), open sources software for the management, publishing and indexing of journals and conferences.

Professor John Willinsky, Director of PKP, Professor of Education at Stanford University School of Education and author of, “The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship” came out to Australia for the workshop, as did PKP Developer, MJ Suhonos. My notes from Professor Willinsky’s plenary address appear in this post.

The workshop was held at the University of Sydney and continued on Friday 5 December. I was unable to attend on Friday, but my colleague, Professor Anne Fitzgerald of QUT Law School, gave a presentation entitled, “Constructing open access by effective copyright management” and QUT’s DVC, Professor Tom Cochrane, spoke on “The Institutional Perspective on Open Access – dos and don’ts”. The full program can be viewed on APSR’s website.

My notes from Thursday follow.

The workshop was primarily focused on users’ experiences with PKP software. So we heard from Eve Young, Helen Morgan and James Williams from the University of Melbourne, Bobby Graham from the National Library of Australia and Susan Lever, Editor of the Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature about their experiences with using OJS and from Peter Jeffery of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) about using OCS. Generally the feedback was very positive (especially for OJS) but some suggestions for improved usability (particularly for non-tech savvy academics) were also made. Susan Lever spoke about the exciting opportunity that online publishing offers where articles can contain in-text live links to other sites offering additional information, images and videos, which greatly enrich the experience of the reader.

The university ePress was also a topic of the day. Lorena Kanellopoulos informed us about the management and operation of Australian National University (ANU) ePress and Dr Alex Byrne spoke about University of Technology Sydney (UTS) ePress. UTS ePress publishes the journal, Portal, which I believe was the first journal to be published in Australian using PKP software. The main point to come out of Lorena and Alex’s presentations, to me, was that university ePress costs were not high and that universities can publish their own journals, using open source software and a “publish online with a print-on-demand option” approach, successfully and cost-effectively. Dr Geoffrey Borny, Visiting Fellow in the School of Humanities, College of the Arts and Social Sciences and Member of the Emeritus Faculty at the Australian National University, gave a personal account of what it was like to publish a book with ANU ePress. He was a very happy customer, saying that ANU ePress was efficient and professional, and that publishing online had given him much wider exposure than he expected.

For me, however, the most interesting presentation of the day (aside from Professor John Wilinsky’s plenary address, which is covered in a separate post) was from Andrew Stammer, Journals Publishing Director at CSIRO Publishing. As Andrew pointed out, the CSIRO Publishing Charter creates an interesting creative tension between CSIRO Publishing’s commercial role and public interest role by stating that CSIRO Publishing is to:

  1. Operate within CSIRO on a commercial basis with its viability entirely dependent on the capacity to generate revenue and sufficient return on investment (i.e. CSIRO Publishing must fund itself – it apparently receives no funding from CSIRO or the Australian Government); and
  2. Carry a national interest publishing obligation on behalf of CSIRO within this commercial role.

Despite not agreeing with everything that Andrew had to say (I was highly amused to see that he included “lobbying” amongst the publishers’ roles, right up there with “striving for quality in content” and “nurturing relationships”), I thought that his presentation was remarkably well balanced. He spoke about the OA initiatives of CSIRO Publishing, including the publishing of an OA journal – The South Pacific Journal of Natural Science. He explained the publishing process, being that publishers:

  • Acquire content;
  • Review and develop content (facilitate peer review);
  • Prepare content for dissemination;
  • Disseminate content; and
  • Promote content and authors.

Andrew also spoke at length about the costs associated with publishing. And these costs seemed quite incredible to me. For journal publishing of 1162 pages, across 108 articles in 12 issues, printing alone costs $43,166. This cost is quite distinct from costs associated with layout, peer review, promotion or even postage (postage additionally cost thousands of dollars). Much of these costs, I think, could be avoided or massively reduced by online dissemination and print-on-demand services.

Yet what really jumped out at me was a graph that Andrew displayed, which he had acquired from the journal article: Rowlands I and Nicholas D (2006) The changing scholarly landscape, Learned Publishing, 19, 31-55. He showed this under the heading, “What do authors want?” and I was only able to quickly scribble down the order in which the items appeared:

  1. Reputation of journal
  2. Readership
  3. Impact factor
  4. Speed of publication
  5. Reputation of editorial board
  6. Online ms submission
  7. Print & electronic versions
  8. Permission to post post-print
  9. Permission to post preprints
  10. Retention of copyright.

Being a lawyer and an advocate that authors retain copyright in their works and only issue their publisher a Licence to Publish, I was rather concerned about “retention of copyright” being last on a list of “what authors want”.

On Friday morning, I looked up the journal article online, it’s full citation being: Rowlands,I., Nicholas,D. (2006). The changing scholarly communication landscape: an international survey of senior researchers. Learned Publishing 19(1), 31-55. ISSN: 0953-1513.

The article presents the results of a survey “on the behaviour, attitudes, and perceptions of 5,513 senior journal authors on a range of issues relating to a scholarly communication system that is in the painful early stages of a digital revolution” (p31). The survey was conducted by CIBER, “an independent publishing think-tank based at University College London” (p31), in early 2005 and was commissioned by the Publishers Association (PA) and the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) with additional support from CIBER associates. I was somewhat skeptical about the survey being commissioned by two publishing bodies, but the article’s authors assure readers that:

The views expressed in the Report and in this article are those of the authors alone, based on the data. They do not represent a corporate position, either of the PA or STM. The survey was conducted in a totally unbiased fashion; the research team (CIBER) has no allegiances other than to the data (p33).

The graph in the article is labeled “Figure 7 Reasons for choosing last journal: averages, where 5 = very important, 1 = not at all important (n = 5,513)” not “what authors want”. The actual figures in the graph were –

  • Reputation of the journal – 4.50
  • Readership – 4.21
  • Impact factor – 4.04
  • Speed of publication – 3.89
  • Reputation of editorial board – 3.55
  • Online manuscript submission – 3.43
  • Print and electronic versions – 3.21
  • Permission to post post-print – 2.58
  • Permission to post pre-print – 2.34
  • Permission to retain copyright – 2.31

In my opinion, the reasons why an author may have chosen to publish in a particular journal in the past are not necessarily indicative of what may influence them to publish where in future, especially in this very changable environment of academic publishing. Yet it is still somewhat concerning to see permissions to post pre and post print versions of the article and to retain copyright rate so low.

The question must be asked why the survey results may have shown these preferences. I think it is important to point out that this survey was undertaken in 2005, so does not reflect the most current state of affairs. Additionally, the authors identify the age of the survey respondents as being a potential influencing factor:

More than a third (35.9%) of the respondents are baby boomers, aged 45 or older, and many of their attitudes will have been formed during a long period of relative stability for the academic sector, at a time when the current difficulties facing institutional library budgets and the scholarly communication market were not so evident (p37).

The authors also write:

Many spoke of the influence of external measures, like impact factors, in determining where they feel they have to publish, sometimes to the detriment of their readers (p41).

However, “readership” and “speed of publication” rated almost as highly as “reputation of journal” and “impact factor” – features which I would argue could be delivered quite effectively by OA journals, even relatively new ones.

My final point in relation to this article is that I perceived an implicit bias against OA publishing, despite the authors’ claims to the contrary. This I perceived from the phrasing of questions with a negative slant (for example, “How disruptive is open access?”) and from comments such as this:

There is a significant relationship between previous experience of publishing in an open access environment and researcher’s attitudes to the value they attach to peer review. Authors who have published in an open access journal are more likely to attach lower value to the importance of peer review (p44).

To me, this statement implies that OA journals do not necessarily use peer review or value peer review, which is simply not true.

Notwithstanding my opinions about how the results of the survey are presented, the article is an interesting read. The OAK Law Project has also conducted its own survey, in 2007, on the attitudes and practices of Australian academic authors in relation to the publication and dissemination of their research. The survey report can be accessed here (or by direct link to PDF).