Quality control on a high level is the key – A Q&A with Christina Riesenweber
Christina, you’ve been an editor at an open access journal yourself and are now spearheading open access at Freie Universität Berlin. We have a candid and naive question for you: what does open access mean in 2018?
I think that in 2018 it is pretty obvious that we’re not discussing whether open access is the way to go, but rather how we can ensure that easy, affordable, large scale open access publication happens. When I say easy, I mean easy for authors to submit, read and share open access research and for administrations to manage it. Open access today means making sure that services of high quality publication are well priced and paid for, and still remain realistic when compared to actual budgets of research institutions. In 2018, the main question regarding open access is: how and by whom is it being paid for?
The other remaining challenge is knowledge dissemination about open access. But we’ve already come a long way.
How would you qualify the open access model of Internet Policy Review?
When we discuss the financial aspect of open access, we usually talk a lot about article processing charges (APCs). But three quarters of all open access journals operate without APCs. Many of these are independent journals without a big publisher backing them. APCs are only suitable for certain disciplines and for researchers who have access to resources to cover APCs.
Internet Policy Review makes a true contribution to open access, in terms of experimentation, as in the larger picture, we need a bibliodiversity of publications. It is therefore not simply a drop in the open access ocean. As there are no well defined categories, it’s hard to qualify Internet Policy Review. But, in the no-APC segment, the journal would probably end up in a category I would call precarious.
That sounds about right. But what exactly do you mean?
It seems that Internet Policy Review is dependent on the goodwill of research institutions. There is no steady flow of income outside the publishing institutions. One could argue, there is insecurity vis-à-vis the future. But I see an advantage over other journals of the same make: the backbone of the journal is ensured by a paid position, that of the Managing editor. This lends the journal some level of stability.
Also, the fact that you use the Creative Commons license CC-BY puts you into the category of “very open” journals - because openness is not binary, but comes on a scale. In the early 2000s, with the Budapest open access initiative and the Berlin declaration, the open access movement advocated not only to enable researchers to write and read, but also to reuse research publications. That was a major stepping stone in the history of open access publications. Researchers, educators, and practitioners don’t have to think twice about how to reuse papers in Internet Policy Review.
Zooming out, where are we at in terms of open access publishing in Europe right now?
Three things are happening: one is that Germany is negotiating publication deals with three major publishers. This will be decisive for the rest of Europe. Germany is an important research and publication location. So what will come out of these negotiations has the power to influence other European academic hubs.
If a large-scale agreement is possible, that would be a precedent.
Secondly, we clearly see something that wasn’t there five years ago: open access is now framed as part of the open science idea. Publication is opening up, but so are other elements of the research life-cycle. You can see this in other European countries and at the European Commission level, for example with the advent of the Open Science Monitor. Thus, open access is not a stand-alone feature anymore, but ties in with other elements of openness, like open research data or open research software.
Third, very recently something important happened. The European Commission decided that is was not going to fund hybrid open access anymore. This is a big step! In some closed subscription journals, authors can pay a fee to make their published article freely available online. The German research council DFG never supported this, but in the UK for example, this was supported. The European Commission realised that this model does not contribute to a large scale transformation to open access and therefore decided to stop funding hybrid open access.
In the larger picture, Europe does have a say when it comes to the publishing landscape. With Elsevier in the Netherlands, Springer in Germany, and many established research centres, Europe’s embrace of open access will most certainly influence other jurisdictions. In the US, the Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), just to mention two important research players, are supporting open access.
With the advent and multiplication of research platforms such as ResearchGate & co, do you continue believing in the chances of small journals to survive?
Every publishing service that can perform academic quality control on a high level, contributes towards making research better. Every service that does that stands a chance to survive. ResearchGate and Academia.edu have no quality control of their own, but are social networks. I wouldn’t have predicted the downfall of MySpace either, so I don’t want to speculate about the future of ResearchGate & co.
In terms of where there is potential for growth, all kinds of meta services will play a very important role in the future. You see major publishers engaging in science monitoring, research information, science metrics, etc. This trend to making research more visible and quantifiable emerged lately, and there is money to be made. So we will likely see some companies’ portfolios change in the future. Whether this affects small publishers and independent publications adversely or not is hard to guess. In any case, the future of academic publishing will be exciting and hold a lot of surprises, I’m sure.
So what about new open access journals?
Teams behind independent journals often overestimate the need for a new journal. Often also, there is not enough technological and librarian knowledge to actually establish a journal successfully and make it visible enough on the gigantic internet. It seems that this does not apply to Internet Policy Review though - you picked a very good spot and found your audience. In my view, however, the pioneer phase is over. We don’t so much need new journals as rather the existing ones to transform to open access.