A Movement Against For-Profit Journals


Is there a burgeoning movement in philosophy to avoid for-profit journals?

A professor of philosophy writes:

I’ve now met over twenty-five junior and/or rising senior (e.g., assistant to early associate) faculty around the globe who are adopting a new policy towards journal refereeing. I don’t know whether there’s some sort of “movement” along these lines, but perhaps there should be. I myself am leaning towards adopting the same policy — and will in turn resign from various editorial boards that don’t meet the policy—but would first like to see a much wider discussion on the topic.

The issue is not new: too many journals are part of an aggressively for-profit (perhaps profiteering) model. The only way to change things for the better is in the hands of authors and referees.

A policy for authors: unless there is special reason to do so, do not submit papers to aggressively for-profit journals! (What is a special reason? Each author may need to decide for herself.)

A policy for referees: unless there is special reason to do so, do not referee papers for aggressively for-profit journals! (What is a special reason? Each referee may need to decide for herself.)

An abstract example of a special reason might be that the journal’s profits directly fund important philosophical work—including, for example, some philosophical association, some philosophical institute, or even research fellowships/grants for philosophers.

A concrete example of a special reason: the Australasian Journal of Philosophy (AJP) is now owned by Taylor & Francis, which is a clear (though perhaps not the absolute worst) model of an aggressively for-profit approach to journals. But there is (or would seem to be) a special reason to submit to and referee for the AJP: namely, the AJP provides a great deal of support for the Australasian Association of Philosophy (AAP).

Oxford University Press is a clear example of a not-for-profit publisher, and so falls outside of the aggressively for-profit models. There are others, not to mention the rising wealth of open-access journals. (See this running list from Feminist Philosophers.)

Famously, mathematicians and linguists have taken strong steps towards changing a bad practice in journal publishing. Philosophy can make a strong step by adopting the above policy for authors and referees.

Question: Is there some reason that we (or at least tenured faculty) ought not adopt the given policy?

For data about the pricing of philosophy journals and some discussion of these issues, see this previous post.

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John Schwenkler
John Schwenkler
5 years ago

I have thought often about adopting a policy like this with respect to refereeing.

And then each time I get a referee request from a journal published by Springer or Wiley or whomever it occurs to me that the submitted paper is probably written by some young scholar who might be on a timetable dictated by the job market, and so really needs the paper to be refereed.

And so I accept the invitation (unless busy for some other reason, etc.).

I do make a point to accept more consistently when the request comes from a not-for-profit journal.

And I am trying to send my own work to less capitalist outlets, though I’ll admit that I am inconstant here, and that the inconstancy is largely self-serving.

But having such a policy with respect to refereeing seems just wrong, because its effects will be mostly on those least able to bear it.Report

Dave Ripley
Reply to  John Schwenkler
5 years ago

It’s got to be right that refereeing more is in some ways better than refereeing less, more or less no matter who you’re refereeing for, since the costs of not having a referee for one’s paper in time can be quite high for people in unstable employment. Surely, though, this needs to be balanced against the costs of contributing to (and thus helping to preserve) a for-profit publishing system like the one we have. It’s worth remembering that some of the biggest costs of this for-profit publishing system also fall on those not well-placed to bear them: researchers in underfunded institutions, particularly in the global South, whether precariously-employed or not. (And here even not-for-profit publishers don’t come out smelling like roses: recall the lawsuit by OUP and CUP, together with T&F, against Delhi University.)

But for those who receive too many referee requests to accept them all, the reason you point to seems not to push either way; it’s a reason to referee *more*, not a reason to direct one’s supply of refereeing towards or away from any particular journals. It would be a reason against adopting the letter-writer’s proposed practice only if adopting that practice will lead someone to referee less than they otherwise would; and even in such cases, there’s further weighing to be done. (I have no idea how to do the weighing.)Report

John Schwenkler
John Schwenkler
Reply to  Dave Ripley
5 years ago

Dave (if I may), what you say would apply only if I got so many invitations to referee that I could referee as many papers as I ought to without refereeing any from the predatory journals. Thankfully (?) I am not yet that much in demand. If I were asked then I probably could referee even more than I do (though please, don’t let the journal editors know this!), and so whether a journal is for-profit is only one factor I have to consider in choosing whether or not to accept an invitation — a factor which in most is outweighed by my sense that refereeing is valuable service to the profession, especially those members of it who are less established than myself. Letting a principled objection to cooperating with for-profit (and, as you say, some not-for-profit) publishers get in the way of this service — as opposed, say, to the advancement of my own career or research agenda — seems misguided to me.Report

Skef
Skef
5 years ago

Given the state of communication technology, the excuses for continuing with for-profit publication are very weak. Neither authors nor reviewers are paid under the current system. Typesetting is sometimes raised as an issue, but a) there are systems out that allow for standardized typesetting — much of Math publication runs directly from the author via TeX to the page — and b) the “look” of uniform typesetting isn’t worth the current system anyway. There is copy-editing, but those standards (and prices) have gone down a great deal with both the current publishers and with publishing in general. Articles made available on the Web would be available to all, and archiving is a solvable problem at much lower prices than the extortionate ones libraries are paying for journals now.

So what remains seems to be a status issue — many of the existing prestige journals are for-profit, and given the job market (and I suppose tenure-track and post-tenure promotions) prestige can’t just be set aside. This is not a good reason. We should feel silly and embarrassed by it.

It seems to me that the most straightforward way through this block would involve some coordination. Something along the lines of:

1) The APA would encourage new non-profit journals in areas (subjects, tiers) that aren’t well represented now, if any. (it could encourage and facilitate the sharing of technical knowledge, for example.)
2) Individual philosophers would have the option of declaring on their CV that they only submit to non-profit journals. (Or perhaps only “open” journals, but one new standard would be better than multiple ones.)
3) Departments would agree to evaluate and promote those philosophers making the declaration keeping in mind the restricted set of journals. (The APA could make suggestions as to how to make comparisons between the two groups if necessary.)

It seems to me that if we made this an option, you might quickly have enough philosophers at all levels taking the option so that prestige of the remaining for-profit journals going forward would be seriously called into question. And that might be all it takes to effect the change that’s so clearly needed.Report

Enzo Rossi
5 years ago

I’m contemptuous of predatory publishers and decidedly in favour of open access. Having said that, two observations seem in order:

1) Not all for-profit publishers are created equal. Some support Green Open Access without embargo: they allow authors to upload the accepted version of the manuscript to their institution’s repository and personal website even before it appears in the journal. Perhaps those repositories should become better at creating versions of record that people can cite confidently, and we need to become more relaxed about which version is cited. This may not be how we’d do things if academic publishing had been invented in the 21st century, but it’s a long way from the predatory practices that prompted this movement.

2) Producing and archiving journal issues costs money. Several OA journals now charge submission fees. It’s not clear that the fees will remain low once that is the predominant funding model. Imagine a world in which journals are predominantly produced by academic consortia and funded by submission fees. Most academics will always have an interest in keeping the fees low, but the techs and administrators running the practical side of publishing may well have other views. Look at what happens in universities in general.

Disclosure: I am the co-editor of the European Journal of Political Theory, which is published by Sage with a Green Open Access policy like the one described above.Report

P.D.
Reply to  Enzo Rossi
5 years ago

Green OA (aka putting preprints on your website) is an obvious good thing. I am astonished how few philosophers do it.Report

Clement
Clement
5 years ago
Dave Ripley
Reply to  Clement
5 years ago

If we understand “publisher” in the way most relevant to the present discussion, I reckon it doesn’t include the editors, referees, authors, and other academics that actually do a ton of what’s on that list. “Reject papers” (10) is one of the functions of a publisher? “Accept papers” (12) is a different one? “Don’t lose papers” (13) another one? “Find referees, be nice to them, and teach them how to use your online system” (17–19)? I am an editor for two journals, one affiliated with a publisher (CUP) and one not, and both journals do these things in the same way: we the editors do them, together with the online system (which is itself not built or maintained by a publisher, in either case). I’m all for realistically taking account of the value that publishers do or don’t provide to journals, but that list seems artificially inflated to make it look like they’re doing much more than they are.

Then there’s the separate question of whether everything publishers do really ought to be done. At least some of what’s on that list (60 and 63) has the direct result of hindering scholarship, and large chunks of the list are completely unnecessary for open access journals. My favorite, though, is definitely 85: “put your ill-gotten wealth into real estate”!Report

Ron Ellingsworth
5 years ago

To me Philosophy should not be sold. To have value it must be given away, open to all. I think of Socrates or Confucius saying “Pay me and I will share my ideas”. To me if money is main reason to promote an idea then Philosophy is the wrong venue.Report

Dave Ripley
5 years ago

I aspire to a practice very like the one described in the letter. I receive far too many referee requests to accept them all, and this works as a way to choose which to accept in a way that I hope does some good for the discipline as a whole.

For authoring, I’m less consistent, both because a significant proportion of my work is coauthored (I don’t expect my coauthors to share my priorities!), and because I believe publication venue still shapes the way a paper is received, especially for less-known or younger philosophers like me. The more established the philosopher, however, the less excuse I think this second point provides. When I was year-to-year, I was purely mercenary; now that I have a tenure-track gig, I take publication practices more seriously in deciding where to submit, even though they are not my only consideration.

To the letter-writer: I don’t see any such reason. Please help us make philosophy, and academic publishing as a whole, fairer and better!Report

dmf
dmf
5 years ago

seems like if nothing else there should be some kind of time limit on how long publishers charge for a work, after a year or even several months why not give them away and perhaps create some interest/goodwill from the taxpaying public that supports so much of academic philosophy?
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/business/a-rising-call-to-promote-stem-education-and-cut-liberal-arts-funding.htmlReport

LUG
LUG
5 years ago

I’m (not) surprised by the lack of radicalism in the response thus far. Why have journals *at all*? It seems like the only benefit to journals over general repositories (arxiv, philpapers) is some sort of curatorial or gate-keeping role (and again we should questions the importance of these functions). But the publishers don’t even do this! Academics do this work themselves in peer review and beyond it. Why not have a public, transparent review system over-layed onto, say, philpapers?Report

matt w
matt w
Reply to  LUG
5 years ago

Yes, this. Designing a good public, transparent review system would be non-trivial to say the least. But the current system came into being under very different circumstances–when journals really helped disseminate papers rather than making them harder to find, when (so I believe) journals could reasonably handle the number of submissions they got. We should give serious thought about how to replace it.

Just another anecdote about how the journal system is hindering the dissemination of scholarship even without the help of paywalls; I’ve heard people talk about how they won’t submit a paper under the title of a talk they’ve given, so peer reviewers can’t find out their identity by searching on the name of the paper and finding a reference to the talk–and for those reasons they certainly can’t post the paper before it is accepted for publication. (Sadly, I’ve heard it said that this is especially good advice for women.) So we’re keeping our ideas hidden, rather than sharing them, because of the demands of the system that determines whether we’re allowed to mark a paper as certified fresh on our CV! It’s sad.

(Though, given that we do have a journal system, I agree that it’s much better to support open-access and then non-profit publishers over the for-profit journals, especially the most rapacious ones.)Report

Chris Surprenant
5 years ago

Why all of the for-profit bashing? If someone produces a high-quality journal, has a fast turn around time for reviews and the publication of articles, and otherwise has high professional standards, why does it matter if they’re profiting off of it? It seems to me that we should be focusing on the quality of the articles that appear in print, as well as the quality and timeliness of reviews when determining whether or not a journal should be avoided or not. The discussion of profit here seems entirely irrelevant.

With that said, there’s no reason why we couldn’t get more good journals to go online and open access, supported by advertising revenue or a modest fee for accessing the articles. The APA had a wonderful opportunity to move in this direction with the Journal of the APA, but it dropped the ball here.Report

Enzo Rossi
Reply to  Chris Surprenant
5 years ago

I agree that much moralising about profits in unhelpful, but think about it in terms of opportunity costs and cartels.Report

matt w
matt w
Reply to  Chris Surprenant
5 years ago

“If someone produces a high-quality journal, has a fast turn around time for reviews and the publication of articles, and otherwise has high professional standards, why does it matter if they’re profiting off of it?”

Because they way they profit off of it is by charging outlandish prices to university libraries, which are effectively a captive audience. Those profits are coming out of the pockets of our employers, and thus out of our pockets and the pockets of our students and the pockets of the taxpayers who subsidize our universities, to the tune of literally millions per year for some university libraries. And the vast majority of the work that goes into those high quality articles and that fast review time is done entirely for free by the academics whose institutions wind up paying for it. We hand our labor over to the publishers and they sell it back dear.

I also question whether the for-profit publishers really are more likely to produce high-quality journals with fast turnaround times and high professional standards. When the editors of Lingua split to found the open-access journal Glossa, did the quality go down? Certainly recent goings-on at Synthese do not suggest that an extravagant subscription price ensures high professional standards.Report

Antony Eagle
5 years ago

I know something about the AAP and AJP, and want to underscore something the original correspondent said. The AAP, not T&F, is the owner of the AJP (and its new-in-2017 sister journal, the Australasian Philosophical Review). The AAP grants the right to publish the journals to T&F, in return for a very significant income stream. Part of this stream supports the AJP editor and the editorial office at UNSW, and the remainder goes to fund the other activities of the Association. These publication rights provide the largest source of income for the AAP, and the AAP could not carry on its activities without this income.

Personally, I’m a strong supporter of open access and I’m sure most members of the AAP can see its benefits. But it is not financially possible, given its other sources of income, for the AAP to fund the AJP as an open access journal while continuing to pursue the main aims of the Association of supporting and promoting philosophy in the region. I am sure that the APA faces the same sort of issues, which may be a reason why JAPA is also published by license with a publisher.Report

Ron Ellingsworth
5 years ago

I would like to expand on my earlier comments. To me Philosophy is “Not for Profit”. As such it requires sharing with no price tag or copy write. If I am writing a book and an article that will be sold then I should be charged to use others time and/or knowledge for reviewing and/or refereeing. It a idea is free then it should be free, if I wish to profit then all should profit.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Ron Ellingsworth
5 years ago

” If I am writing a book and an article that will be sold then I should be charged to use others time and/or knowledge for reviewing and/or refereeing.”

You are, in effect. The publisher pays the reviewers and referees, and then keeps part of the net profit after those costs and passes the rest to you as royalties.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

“The publisher pays the reviewers and referees, and then keeps part of the net profit after those costs and passes the rest to you as royalties.”

This is true only of books, in my experience. I’ve received a small sum for refereeing books, but the only compensation that journals have ever offered for refereeing is a discount on books from their publisher, nor do they pay any royalties. (I haven’t coauthored or edited any books so I can’t speak to their royalty rates; I do not receive royalties for any chapters I have written for books.)Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Matt Weiner
5 years ago

Fair enough. I suppose I skipped the “article” clause because the issue was whether the author made a profit and it’s vanishingly rare to make a profit from an article.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

Yes, I think the original poster is conflating writing something that will be sold with making a profit from the article. And–textbooks and required coursebooks aside, which are a whole other kettle of fish–I’d guess that any book that makes the author significant royalties is probably exempt from these concerns. Frankfurt probably made some money from “On Bulls–t,” and I’m sure his publisher did, but that’s because it was bought by a bunch of people who wanted to have the book, and priced to sell to them. This is where I’d make an exception to what I said to Chris Surprenant; when publishers are profiting by selling a book to people who want it, as opposed to libraries that are obliged to buy it, I don’t think there’s the same issue; and there market forces will actually work to keep the price reasonable. But again, I don’t know these numbers firsthand.

Still, I think the state of things is this:
Except for popular bestsellers and coursebooks, authors of books and articles don’t see significant income from their publication.
Some publishers see more profit from those publications than others. (And as I said below, the Synthese imbroglio suggests that profit might not be positively correlated with professional standards.)
What individual philosophers get out of this is that publishing articles and books gives us the kind of certification that (sometimes) allows us to get jobs, keep our jobs, and advance professionally. And in the case of book publishing, the production of the physical book is a useful service too (maybe I’m just overgeneralizing from my own case here, but I read physical books and not physical journal articles).
And then there are cases like that of the AJP that Antony Eagle mentioned, where a philosophical association has been able to capture a fair amount of the revenue from the journal and use it to promote philosophy… but I don’t know how common that is.

(By the way, I’m also “matt w” on this thread. Either I was logged into something or I let my autocomplete fill in my usual internet posting handle.)Report

Dan Weijers
5 years ago

With the help of many academics, Aaron Jarden and I set up the International Journal of Wellbeing (in 2010). The journal is online only and fully open access (all content free to all readers and no author fees). It is much cheaper and easier than you might think to set up a good open access journal. Overheads are about US$1,000 per year, and per article costs are about US$200, which includes professional copyediting, layout, and proofreading. At a pinch, copyediting, layout, and proofreading could be done by editors, grad students, and institutional friends that might reside in English or Library departments. We don’t use advertising to generate revenue, but we could probably get close to covering our overheads if we did. We fund the journal through charitable and university grants. Many institutions are skeptical of funding journals, but a persuasive case can easily be made (combine the costs I listed above with some of the more general comments above).

The only potential problem is the proliferation of bogus online only open access journals. If you can make it clear your journal is legitimate, then you can be successful. Luckily legitimacy can be gained by having a well-known editorial board, and equally luckily, most academics are eager to put their name to genuinely high quality and open access projects. Thanks mainly to its open access status and support from academics in the field, the IJW has been a huge success, with nearly 500,000 article downloads over 5 years (since issue one came out in 2011), articles with over 100 citations, and submissions by many of the leaders in the field.

I can see a future in which libraries and other university departments run and self-fund open access journals. With the top journals bringing prestige to the university, and the universities realizing that (once we get there) the cost to universities will probably be much lower than it is now, the incentives still seem to be in the right place.

If anyone is considering setting up an online journal and wants advice, please get in touch.Report

graduate student
graduate student
5 years ago

#63 on “What publishers do” is Anti-Piracy, apparently:
“Anti-piracy efforts. [NEW] Authors, editors, and publishers are all concerned with piracy, and publishers are on the front line. Identifying pirated materials, sending takedown notices, enforcing these, and reviewing related reports all take effort and attention. Occasionally, a piracy incident escalates. On a broader scale, publishers collaborate to ensure they operate in a framework that decreases the likelihood of piracy. Expense: $. Difficulty: Usually low, sometimes high. Duration: Sporadic.”

link: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2016/02/01/guest-post-kent-anderson-updated-96-things-publishers-do-2016-edition/

So, “publishers” collaborate to hunt down people like Aaron Swartz, who distributed material from JStor. There is a lot of philosophy on JStor. They threatened him with 35 years in prison. He died. Now Elsevier is after Alexandra Elbakyan. Enhancing access to academic articles is good. Hunting down people who do this, threatening them with horrendous prison sentences and court-backed extortion, is a bad thing. We should actively support people like Swartz and Elbakyan, not work for those who hunt them.

Justin, could you raise this issue somehow? Like, are philosophy publishers in with the hunt on activists like Swartz and Elbakyan? Do this only apply to for-profit publishers or to other publishers too? Or does it happen on the level of databases and not journals, but is there any distinction to be made as far as the publishing outlet is concerned? To stop working for the publishers who participate in the crackdown on intellectual activists seems a small thing to do for all the activists working to spread academic knowledge to the dispossessed (or anyone not willing or able to pay outlandish sums for even a single article, not to mention how they rip off the very academic institutions that produce their content). I’d say a decision to not publish for the anti-piracy lobby goes naturally together with not publishing for-profit.Report

Shen-yi Liao
Reply to  graduate student
5 years ago

As an author of some articles, let me state emphatically—in case any publisher is reading this—that I don’t give a fuck about piracy. I am far more concerned, as graduate student says, with publishers’ persecution of the so-called pirates like Swartz and Elbakyan.Report

Dave Ripley
Reply to  graduate student
5 years ago

To add my own two cents: as an author, I give a lot of fucks about piracy. In particular, it’s important to me that piracy happens as much as possible, as easily as possible, and with as few downsides as possible for those engaged. When a reader pirates an author’s book or article, both parties benefit; without piracy, my work would be worse and would have a narrower audience. There are industries where the question of piracy raises difficult questions, but academic publishing—where those who produce and quality-check the product are not paid out of the revenues produced—is not one of them.Report

Ron Ellingsworth
5 years ago

First profanity proves ignorance. Second if you don’t like the rules of the game you are in become the leader of the game and change the rules or make your own game with your own rules.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Ron Ellingsworth
5 years ago

Hm, you couldn’t be more wrong about ‘profanity’, actually. You might better conclude that Prof. Liao is smarter and has a bigger vocabulary, but the sample size is small so let’s be cautious.
I guess I’ll plug JESP while I’m at it. Non-profit, open, free, and looking forward to getting lots of enthusiastic refereeing as this movement grows!Report