“In a survey of 27 philosophy of science journal editors we conducted in 2023, many, if not most of them, did not know that they were working in a transformative journal.” A what now?
The landscape of academic publishing is changing. In the following guest post, Sophia Crüwell (Cambridge), Chiara Lisciandra (Groningen), and David Teira (UNED) talk about the push towards Open Access, its effects, and ways it can go better and worse.
Philosophers, Should you Pay to Publish your Paper?
by Sophia Crüwell, Chiara Lisciandra, David Teira
If you have recently had a manuscript accepted by a journal published by one of the traditional subscription-focused publishers (e.g., Springer), you may have noticed a not-so-subtle change in the publication options. As part of your publishing agreement, the interface may nudge you to pay an Author Publication Charge (APC) to publish your paper Open Access. The traditional publish-for-free, behind a paywall, tick appears only in a smaller typeset link somewhere at the bottom of the screen. Why is this happening?
In November 2022, under the auspices of three major international societies in the philosophy of science, we started an inquiry to understand how we ended up here. Back then, research institutions and funding agencies on both sides of the Atlantic had decided that their scientific output should be Open Access (OA): free for everyone to read after publication. (Great! Or so it seems.) To make this happen, funding bodies and other institutions signed Transformative Agreements with publishers, paying for thousands of APCs in advance so (a) their affiliated authors could publish OA at no cost for them; and (b) journals would transition to a Gold Open Access regime, in which APCs, instead of subscriptions, would cover the journal costs.
The drawback: once the transition was completed, authors without the necessary funds may not be able to publish in the leading journals in their fields.
For the funding bodies, as Paola Galimberti explains here, transformative agreements were supposedly temporary and cost-neutral: the money previously spent in subscriptions would be invested in APCs, making research accessible to everybody. But the publishing world is changing: in 2018, 4,18 million articles were published; in 2022, the figure rose to 5,14 million. Many of these were in journals put out by new aggressive publishing houses, like MDPI and Frontiers, in which quantity often trumps quality, because their business model relies entirely on APCs: the more papers they publish, the bigger the earnings.
Recent scandals (about flawed refereeing) have shown the limitations of this approach. For traditional subscription-focussed publishers—as Ties Nijssen from Springer told us in our first panel session in Belgrade—transformative agreements were a strategy to preserve the quality and diversity of their journal portfolio. For example, Frontiers has just one big journal per field, whereas traditional subscription publishers often have many journals that specialize publishing research for a specialized community. The challenge for them was not to make the same mistakes as their new peers and risk becoming seen as predatory. There are already signs that it is not going to be easy.
In the summer of 2023, transformative agreements had their first reality check, as Sabina Leonellli laid it out for us (also in Belgrade). Very few journals had transitioned to a Gold Open Access regime: despite the subsidized APCs, most authors were still choosing to publish for free behind a paywall. This is not necessarily unreasonable: a study by Brad Wray shows that, for most papers, citations tend to be similar whether they are OA or not. cOAlition S, an alliance of EU funding bodies, decided they would not be paying subscription fees and APCs. Traditional publishers decided they would carry on with transformative journals, otherwise they would not be able to resist the competition of the more profitable ventures such as Frontiers and MDPI. This is why you, author, are finding a new interface nudging you to pay in journals where you did not expect it.
Why should this concern you?
It is already happening: Cambridge University Press is moving its leading philosophy journals to a Gold OA regime (see Episteme, here). They promise that if you do not have funds to pay APCs, there will be waivers. While this is generous, it is not guaranteed, and other publishers may not be so generous.
Many scholarly societies pay their expenses (for, e.g., conferences) through the journals they own. Publishers shared with them, as royalties, part of the money they earned via subscriptions. Now, with APCs, it remains to be seen how many journals will survive and how much money they generate for redistribution. Jim Weatherall, editor of a Cambridge journal, Philosophy of Science, explained that their current agreement between Cambridge and the PSA runs for another three years.
Meanwhile, few are noticing: in a survey of 27 philosophy of science journal editors we conducted in 2023, many, if not most of them, did not know that they were working in a transformative journal, evolving into a Gold OA regime. Publishers are seemingly not involving the key stakeholders in this conversation.
Your next question would be, we guess, what should you do about it?
If you are involved in a scholarly society, perhaps you could start a discussion about how central journals are to its mission. For instance, in response to the merger of Studies B with two other Elsevier journals, philosophers of physics have created a society that is entirely devoted to fund a new Diamond Open Access journal, Philosophy of Physics (see its editor, David Wallace, explaining it here)
In your department, you may consider supporting repositories compliant with OA principles, like Philpapers or the Phil-Sci Archive. Forget, please, about Researchgate or Academia.edu: they are for profit. Small scholarly communities like philosophy need to consolidate their own OA institutions to have an alternative if the Gold OA regime comes to prevail.
Let us find better incentives for the people bearing the hidden costs of journal publication, namely editors and reviewers. These are volunteers donating their time with no significant compensation from the publishers. Alex Levine calculated that the time he spent over the decade he edited Perspectives on Science costs $50,000 at his salary rate. That extra million papers published between 2018 and 2022 would only increase the editorial burdens, and few volunteers had an incentive to shoulder more of it. Without, e.g., teaching load reductions, extra points for service in promotion evaluation, etc., we cannot expect non-profit OA institutions to survive.
As of now, this is how the situation looks for us. We will keep reporting.