A Brave New World of Open Access Publishing

Published on 4 February 2016

As the Institute of Development Studies enters its fiftieth year, it is fitting that its flagship publication, the IDS Bulletin, should turn to an open-access mode of publication. For IDS has always aimed to understand the world in order to better it. By allowing anyone access to read the work, for free, online, the latest iteration of IDS Bulletin will be able to reach new audiences both inside and outside of academia and to thereby achieve the greatest impact from its publications.

‘Open access’ refers to peer-reviewed research and scholarship that is free to read and re-use online. It is possible in the research environment through the happy coincidence of two aspects: first, that researchers are able to give away their work and do not rely on sales for a salary; and second, that the internet has reconfigured the dissemination costs of material. The fact that researchers need not sell their work for a living – but are instead funded through salaries and grants – means that they research and publish for reasons other than economic gain. This gives the theoretical grounding for allowing their readers to access work for free. The second element, that the digital environment all but eradicates the cost-per-copy of disseminating work, combines with this to suggest that open, online circulation is possible in the world of research.

The cost of publishing

Publishing, however, is never a cost-free enterprise. The labour in getting to the first copy of an article (after which dissemination costs are lower in the digital age) still includes maintaining a platform (including hosting), coordinating peer review, typesetting, copyediting, proofreading, digital preservation, assigning DOIs, marketing, and business overheads. If labour is to be fairly remunerated, these costs must still be covered.

The risks of transferring costs from reader to author

One of the most notorious ways in which publishers have sought to adapt their business models for open access and to thereby cover these labour costs (as well as surplus/profits) is through a system of Article Processing Charges (APCs). These APCs can extend upwards to £3,000 per article. Those with funding or wealthy institutions can sometimes afford to cover these, but this too often becomes itself an exclusionary mode that locks out voices on the supply side. Without care, this specific business model can become one that transfers exclusion from the reader-side to the author-side.

The IDS model

It is, therefore, excellent that IDS Bulletin has avoided APCs through a combination of project funding and general overheads in order to cover the costs. This will enable equality to flourish not just in a readership unhindered by the barriers of finance, but by allowing co-participation in the production of knowledge on the basis of merit, rather than wealth. I look forward to seeing how the innovative thinkers at IDS will advance this model and what adaptations and partnerships will emerge in future years to support their forward-thinking publication programme.

The IDS Bulletin’s brave step forward

As we enter a brave new world of online publishing, there is a temptation to feel fearful, to worry that the benefits of change may be outweighed by what has been lost from the past. It is clear, though, that in this case there is cause only for optimism. The rigorous and respected publication that is IDS Bulletin continues to produce the highest standard of work, valued by the international community of academics, policymakers, activists, and other publics. It is now free to read online for any of these audiences who might not otherwise have access. Access alone, of course, is not enough. Change does not come just from making material available freely online. However, this may prove to be a necessary but insufficient condition in the twenty-first century. That IDS Bulletin has taken this step is to be commended.

Dr. Martin Paul Eve

Senior Lecturer in Literature, Technology and Publishing

Birkbeck, University of London

Author of Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts Controversies and the Future (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Available open access.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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