Beyond the Great Firewall: Gold Open Access Journals in China

The discussions about academic publishing and Open Access, which my team and I follow, take place, to a large extent, on social media networks: Twitter in particular, but also the blogosphere is where the latest developments are often first mentioned, spread, and deliberated. Much of this discourse is carried out in English or other European languages.  This may explain why it has been so tricky for those of us lacking the linguistic skills to learn about Open Access in China.

I had the chance to get a personal impression of the developments beyond the great firewall, i.e. beyond my limited reach on Twitter, Blogger, et al., when I participated in the first Sino-German Training Workshop on Open Access Publishing in Beijing (March 12-13, 2014).

Hosted by the Chinese-Deutsches Zentrum für Wissenschaftsförderung (Sino-German Center for Research Promotion) and superbly organized by members of the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences under the leadership of its director Zhang Xiaolin, an 11-strong German delegation came together with an 11-strong Chinese delegation and about half a dozen representatives of the publishing industry to introduce, discuss, and exchange information about Open Access gold publishing across academic disciplines. The lecture hall was filled with an audience of about seventy or eighty Chinese editors, librarians, publishers, and students.

Panels discussed hosting, networks and tools, the perspectives of commercial publishers, setting up and managing open access publishing funds, transitioning from subscription to open access models, and re-use and licensing. A collection of most slideshows (some in English, others bi-lingual) can be found here, except the excellent presentation on issues of licensing by one of the organizers, Alan Ku (Ku Liping), which can be found here (replete with a cover shot of the Chinese edition of the book on Creative Commons licenses by James Baker, Martin Eve, and Ernesto Priego)

In his keynote lecture, Professor Zhang offered a comprehensive overview of open access strategies, practices, and challenges in China (See here for an article by him on this issue published in UKSG’s Insights). One of his most pressing questions, which also resurfaced throughout the two days, was “Who will pay for this?” The quest for sensible business models and long-term sustainability is as urgent in China as it is in the West. Another highlight in Zhang’s keynote was the rapid and steady increase of papers, citations, and funding (as % of GDP). China is by now the world’s third most quoted and the second most productive R&D country i.t.o. publications. Zhang also pointed to certain problems, particularly the danger of cyclicality: things that are published in China being also quoted in China and thus skewing the mterics. On the other hand,  the number of publications based on international collaborations have been rising steadily over the last 10 years from 8000 to 30000.

Behind this boost and indeed the considerable number of Open Access journals across China is the staunch support of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the National Science Library.  CAS announced its pursuit of Open Access in in the wake of Berlin 8 back in 2010 and continuously expanded their portfolio of Open Access journals. The 2012 move to join SCOAP3, so Zhang, had a transformative effect in the STM community. There is also the strong consortium of the National Science and Technology Digital Library (NSTL) which, as part of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, has been playing a key role in securing China’s access to international science publications since 2008 and now is a crucial supporter of China’s open access developments.

Obviously, not all open access gold endeavors coming out of China are part of CAS’ and NSTL’s infrastructure.  Yingkuan Wang, who is managing editor of IJABE, the International Journal of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, showed how a mixture of Author Processing Fees (which can be waived on request), conference organization, and advertisement keeps his journal afloat.

IJABE is running on OJS, which is also what most of the German journal projects presented at the workshop are using. Surprisingly, the Chinese audience and the rest of the Chinese delegates were not really familiar with the platform. When asked how many people in the room know about OJS, only one hand went up.  There was a very lively discussion session at the end of the workshop where the many pros and few cons of OJS were debated by those using the platform on a daily basis (and yes, I may be partial).  Perhaps it was enough to sway some of the Chinese editors in the room to give it a try. At the same time, it was highly interesting to see some of the latest alternatives that Chinese coders are developing.

China’s efforts to participate, organize, and further open access developments in publishing are impressive. Behind it stands a strong competitiveness for excellence and prestige in the global R&D environment.  Index factors, altmetrics, and other indicators of reception and reuse of Chinese research publications play a very big a role. Commercial publishers such as BioMedCentral know this and are already deeply involved in the Chinese research market – or so I gathered from the presentation/pitch in Chinese given by BMC’s Danqing Wang. While this push into traditional research outlets is unsurprising, it is vital that non-for-profit publishing outfits foster and expand their collaborations with Chinese open access initiatives to help curb overpriced APFs and other pitfalls that come with the territory.  I found it reassuring that the Chinese colleagues are as acutely aware of them as we are and just as interested in avoiding them.

I would have loved to tweet about this highly inspiring and interesting event but the great firewall made that impossible.  For the purposes of a productive exchange with open access colleagues in China, I will have to engage in good old fashioned e-mail correspondence, skyping, and hopefully personal contact. We will definitely continue talking!




Staring Into the Generational Gap: Munich’s Panel Discussion “Junior Researchers, Publishers, Libraries, and Open Access. Contemporary Publishing in the Humanities,” 11 February 2014.

Last week, the panel discussion “Junior researchers, publishers, libraries, and open access”, which was organized by the Bavarian State Library (BSB) and LMU’s Graduate Center, took place in the lecture hall of the Catholic Academy’s Kardinal Wendel Haus in Munich. The event was attended by more than three hundred people. The BSB’s Lilian Landes delivered a concise opening statement about the current challenges facing young humanities and social science researchers when it comes to the decision where to publish their dissertation. She posed a few juicy questions to the panel, about quality management and who picks up the tab; about how trade publishers will face the oncoming sea-change of information and publications; what services will become publishers’ unique contribution to the communication process and for how much money; how the growing scepticism among young researchers towards the publishing system can be met; how the notion of “if it is not online, it does not exist” can be dealt with in the humanities, where we are not yet facing as much pressure as in the STEM fields; what role will the prestige factor play in the open access development; how or whether universities are changing their rules and regulations about PhD bestowal to allow for open access. In short: Landes offered the panel plenty of threads to discuss an issue that concerns an entire generation of young researchers and that is in desperate need of a serious approach.

Munich Panel

Panel discussion on publishing options for junior researchers in the humanities. Munich, February 2014

What followed was a lacklustre exchange of polite opinions, most of which were based on relatively modest familiarity with the issue of open access. The notable exceptions were Hubertus Kohle (@hkohle), an art-historian and active supporter of open access, and Klaus Ceynowa, the deputy general director of the Bavarian State Library. The rest of the decision makers, who sat at a long desk flanked by Jesus on the cross and a modern art impression of divine light, exchanged half-baked truisms, seasoned only with a couple of references. One was the irksomly ill-informed article by Juergen Kaube in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of February 5th with the slightly sensationalist title “Academics face threat of being coerced into self-publishing“.  Also, last year’s OAPEN’s report was reassuringly waved about by the representative of the publishing industry, Stefan von der Lahr, happily pointing to the report’s finding that the publication of open access books does not lessen revenue of print versions. This proved that von der Lahr was neither controversial nor concerned enough to throw down the gauntlet to Kohle or anyone else harboring pro-open access opinions. To the contrary: he works for C.H. Beck, a traditional, German-language, family owned publishing house in Munich, which just began collaborating with Open Edition Books – a sure sign that this publisher is willing to explore the changes afoot in the industry. Still, von der Lahr did not really know how to respond to the chair’s question about the pressure on young scholars to publish in English, or their need for visibility. It is not part of his daily business and so he could not address it with conviction.

This was true for most of the panel. Bernd Huber, the president of the LMU (Ludwig Maximilian University Munich), admitted that he knew very little about the issue at hand. He did opine, however, that open access gold would probably raise the costs for authors and be ultimately unaffordable; Ceynowa offered some helpful numbers about the library’s journal subscription (62500 journals in total including OA, cost about 7 million Euros per year), but also thought that hybrid publishing will be too expensive. Martin Schulze Wessel, historian and president of the Association of German Historians, spoke of how historians weave great narratives and insisted that such narratives will always require a bound book to hold them. The chair, Thierry Chervel (@chervel), co-founder of the internet culture-magazine Perlentaucher, not only refused to push these gentlemen out of their comfort zone, he came across as surprisingly fuzzy, if not to say ill-prepared, about open access issues.

The general impression was that this conversation could easily have played out in a cigar-smoke filled club somewhere. A benevolent, collegial, non-committal chat amongst peers.

Then Chervel invited questions from the floor and things changed. One question about whether it was possible to install a GitHub repository for the humanities at the state library, made it obvious that most of the gentlemen on the podium were incapable of grasping such questions and that they had extremely little in common with the young scholars whose professional publishing career they were supposed to discuss. Just the odd silence following this question made the trip to Munich worthwhile!

At the reception afterwards, one young art-historian mused: “What will they do, when they get hit by the wave of data and publication that is currently building momentum? They have no idea that it is coming their way!” She also told me that she and her colleagues (from a variety of disciplines) do not really want books anymore. Instead they are looking for communicative possibilities that allow for a completely new way of building knowledge with open review, possibilities of remixing, reusing, and expanding information in a variety of directions.

Despite the relatively superficial discussion, this event impressed me. Not for the things that were said – there was nothing new for me to learn – but because it was the first time that I witnessed with such clarity the considerable generational gap between most decision-makers who still think of e-mail and pdfs as newfangled communicative formats and those young scholars who are ready to altogether abandon linear narrative with its distinct authors and individual contribution to the field. In other words, the latter no longer wish to formulate their contribution to universal knowledge in that 600 year old genre that the former see as an indispensable hallmark of serious intellectual endeavor, which, should it bear the prestigious stamp of a recognizable publisher, must be “good”. This is is hard to swallow for a younger generation, whose research is often interdisciplinary and contributes to complex, digital information and research architecture not only with writing and data but also with coding. Try and explain such accomplishments to hiring panels that include decision makers who openly admit that they judge the quality of a young academic’s work at least partially by the name of the publisher who printed it.

Munich illustrated some strong positions on both sides of this generational divide. On the side of the establishment there is a significant fear-factor. Van der Lahr rightly pointed to some of the highly allergic reactions of (particularly smaller) publishers to the open access development because it may well become an existential threat to them. I also think that Schulze Wessel has a point with his great narrative needing an appropriate genre, although it certainly does not have to be a bound book. I do believe that building a linear argument, to support, sustain and prove it over the course of a long-form genre is a skill that is important for any academic. At the same time, there is no doubt whatever that the plethora of current digital humanities undertakings and explorations in new digital genres can be of indisputable scholarly merit and open up an entirely new way of creating and communicating knowledge. The only person at the table who was savvy enough to recognize this was Hubertus Kohle.

It will take academics like him to keep the conversation going. With a little less revolutionary fervor on the side of youth and a bit more openness, interest, and consideration on the side of an unknowing establishment, scholarly investigation in the humanities too will be able to create and appreciate a richer landscape of academic communication, a hybrid, if you will, that is truly worth building.  Munich’s discussion was an excellent start to the many discussions that are needed to get Germany’s humanities moving in the right direction.

The Next Obstacle for OA Publishing in the HSS: More Costs? Or the License?

Serendipity brought about three discussions this week that showed me just how tricky it will be to pull off building high-quality open-access outlets for the humanities and social sciences. Interestingly enough, these were not arguments with OA-opponents about fundamental pros and cons but discussions with supporters of the cause.

The first conversation was with an editorial board member for a new OA-gold book series which we are building for junior researchers here at the University of Heidelberg. We have a potential submission of a very fine dissertation as an opening volume. The EdBoard member raised an issue that to him was vital in deciding whether to accept this manuscript: a guarantee that open access books get reviewed in the central journals of the discipline.  “It is of paramount importance for young academics that their works are reviewed. Do we have any empirical values that show that this happens for open access books,” he asked.

So I started firing off e-mails to colleagues who are further into this adventure than I am. A most useful reply came from Rupert Gatti (@rupertgatti) who pointed to the separate tab on Open Book Publishers’ online book pages. Both conversations showed me how important it will be to have exact numbers of and access to reviews of the books we produce. Knowing how strangely uncooperative authors can be when it comes to relaying information like this, I also realized that if we want this information, we will probably have to hunt for it ourselves. This means investing time and thus will cost money.

The second conversation was with a young and successful academic in archaeology, who has been a supporter of open access for years. He chose to publish his dissertation in green and substantial articles in gold rather than with trade-publishers and when I approached him with the offer to publish his next edited volume with our new book series, he was immediately enthused.  However, he insisted on the clarification of two issues. The first concerned the availability of hard-copies for the contributors. He said – and I know all too well that he is right – that most authors really expect to receive a copy of the book that they submit their essay to. Not to supply them with that is considered bad form on part of the book-editor.  And fair enough – if we recall that authors do not get any money for the contents they deliver, then one copy for their shelves is not much to ask. For our production line, however, this means one thing: it will cost more money.

The second issue my potential book-editor wanted clarified is copyright clearance for images. He told me that this is becoming increasingly difficult (not to say absurd) in his field because certain important museums and archives now charge more money for copyright clearance if an image goes into an open access venue than they ask for the same image if it goes into a pay-wall outlet.  In the humanities and social sciences that adds up!  Archaeologists, media-antrhopologists, or art-historians will quickly look at four-figure numbers in clearance costs, if they want to show the images and media- sources that they analyze and work with. So my enthusiastic book-editor told me point-blank that these costs cannot be shouldered by the authors or indeed by him. Would the book-series pick up the tab. I said I would look into it while a frantic voice shouted in my head: now we are starting to talk serious money!

The third discussion was with Peter Murray-Rust (@petermurrayrust). Since it happened on Twitter, it was brief but nonetheless perhaps the most significant and it went like this:

Andrea Hacker 

In 1 week: new issue of our #openaccess e-journal  with contributions by O. Sela, Y. Zhuang, M. Wakita and A: Dagnino!

Peter Murray-Rust

RT @ahacker: In 1 week: new issue of our #openaccess e-journal  PMR does it have an Open licence?

Andrea Hacker

tricky issue. Loads of copyrighted images and media. Cc by nc.

Peter Murray-Rust

thanks, identify 3rd party inclusions and make the rest cc-by

Now this goes right to the heart of the open access debate in the humanities and social sciences. It also highlights the fundamental differences that have developed – for better or for worse – between the publishing conventions in the STEM fields and those in the HSS.

I want to point to three immediate concerns, some of which (and more) are well documented elsewhere:

1. Third party exclusions are not going to cut it. Not only are the museums and archives petrified of losing control over their materials (see the mad pricing example above), they also doubt that any CC-license is strong enough to protect their interests.We know of instances where images are not displayed because the institution holding copyright will not grant it for open access publication. Now that is like publishing a paper in chemistry and having to withhold the formulas!

2. What about the original media that the researcher themselves put in? An archaeologist, for example, may carefully photograph ancient pottery or with painstaking accuracy draw the scenes of a frieze. For weeks. She may not want that image to be re-mashed, re-mixed, altered, or commercially used with a cc-by attribution. That would translate into losing control over what gets changed. Also, will an unsuccessful change reflect on the quality of their original work? Not to forget: revenue will play a part here too: an image is quickly taken, as is music, or 3-D information (why not print out that reconstructed vase?) and since applications of IP in the HSS is far more limited than in STEM, this is not a concession that authors make lightly.

3. Quoting and paraphrasing are part and parcel of academic writing. The rules for indicating either are relatively strict: you quote the original source or you are a plagiariser.  But if we open HSS texts up to commercial use, these rules no longer apply and, unfortunately, indicating the degree of modification that a mashed-up text (in the widest semantic sense) may have undergone is not unequivocally covered by CC-BY.

After these three conversations I am left with this: An amazing network has grown over the last couple of years including authors, libraries, colleagues, funding agencies, and developers of infrastructure. And as we are getting ready to produce our first open access book-series here in Heidelberg, propelled by all this good will and spirit of adventure, I am realizing that the clincher in the whole endeavor may very well be the issue of licenses. Hunting for reviews and offering author-copies costs money, but may be doable. Financing copyright clearance and running CC-BY, however, may be well beyond our means.

I don’t know what to do about the copyright clearance yet, other than support efforts such as AHRC/RCUK as they are trying to engage with image libraries and negotiate a workable deal. As far as CC-BY is concerned: A history or political science book that will not include all possible narratives for fear of being ripped off is no use to me. And an art-history book without images is a toothless lion.

But I want to produce killer-books that show the world that we can do this and do it well! So CC-BY-NC is the best I can do at the moment.

In Defense of the Edited Book

In his post “3 simple distinctions your government should eliminate from its research financing system“, Curt Rice recently wrote about the merits of publishing essays in anthologies and called for their equal recognition by funding instruments vis-a-vis those published in journals. He writes:

I still think it’s a lot harder to get published in a good journal than in a good book. But I’m far less certain that it’s just as hard to get published in a bad journal as in a good book, even if the weighting system the government has adopted would make you think so.

The gist of the post lies, as the title suggests, not in the nature of the anthology or edited volume, but in the counting policies for research output that funding bodies devise. However, it is uncommon to find such clear support for a genre that has become somewhat of a step-child in the family of academic writings.

The situation of the edited volume is grim: As Rice shows, funding bodies, in their recently found penchant for accountability, don’t treat the academic input into making such books very favourably. Furthermore, the submission policies of many traditional trade publishers and prestigious UPs clearly signal: we don’t even look at edited volumes. Harvard is the first example that comes to mind. Even academics themselves who frequently publish in such collections or edit them are often dismissive of these products. As one high-profile professor once put it to me as I showed him a couple of newly printed examples: “no one reads these things anyway.”

Over time, such negative attitudes will inevitably be reflected in the quality of the books themselves.That is a great shame because a well-edited volume is ideally suited to thoroughly investigate a subject from a variety of viewpoints, be they disciplinary, methodological or theoretical. This can be a great enrichment to any field or a discussion across academic disciplines. But, as Rice rightly points out, if funding bodies and other instruments of academic score-keeping do not appreciate the work that is needed to make such a book “good”, why should anybody bother?

Take, for example, introductions. Rice writes:

Contributions to anthologies earn points. Unless they’re entitled “Introduction.”

It is common for editors to write introductory chapters to their volumes. These introductions position the subsequent chapters and argue for a conceptual perspective motivating the book. Introductions are works of scholarship and they convey research results.

As the system currently stands, an introduction that is actually entitled “Introduction” does not get points. By now, most of us have learned to give our introductions different titles, and we thereby collect points.

How could it come to this?  How can it be that the collection of “points” determines the direction of academic work? Moreover, how can it be that in this “game” that allots “points” the writing of “introductions” is not deemed score-worthy? The heart and soul of any “good” edited volume is the introduction: it provides the conceptual framework, the methodological parameters, and demonstrates the congruence of the contributions. An introduction is to the edited volume what a conductor is to an orchestra – it unifies the contributors and shapes the output of the ensemble.

Academic communication is often likened to an ongoing conversation. The edited volume is an excellent forum where scholars can conduct such a conversation on a specific topic. The question is how it can be rehabilitated?

As an unwanted step-child of the publishing industry, it is relatively unencumbered by the ubiquitous and persistent craving for some prestigious UP stamp on the front cover. That makes it a perfect genre to explore the possibilities of open access book-publishing. And since it is not a monological but inherently dialogical form, it would lend it self readily to new forms of open review and composition. We already know that much of the needed yet often neglected exchange among contributors and editors can happen online – Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Gary Hall are boldly showing the way. What needs to happen now is – as usual – the necessary persuading  a wider editor- and authorship to invest their time and writing in Open Access edited volumes . Oh and we must remind the score-keeping purse-holders that this genre is not just worth their “points” but a crucial part of the communicative landscape in the academy.

On the Cost of Open Access Publishing

The recent discussion “The future of open access research and publishing” on the Guardian Higher Education forum (#HElivechat and @GdnHigherEd) touched on a few familiar points. The first was, unsurprisingly in light of Science‘s recent “sting” kafuffle, peer-review and how it can and must be improved.

However, once the discussion went on to “gold” vs. “green” some feathers, including mine, got not exactly ruffled but at least mildly tousled. There still is a significant lack of clarity within the community about what responsibilities come with the different paths of open access publishing and this lack breeds  misconceptions, which can turn out to be counterproductive. One of them, which refuses to go away, is the notion that “open access publishing” will lower costs of production. Continue reading

Heidelberg Archive of Twitter Reports on Open Access

About a year ago I found myself in a serious predicament. Managing a book-series and a journal, while teaching PhD-workshops and building a campus-wide academic writing support ate so much of my time that I was falling behind on my twitter and blog reading. I realized that in order to keep up with the intense discussion surrounding open access, I needed help.  At the time, events pertaining to the changing world of academic publishing unfolded so quickly and discussions gushed into so many related fields such as funding policies, open data, open science, e-learning, e-publishing, self-publishing, and bibliometrics that without back-up I would not be able to stand up to the onslaught of information that was very much like what we Americans call “drinking from a fire-hose”. Continue reading