Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Science Publishing: All About Submission

I think 'gold' open access publishing needs to be supported by submission fees rather than article publication fees, as is now generally the case.

The basic reason I am in favour of submission fees is that it makes scientific publishing really the service industry that it is, its main task nowadays having nothing to do with publishing per se, but mainly with arranging peer review and quality assurance of one sort or another. 'Publisher' is therefore a bit of a misnomer by now, a relic of the past. Publishing, as in 'making public', is very easy and people can do it by themselves, in a way that one does on a blog, for instance. Or even by depositing a manuscript in an institutional repository, which is publishing, in the sense of 'making public'. Science publishers should really be called 'quality assurance providers' or something in that vein. Because that is what a modern STM publisher is. A (perhaps too simplistic, but quite useful) model may be the 'exam' model. Submitting a paper is not unlike applying for, say, a driver's test, for which you pay, irrespective of the outcome. An article's scientific robustness is being tested; little else is of relevance (or rather, should be of relevance).

Apart from this, there are some clearly beneficial consequences of a submission-fee system.
  • It discourages spurious submissions and encourages pitching at the right journal at the right level
  • It therefore relieves pressure on the peer review system (fewer unnecessary rounds of peer review)
  • It relates any fees paid for the main work done by 'publishers'
  • It allows any prestige journals (insofar that they have a reason to exist) not to have to worry about high rejection rates and the related necessity of high article publication fees otherwise needed for OA to the small number of accepted articles (the Nature and Science argument)
  • It spreads the amount needed by a 'publisher' over a larger number of articles – the accepted plus the rejected – leading to the possibility of lower average fees
  • It removes the suspicion that OA journals might be tempted to accept more than they should just because of the money that accepted articles bring
To be fair, there are also downsides.
  • The need to be able to justify rejections properly, particularly if challenged (after all, submitters have paid for an assessment)
  • The reality that other publishers offer free submission (although this argument may not cut too much ice, given that it was also used against author-side payment, which turned out not as deadly to the model as was thought by opponents of OA)
The last point is probably keeping publishers from going in the direction of submission fees. I do hope that one of the more visionary publishers dares to make the plunge.

Jan Velterop

No comments:

Post a Comment