Sunday, 5 March 2017

Convert university libraries into institutional publishers

With the traditional publishing model, researchers used to publish articles in journals for free, transferring the copyright to the publisher, who then asked for a fee or subscription to anyone requesting the articles. Universities therefore had to spend money to pay for many subscriptions.
The current publishing model is gradually moving toward a "gold open access" policy, where researches are charged (up to 3000-4000 euro each article) in order to have their research published, retaining copyright. The publishers take care of managing the article during the editorial process and final publication, which usually consists in generating a PDF file of the manuscript and putting it online on their website. To be noticed, researchers also work as referee and editors for free. The publishing fee therefore clearly exceeds the publisher's expenses and generates a nice profit. The process is so simple and cheap from the publisher point of view, that many new publishers pop up, trying to make profit entering this growing publishing market. Some of them just seek to make money and don't care too much about the quality of the research being published; these are being called "predatory publishers".
One could imagine that the open access policy and the advantage provided by paperless online publishing process could create a positive competition leading to a decrease of publishing fees. Actually this is not happening because researchers aim to publish their research on journals with a high impact factor or, et least, indexed on search engines used by the other peers when they look for articles to cite (eg. Pubmed for biomedical research). A new journal has no impact factor and also is not indexed on relevant search engines, so it is not very attractive for researchers. Indeed, the publishing fees increase in an almost linear fashion with the impact factor of a journal, as you can imagine.
There are many unmet needs:
  1. publishing market should be regulated (one of the attempts was made by prof. Jeffrey Beall with his list of "predatory journals", recently shut down following unknown requests)
  2. researchers have the right to publish their research without having to spend more money just for the publishing process
  3. university libraries are gradually losing their importance since newer scientific literature is paperless and there is no need for a librarian or a place to store the books or paper journals, since all readers are able to search and download them through internet
So why not converting human and economic resources currently allocated to university libraries to create institutional publishers?
Such publishers will have the credibility provided by the institution, no commercial interests and therefore no risk to become "predatory", release publications following "gold open access" policy and save money for the already underfunded research.

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