Sunday, June 05, 2016

Journal costs - what's the answer?

Sorry for the brief break in posting - real life obligations sometimes make it tough to blog as frequently as I would like.

The Nature Publishing Group is going to launch another five journals this year.  University library subscription costs for each of these are going to be around $5K/yr.   Other journal publishers are making similar moves - the ACS has launched three new journals this year, including an open access journal that sounds like it's meant to be a direct competitor to NPG's Scientific Reports.

On the one hand, these journals wouldn't be launched if publishers didn't think they could at least break even, meaning that someone somewhere has done a marketing study suggesting that there is sufficient demand out there both from authors and would-be subscribers.  On the other hand, it's hard for me to believe that the market can really sustain continuous growth in the number of journals, especially when this implies a similar growth in the number of requests to review papers (for free of course) from all of these editorial boards.  

What is the endpoint of this proliferation of journals, especially when many university library budgets simply make it impossible for those schools to pay for institutional subscriptions, and the pool of qualified reviewers is not similarly expanding?  In the long term, it seems like services like the arxiv have to win, perhaps with some kind of post-publication review/commentary.  However, the reward structures in place (i.e., the emphasis on particular "high impact" journal publications in hiring and promotion) put in place a huge barrier to change in that direction.  This is another area where I worry about the inevitability of a greater bifurcation into "have" and "have not" institutions, something that has a certain internal consistency but is probably long-term bad for creativity in research.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

What's your opinion on scipost.org?

Pizza Perusing Physicist said...

We are all well aware of the pressure to publish in the "high-impact" journals, however, I would like to pose the question of how of this pressure is perceived or self-perpetuated? In particular, how often is it the case that a tenure track candidate who maintains a steady level of publication output is denied tenure because they didn't publish in the "right" places? Can anyone vouch for personal experience or observation in that regard?

Pizza Perusing Physicist said...

How much* of this pressure

Anonymous said...

In China for example, academic awards depend directly on the impact factor of the journal and as a result, there is a clear incentive to publish in high impact journals. Therefore, I would argue that this pressure is certainly external.

https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2011/04/07/paying-for-impact-does-the-chinese-model-make-sense/

Douglas Natelson said...

Anon@3:48, I was unfamiliar with scipost until your comment. It looks interesting, though their web interface isn't very good, and the challenge of starting effectively a new system of online journals is getting sufficiently widespread adoption and recognition that it has a stamp of legitimacy.

Pizza, I worry more about hiring than promotion in this regard, though at top departments I'm sure there would be concern at the tenure stage if someone published only in comparatively low impact journals.

Paul Anzel said...

So, out of curiosity, beyond posting to arXiv do you try and submit any papers to open-access journals (e.g. Physical Review X)?

Douglas Natelson said...

Paul, yes, sometimes. Over the last few years I've on occasion submitted to Nat Comm, PRX, and Science Advances, though with no particular success. I'm more concerned with reaching the right target audience than open access per se, given the prevalence of the arxiv in my area. I also tend to avoid for-profit publishers (Wiley, Springer, Elsevier) if possible, as a personal preference, though that is not always possible (e.g., Adv Mater hits a broad segment of the materials community, and that could be the right place to put certain results).

Wendy Patterson said...

First, thanks for maintaining such an interesting blog.. long time follower!
What is the general opinion about the platinum open access journals (no fees for author or reader) that may be less known? Is there a general suspicion or hesitancy against these? Not meant to be an ad, but for full disclosure, I do work for one (www.bjnano.org). Good to hear that the IF is not the ONLY criteria, bc that's all I hear these days from editors.

Douglas Natelson said...

Wendy, thanks for the kind words. There's nothing a priori wrong w/ platinum open access journals - I just don't know of many! Yours is the only one I know off the top of my head. I think suspicion originates with unconventional practices (i.e., massive spamming; broken grammar invitations to join editorial boards or guest edit special issues) - anything that looks sketchy in the "Beall's predatory publishing" sense. Like any attempt to quantify something complicated with a single number, IF has its share of problems.

P Jacobson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Regarding the proliferation of journals, I worry less about impact on individual researchers and organizations, and more on the impact of research as a whole. Something has to fill those journals. Given that and the need to satisfy bean counters, will it all lead to researchers publishing greater quantities of results from more shallow investigations?

Also, does anyone here remember when publishing in Science and Nature was a really big deal? :)

Anonymous said...

Another dimension, maybe not even on the radar in this field: the rise of citizen science. In one common model, the data the citizen scientists create/generate gets turned into papers, some of which are in leading journals in the field (eg MNRAS, in astronomy), and some of those quickly get cited hundreds of times. Clearly, the tens of thousands of citizen scientists, all of whom are volunteers, have an interest in papers which rely on their work. Yet, in the traditional model, they have to pay to read! Done down twice; once as taxpayers (who but them funded the professionals in the first place?), and again as volunteers.

Fortunately, MNRAS has a policy of making such papers open access from day 1, even if practice falls short. Elsevier journals? Well, you will surely guess right.