Who reaps the fruits of academic research? The answer depends largely on how it’s produced and disseminated.
Arguably, the more control scholarly organizations have over research publishing practices and distribution channels, the more value they can deliver to their communities, contribute to broader public policy efforts, and sow back into the academy.
If the language above evokes images of farming in your mind, it’s intentional to highlight likenesses between the scholarly communication landscape and modern-day agriculture. This topic was discussed during the 2023 SSP Conference session “Locally Sourced, Locally Owned: Independent Society Journal Publishing to Seed Trust and Transformation,” which explored how, similar to the local farming movement, cultivating academy-owned publishing models, where the producer is native to the discipline, could lead to a more sustainable publishing landscape overall. Among the benefits of advancing academy-led publishing is its potential to level a playing field increasingly controlled by large corporations and, in the process, catalyze more efficient, economical, and transparent publishing practices guided by community interests.
For international Open Access Week 2023, themed “Community over Commercialization,” we thought it would be fun and insightful to build off this agriculture analogy (while acknowledging the frailty of analogy) and highlight similarities between specific types of local farming/food distribution models and academy-led publishing models we see Scholastica customers and the broader scholarly community employing, with a focus on OA initiatives. We hope this will provide helpful food for thought for academic organizations looking to pivot to or build out in-house journal publishing programs. Let’s get to it!
How it works in agriculture: The guiding principle of cooperative farming is collaboration. Under this agricultural model, farmers pool resources, such as land, labor, equipment, and capital, to manage and operate their agricultural activities collectively. There are two primary types of agricultural service cooperatives: supply cooperatives (e.g., pooling operations resources such as seeds, fertilizers, fuel, and machinery, etc.) and marketing cooperatives (e.g., pooling resources around packaging, pricing, distribution, sales and promotion, etc.). The cooperative farming model aims to address various challenges small-scale farmers face, including limited access to resources, market inefficiencies, and economic vulnerabilities. In working together, farmers can often achieve economies of scale, gain better bargaining power in the market, and improve their financial security.
Similar scholarly publishing models and the benefits: In recent years, we’ve seen similar co-op models emerging to support community-driven journal publishers wherein institution and/or society publishing programs share resources. As in the case of farming, this can come in the form of “supply cooperatives,” where journals pool publishing software and services, and/or “marketing cooperatives,” where journals pool distribution, pricing, and promotion channels and support. Among notable examples are:
The Scholarly Publishing Collective: The Collective is a publishing co-op between nonprofit publishers and societies led by Duke University Press. As explained on their website, “Through the Collective, publishers have access to resources that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive, such as a best-in-class web platform, proven customer relations and library sales and relations teams, and a network of global sales agents with insight into university press content, thereby supporting fairly priced, mission-driven publications and the research they produce.” Collective members include Michigan State University Press, Penn State University Press, and Scholastica customers The Society of Biblical Literature (which uses Scholastica’s peer review system for its flagship title, the Journal of Biblical Literature) and the University of Illinois Press (which uses Scholastica’s peer review system for multiple titles). Co-op models like this enable publishers to operate more efficiently, helping to lower barriers to making their content OA. Members of The Scholarly Publishing Collective offer a mix of subscription and OA publishing options.
MIT Press SHIFT OPEN: Shift+OPEN is a new initiative out of MIT Press, a Scholastica customer (using Scholastica’s peer review system for multiple titles), to flip established subscription journals to a diamond OA publishing model, with support from the Arcadia Fund and the National Science Foundation. Shift+OPEN provides partner journals three years of funding to aid their transition to fully OA publishing, MIT Press’ full suite of publishing services (including production, marketing, financial management, hosting, abstracting, indexing, and manuscript management software), and support for developing a sustainable Diamond OA funding model to remain fully OA long term. Journal teams can learn more about how to apply to participate in Shift+OPEN here. MIT Press welcomes submissions for journals in any field and from any part of the world.
Society Publishers Accelerating Open Access and Plan S (SPA-OPS) project: While this initiative is now closed, it’s still an example worth noting that could potentially be reprised or replicated. SPA-OPS was a project to identify and support the development of publishing and funding models scholarly societies can adopt to publish Plan S-compliant journals while remaining financially sustainable. It encompassed joint workshops with society publishers, libraries, and university presses that ultimately led to the launch of a “transformative agreement toolkit,” including templates for crafting TA language, licenses, and contracts, which project participants worked together to pilot, including The Microbiology Society. Check out this Scholastica interview to learn more about The Microbiology Society’s experience launching their first TAs.
Other co-op style journal publishing examples include The Open Library of the Humanities (OLH). OLH is an academy-led OA publisher that operates through a Library Partnership Subsidy model, as explained here, and publishers implementing the Subscribe To Open (S2O) model, such as IWA Publishing.
How it works in agriculture: Intercropping is a farming model that involves the simultaneous cultivation of two or more different crops within the same field or growing area to optimize land use and resource efficiency. In intercropping, crops are chosen according to each other’s growth habits, nutrient requirements, and root structures, thereby reducing competition and enhancing overall productivity. Intercropping can help improve soil health, reduce the risk of pests and diseases, and increase crop yields. It is particularly beneficial for small-scale and subsistence farmers as it maximizes limited land and resources while enhancing crop diversity and resilience, contributing to food security and sustainability.
Similar scholarly publishing models and the benefits: In the world of journals, we also see publishing models similar to intercropping, where publishers introduce supplementary content outlets, courses, and member services (in the case of societies and associations) that complement their journals and can serve as viable revenue streams. These additional products can be derived from journal content (a way to increase publisher “crop yields”) or developed separately alongside them. As in the case of intercropping in farming, this is a way publishers can introduce and cultivate mixed revenue streams and, in doing so, potentially open new pathways to making all or a portion of their journal content fully OA. Examples include:
The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACA): PACA, a Scholastica customer, keeps its flagship journal, Psychotherapy and Counselling Journal of Australia (PACJA), Diamond OA (using Scholastica’s peer review system, production service, and fully OA hosting platform), with the financial support of the Federation’s other revenue streams. These include membership dues — as in the case of most scholarly associations — but also some notable additional content “crops,” including short courses, community events, and live and on-demand educational webinars with general and discounted member registration fee rates. PACA’s on-demand webinars are a great example of leveraging evergreen educational resources as an alternative revenue source.
The Royal Society of Chemistry: Similar to PACA, The Royal Society of Chemistry is also cultivating a variety of complementary content “crops,” including Gold OA journals, hybrid journals with subscription and OA publishing options, print and digital books (including professional reference titles, Specialist Periodical Reports, textbooks, and popular science titles), and a mix of free and ticketed in-person and digital events with general and membership registration rates for those requiring a ticket.
The American Physiological Society (APS): Like the examples above, APS offers a mix of content products, including digital and in-person professional development courses and events (some with member and non-member registration rates and some free events with the support of external sponsors) and a monograph series that’s free to members and available to purchase for non-members. APS also launched a first-of-its-kind “Read, Publish & Join” transformative agreement. When libraries and institutions sign on, their members can read and publish in APS journals at no additional cost, with the added benefit of a free APS membership. As discussed by APS’ Publications Director Stacey Burke, who led the development of the “Read, Publish & Join” model, APS hopes that adding free membership for authors to TAs will help to expand society awareness and member signups. In the intercropping analogy, one could classify these free memberships as a way to “enrich the soil” of member cultivation.
How it works in agriculture: The farm-to-table model, also known as the farm-to-fork or field-to-fork approach, is a production and distribution system where farms directly source locally grown and harvested food products to consumers. This model emphasizes short supply chains, reducing the distance and intermediaries between farmers and consumers. It promotes transparency in the food supply chain, ensuring consumer access to fresh, seasonal, and often organic produce. Farm-to-table supports local agriculture and small-scale farmers while emphasizing sustainable and environmentally responsible farming practices. By fostering a closer connection between producers and consumers, this model seeks to enhance food quality and nutritional value, reduce food miles, and support the local economy, ultimately offering a more wholesome and community-driven approach to eating.
Similar scholarly publishing models and the benefits: In the most basic sense, any “locally-owned” academic publisher follows the farm-to-table model by producing and distributing their own content. Our goal for this blog section is to highlight examples of publishers taking extra steps to expand the reach and utility of their “farm-to-table” content by making it easy to find and subscribe to specific types of content, packaging content in “tasty” formats to encourage reader consumption, and partnering with scholarly databases that can serve as distribution centers, akin to restaurants/school cafeterias and farmer’s markets in our agriculture analogy. As in agriculture, when academic organizations produce and disseminate their own content, it improves the traceability of research products and contributes to responsible and sustainable publishing practices since the producers are incentivized to put their earnings back into the land.
Notable examples of community-driven publisher “farm-to-table” distribution models include:
Convenient direct-to-consumer packaging: Scholastica customers The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience (which uses Scholastica’s peer review system for its flagship journal) and The University of California Press (which uses Scholastica’s peer review system and digital-first production service for multiple titles) both serve as notable examples of academy-led publishers developing smart direct-to-consumer distribution models in terms of content packaging and consumption options, including for fully OA articles.
In the case of AIDR, its flagship title, the Australian Journal of Emergency Management (AJEM), is available via a paid print subscription or free digital access — with no author-facing fees (a way to keep some subscription revenue while maintaining a fully-OA publishing model). Free digital journal issues are published in PDF and mobile-friendly HTML, hosted on AIDR’s proprietary Knowledge Hub, supporting easy on-the-go reader consumption and search engine optimization. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of academy-led publishers transitioning to mobile-friendly article formats if they haven’t already (learn more about why mobile matters for SEO in this blog post). AIDR also offers the option to sign up for email alerts to get updates as soon as journal articles are available (an excellent low-hanging-fruit way to give readers direct access to new articles ready for consumption).
Similarly, UC Press publishes its journals, including fully OA titles, in PDF and mobile-friendly HTML, with articles produced by Scholastica and sent directly to UC Press’ Silverchair hosting platform via Scholastica’s Silverchair integration option. UC Press also enables readers to sign up for different content email alert options, including “latest issue,” “advanced article,” and “saved search” alerts, and more (see example here).
For more examples of convenient and “tasty” ways academy-led publishers are packaging their content and distributing it directly to consumers, check out our blog post, “7 Examples of Great Digital Journal Promotion: New Edition.” It includes tips for setting up content email alerts quickly and affordably via RSS (here’s a quick link to jump to that section!).
Academic database distribution: There are also many examples of community-driven publishers distributing content via full-text databases and indexes scholars frequent, akin to restaurants and cafeterias in our local farming analogy in that readers can “place orders” for specific types of articles via database searches and consume them from the database websites. For example, the University of Pennsylvania Press, a Scholastica customer using our peer review system for multiple journals, makes all its content available via the Project MUSE database, including fully OA articles from its journal Observational Studies. Similarly, the Spartan Medical Research Journal out of MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, which uses Scholastica’s peer review system, digital-first production service, and fully OA hosting platform, makes the full-text of its articles available via the PubMed Central database in addition to its website (leveraging Scholastica’s PMC integration). Other notable examples of Scholastica customers hosting OA content via external databases include Discrete Analysis and Advances in Combinatorics published by the Alliance of Diamond Open Access Journals. Both journals follow the arXiv overlay publishing model, wherein articles are hosted via the arXiv preprint server, using Scholastica’s peer review system, fully OA hosting platform, and arXiv integration.
Of course, getting articles indexed in scholarly abstracting and indexing databases that don’t include full text is still a leading way for community-driven publishers to make it easier for readers to find and ultimately consume their content. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a prime option for those with fully OA titles (read our guide to DOAJ indexing here). For those with a mix of OA and subscription/paid access content, listings in other indexes such as the Web of Science can also serve a similar function to farmer’s market booths by enabling publishers to attract new customers via a shared venue scholars are known to frequent.
We hope you found this guide to similarities between types of local farming/food distribution models and academy-led publishing models helpful! As noted, our goal is to provide inspiration and examples for those looking to launch or scale community-driven publishing programs. For further reading, we encourage you to check out Scholastica’s “Cultivating sustainable in-house scholarly publishing programs” blog series, in which society and institute leaders operating publishing programs share their take on the primary benefits of in-house publishing and the factors they consider critical to their success.
Do you have additional community-driven publishing/distribution model examples to share or questions about anything we’ve covered? We encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post and on social media. You can find Scholastica on LinkedIn, X (formerly Twitter), and Facebook.