Image Credit: Pexels
Image Credit: Pexels

Thanks to Dan Morgan for serving as a contributor to “Democratizing Academic Journals: Technology, Services, and Open Access“! This blog post features the full transcript of his interview for that paper on the state of academic journal publishing and solutions to make open access sustainable. You can access the paper here.

What will the future of university press journal publishing look like? The University of California Press (UCP) has been pioneering one possibility with its Collabra journals program. Collabra is an open access (OA) journal publishing initiative started by UCP, with a psychology title - Collabra: Psychology - and plans to add more titles in other disciplines under the Collabra name.

Collabra stands out from other university press publishing programs in that it is all digital and is working to keep journal revenue within the academic community. Funded by a below market article processing charge (APC) of $875 an article, Collabra reserves a portion of all revenue for its community subsidy fund, which is allocated towards editor and reviewer compensation and funding for future OA articles and projects. In this way Collabra is helping to support the OA publishing ecosystem.

We caught up with Dan Morgan, digital science publisher at UCP, to learn how Collabra has developed since its launch in fall of 2014 and his thoughts on the current OA journal publishing landscape.

Q&A with Dan Morgan

Collabra started out as a mega-journal. What was your impetus for transitioning it from a mega-journal to an open access journals program with partners? How has your vision for Collabra changed and why?

DM: The original plan for Collabra, even as a multidisciplinary mega-journal, was for it to have well-defined communities within it. Visualize a large house with clearly defined rooms, rather than a large warehouse with one big space full of content. However, we attracted the attention of the psychology community, first, and almost all of our submission were from this field. At a certain point we clearly looked like a psychology journal so we decided to just become one and focus on this field. At the same time, we didn’t want to close down our ideas for other fields, so we are still open to them, but we plan on developing ideas in a more discipline by discipline, journal by journal manner. Our focus on partners and communities is just that it is easier to work with existing communities of scholars, rather than create a new brand or community from scratch.

As a more general point, it seems as if the focus on the mega-journal, which in 2014 seemed like the most discussed topic in scholarly communication, is changing slightly. What is the difference between an open access mega-journal with disciplinary sections, and a collection of separate open access journals, one might ask. Apart from the number of ISSNs issued, very little, as long as the content of the separate journals is accessible across all of the communities. For a great blog post, which links to an interesting working paper about the concept of the journal as a “club good,” which certainly influenced our thinking, please see this blog post by Cameron Neylon.

How will UCP work with journal partners to launch titles under the Collabra brand? Do you think this approach could work for other university presses? What are the benefits?

DM: It is too early to outline exactly how this will work every time, and we do not want to over-define or limit our options. But we want to a) be open to appropriate scholarly/scientific communities and societies with a journal idea to launch with us, b) affiliate existing scholarly/scientific societies with our existing journals or sections in our journals, if there is a mission fit, and c) acquire existing journals, or have journals transfer to us, if there is opportunity. We stress that we will likely have to be quite selective in what we consider, due to our scale, the existing profile of Collabra as very mission-focused, and assessing what projects we can deliver value to AND make sustainable. The journals market is already hugely crowded.

There is no reason to suggest that other presses could not do this, and in fact I can think of a few that are, in various ways - e.g. MIT Press and Duke University Press.

The benefits to the press are that one can launch or inherit journals with an existing community of readers and authors. The benefits to the community are, hopefully, getting help with their mission of pushing their field forward, with a mission-driven publishing partner.

What do you see for the future of OA journal funding? What do you think needs to happen to make affordable OA possible?

DM: This is a huge question. Whatever works easiest and best, with OA as the outcome! I will limit my answer to a couple of phrases I often use. We must remember that OA is an outcome for a research object, and not a business model (and therefore can be supported by any appropriate model). And, we need to move to business models by design, and not by necessity.

I believe the common APC model is one driven by necessity, because there are few centralized budgets to be able to tap into, certain private funders like Wellcome Trust, HHMI notwithstanding. Anyone that is involved with APC-supported OA journals knows how fussy the micro-transactions of APCs are — so anything that helps not having to charge per article, and being able to tap into centralized budgets, prepayment plans, or clear, known budgets, will be a great leap forward. Right now the subsidy model is centred around funders and institutions, but any income source or fund can subsidize open access. A problem is that many funds and sources of APCs (e.g. libraries) are currently paying for many other things too, like subscription journals or packages.

How do you think journal publishing could be improved under non-profit organizations?

DM: It is interesting that, during the challenge to many publishers to prove the amount of (or defend the lack of) value they add to the publishing process, they often focus on tasks that are becoming ever more automatable, while dropping many services such a copyediting and reference checking, citing “rising costs.” Inspired by UC Press’ current collaborations with the CoKo foundation I see a real opportunity for a radical lowering of versioning, typesetting, formatting, and hosting costs, and a real opportunity to bring back some of the more human value-add services such as copyediting, developmental editing, instructional design, and other optional services which have fallen by the wayside in high-volume, commercial journal publishing.

If you could change one thing about the current journal publishing landscape right now what would it be and why?

DM: I wish more budgets and funds were freed up to support the communication of science and scholarship in whatever way it is best communicated, rather than simply supporting the ways it has previously been communicated. There is so much money in the industry that is scholarly journals publishing, and so much is currently under-utilized. I would want to change that for sure. And that does not need to be some kind of radical proposition either, which it often gets regarded as!

Danielle Padula
This post was written by Danielle Padula, Community Development
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