Open-access journals: First Monday leads by example
At a time when publishers, academics and libraries are struggling to navigate a new publishing landscape, some are turning to Internet scholars to lead the way. First Monday is “one of the first openly accessible, peer–reviewed journals on the Internet, solely devoted to the Internet.” Created in Denmark in 1995, First Monday has grown into a successful and reputable open-access online journal, which serves as inspiration to academic publishers.
What exactly does open-access mean? In Digitize This Book!, Gary Hall writes:
“By open access, I mean access that is digital, online, and free of charge to those able to connect to the Internet, without having to pay subscriptions either to publish or to [pay per] view, in its purest form, anyway. This in turn means free to upload to and download from, read, print, reproduce and distribute copies, and also free of most licensing and copyright restrictions.” (2)
Why is this important? At a time when library funding is decreasing, journal subscriptions are increasing in cost; libraries are having a harder time than ever paying for journal subscriptions (Ress 477). While our libraries are struggling to afford these fees, they are even further out of reach for the developing world (Ress 477). Journals like First Monday can be read anywhere in the world at the low cost of an Internet connection. The HTML format even simplifies the reading process by opening it up to online translation services.
Open-access for readers also translates into open access for scholars. Many voices in the developing world are not heard in U.S.-dominated journals, thus open-access publications offer them a new outlet for sharing their work (Ress 481). I’d like to outline how First Monday has beaten what I call the ‘myths’ of open-access publishing in academia.
In Giving it Away: Sharing and the Future of Scholarly Communication, author Kathleen Fitzpatrick explains that scholarly journals, especially in the humanities, tend to keep their knowledge closed off from the public. One reason for this is the prestige that comes with exclusive publications; secondly, humanities scholars may feel their work is not taken as seriously as their scientific colleagues, and therefore are afraid of criticism (Fitzpatrick 353-355).
This is a stark contrast to the feelings of Edward Valauskas, the Founder and Chief Editor of First Monday:
“Authors choose First Monday because they get more readers when they publish in First Monday than anywhere else, and scholars want people reading their ideas and talking about their ideas and using them. First Monday provides that medium for that kind of dissemination of ideas. It’s why readers and contributors keep coming back.” [.]
Valauskas further claims that First Monday articles are frequently translated and cited by the press, furthering knowledge into the public domain. This dissemination beyond an academic setting is exactly what Fitzpatrick encourages (353-354). Even within academia, she states that open-access journals are more likely to be sourced. After all, “knowledge which is not public is not knowledge” (355).
Myth #2: It can’t be funded
Although open-access journals are free of cost, Manon Ress points out in Open-Access Publishing: From Principles to Practice that these journals are not in fact completely free; they very much rely on funding to survive. However, traditional journals impose a double cost on the public: firstly, the cost of production, and secondly, the subscription or purchase cost.
By removing the second fee, the publications are, well, open—open to new readership and uses. Since libraries are cutting their own costs, many readers would otherwise lose access to this knowledge. A simple solution would be for libraries to redirect their subscription dollars towards funding open-source journals directly, but I admit that this is still a utopian vision (Ress 488).
Myth #3: If it’s free, it can’t be good
Skeptics of open access journals often argue that, “open access will open the floodgates to a lot of bad scholarship” (348). However, being open-access doesn’t necessarily mean lacking the peer review process. First Monday articles still go through “at least three peer reviews,” and the journal’s acceptance rate is 15%. In contrast, the acceptance rate for well-known pay-for-access journal New Media & Society is a bit higher, at 20%. Fitzpatrick supports this by saying, “there are, moreover many open-access journals that are more selective than their closed-access counterparts” (348).
In fact, certain funding models may make open-access may indeed be of higher quality due to their funding model. Ress suggests that publishers could “compete against each other for the funding from an organizational budget” (488). This model would encourage journals to be selective a high quality of articles in order to gain a competitive edge.
First Monday is but one example of a scholarly journal that successfully balances credibility and the open-access format. Not surprisingly, it was a bunch of Internet scholars who found the perfect formula.
- Gary Hall, Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media or Why We Need Open Access Now, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008
- Kathleen Fitzpatrick, ‘Giving It Away: Sharing and the Future of Scholarly Communication’, Journal of Scholarly Publishing 43.4 (2012): 347-362.
- Manon A. Ress, ‘Open Access Publishing: From Principles to Practice’, in Gaëlle Krikorian and Amy Kapczynski (eds) Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property, New York: Zone Books, 2010, pp. 475-498.