The road is straight, the weather is good. The drive should be simple. The cover of the latest report, “Paying for open access publication charges,” lays out the details for establishing and managing institutional publication funds.
The rationale for creating this report is clear: The response of granting foundations, universities, and publishers to open access journals has been “haphazard.” The purpose of this report is to establish guidelines and recommendations for these groups.
The report first covers why central funds are necessary for funding publication fees. The authors argue that such a funding model avoids most potholes when publication costs are seen as indirect costs to a university (such as the library) and not direct costs (such as funding publication directly from grants). The central fund model is able to support authors without grants, as well as authors whose grants have dried up.
Nicely stated, but the devil is always in the details, and I was particularly interested to see how the report would approach governance of these central posts of publication money, among them:
- Who gets to make the funding decisions?
- How does one determine financial support when articles include authors from other institutions?
- How does one establish priority for funding competing requests if funds become limited? And most importantly,
- How does one deal with appeals when funding requests are denied?
The report provides no answers to these questions except that each institution needs to address them. Questions #1 and #2 are the easiest of the bunch. Beware of #3 and #4.
The function of publication is not merely to disseminate research results — publication also serves as a way to evaluate faculty for promotion and tenure. Those who deny a publication fund request must understand the implications of their decision on the career path of the authors. The time during which a new faculty member must establish a track record in the literature is terrifyingly short. A denied publication can impact the tenure decision of a junior faculty member. Even the delay incurred over an appeal should not be taken lightly.
Unfortunately, I have read no open access publication policy that addresses these important issues:
- The Berkeley Research Impact Initiative (BRII) specifies that it will pay up to $3,000 for articles published in OA journals, but caps expenses at $1,500 for articles published in hybrid journals. No rationale is given for these figures, but one could imagine that the sponsors considered the fees charged by many commercial publishers and set limits accordingly.
- The University of Wisconsin-Madison Open Access Publishing Support Fund will cover 50% of author fees for articles published in OA journals and 30% for hybrid journal and limits one award per year per author. One has to infer whether cost-sharing is the result of wanting to keep the authors sensitized to the fact that publishing costs money, or simply a way to reduce requests (even 50% of $3,000 is unaffordable for a graduate student).
- The UNC-Chapel Hill Open Access Authors’ Fund provides almost no detail, only that they will award up to $1,000 per article.
- The University of Calgary Open Access Authors Fund will fund publishers like Bentham Science (noted for their academic spam campaign), but will only provide funds for hybrid journals when they promise to reduce subscription costs as a result of author-side payments.
- The University of Nottingham in the UK provides only a contact email for more information.
Policies to monitor and govern institutional publishing funds are only necessary if demand exceeds supply. If few researchers request these funds, little mediation is necessary. Just submit the bill.
But many library administrators are pushing for these author funds, and in many cases, the monies are simply being skimmed off existing library collection funds or were provided as a one-time gift from a Vice Chancellor before the economy took a nosedive. As the RIN report states on page 23, there is clearly not enough money to support both author-pays and subscription-pays models.
If use of these author funds takes off, prepare for some road rage.