In a move to position itself in the open access publishing market, last week Sage announced it would create a new multi-disciplinary open access journal in the social sciences and humanities called Sage Open.
Joining the ranks of traditional publishers adding full open access journals to their portfolio (like BMJ Open and mBio) Sage Open will be offering many of the same services that authors of PLoS ONE articles are accustomed: usage metrics, reader ratings, commenting features, and recommendation services.
And like PLoS ONE, Sage Open is basing its inclusion criteria on sound methodology rather than interest or impact:
Sage Open will accept articles solely on the basis of the quality of the research, evaluating the scientific and research methods of each article for validity.
Sage Open will charge authors US$695 and is advertising an introductory rate of $195 per article, a rate far lower than the $3,000 it charges for its Sage Choice program, which allows authors to make their article freely available from participating subscription-access journals.
A study conducted in 2009 by Mary Waltham for the National Humanities Alliance determined that open access publishing in the humanities and social sciences was unsustainable, at least for the prestigious journals, estimating costs that well-exceed the fees set by Sage Open. Keeping expenses low for Sage Open may be a challenge, for several reasons:
Social sciences and humanities papers are much longer than STM papers — about twice as long on average — which will translate into much higher copyediting and typesetting costs per accepted paper.
Sage does not use cascading peer review. Manuscripts rejected from other Sage journals will require resubmission to Sage Open like any other journal and will be subjected to a new round of editorial and peer-review, according to Jayne Marks, VP Library Information Group at Sage. As a result, Sage Open will not be able to take advantage of the redundant work of editors and reviewers before them.
Sage Open will require professional editors. In order to cast their subject net as widely as possible, they will require a large editorial board and scores of subject experts. Considering the breadth of the social sciences and humanities, this will be a very large board, and require the involvement of professional editors (as opposed to academic volunteers) to help organize and manage the process, adding to the overhead of the journal. Other publishers who have ventured into open access publishing in the social sciences, like Hindawi, have taken a very focused discipline approach.
Lastly, there is no culture of paying for publication in the social sciences and humanities. Unlike the biological sciences, where page charges are still common (at least among American society publishers), there are few journals in the humanities and social sciences that levy author charges. Some journals in economics do rely on small submission fees, but these are the exceptions, not the rule. And considering that publication fees are not common expenditures on grants in the humanities and social sciences, when such grants exist, Sage will need to focus on other potential sources of revenue.
Sage may see a business opportunity pitched, as their website states, at “authors who want or need their articles to be open access because of university or government mandates,” and aiming specifically at capturing institutional funds earmarked to support open access publishing (e.g. COPE). Considering that the majority of these funds are restricted for authors without sources of external funding and limit their use to full open access journals, Sage may see an opportunity in these largely untapped funds. Best of all, these funds come with a strong advocacy group willing to promote their use.
By emulating what PLoS ONE has done in the biomedical sciences, Sage may find itself in the center of a new publishing model in the social sciences and humanities.