Last week, MIT Press announced its new shift+OPEN program and invited interested journals to apply. Supported by a gift from the Arcadia Fund, shift+OPEN will provide a platform for subscription journals that wish to move to a diamond (i.e., institutionally subsidized, with no reader or author fees) open-access (OA) publishing model. Since there has been significant interest in this new program, I reached out to Nick Lindsay, MIT Press’s director of journals and open access, with some questions:

Open lock green button on a computer keyboard

One criterion MIT Press has stated up front is that journals applying for the shift+OPEN program can’t be either brand-new titles or established OA journals – they must be established subscription journals that want to switch to OA. What other criteria will the Press use in deciding which journals to take on?

The MIT Press journals list is heterogenous; we publish from New England history and culture to neuroscience and we welcome proposals that come in from across a wide spectrum of fields. The criteria we would use for Shift+OPEN  are the same as for any other journal that we’d consider publishing at the MIT Press. Is it making a meaningful contribution to its field and has the community accepted it as a source of important scholarship? Are the editorial operations and paper flow strong and does the editorial board accurately reflect the discipline and include top scholars working in the field?  We look at metrics like citations and downloads as well, to build out a full picture of the journal’s impact. Additionally, the Press is interested in fostering an open access culture in fields that have been slow to adopt OA and strongly encourages societies and others with journals in the arts, humanities, and social sciences to consider applying.

How will “open access” be defined in the context of shift+OPEN? (For example, will participating journals be required to publish under a Creative Commons Attribution-only license, or will other versions of CC licensing be allowed?)

Open access for this diamond OA journal will mean free to read, submit, publish, and reuse the content as governed by the appropriate Creative Commons license. The selection of a CC license to be used as the default license will be done in consultation with the journal owner so we don’t have a definitive answer to the question of which license(s) at the moment. With our other open access titles, we’ve been very flexible and are willing to work with a variety of CC licenses that can satisfy funder mandates, author needs, and institutional policies. I’ve no reason to think that this will be any different.

The Arcadia Fund has committed funding to cover three years of this program. Does MIT Press have a contingency funding plan in the event that Arcadia’s support does not continue beyond that period?

The Arcadia Fund has given the MIT Press a generous gift to support open access initiatives at the Press. The Press has chosen to use part of this funding to support the Shift+OPEN model and will use the remainder across a number of other OA activities that it has initiated. At the end of the three years we will have implemented a mixed model with support coming from a variety of sources — funders, libraries, and other institutions —  to establish a sustainable base for the journal. The groundwork here will start immediately so that we’re well positioned by the time the journal needs to transition to the new model. There will necessarily be some variation in the final model that will be dependent on the participating journal. If, for example, there is a large society behind the title we may have a broader range of funding options to consider than we would if that’s not the case. The MIT Press is also looking for a partner who will be willing to examine costs closely and work with us to make the sure the journal can be run efficiently without sacrificing quality.

What MIT resources are being directed towards this project? Presumably it’s some combination of staff time, budget, and perhaps space.

This will partly depend on what’s needed. Some of our titles prefer to hold onto certain production tasks like copyediting or composition and don’t need our services in those areas. But we’re open to having the full suite of MIT Press services including production, hosting, marketing, and financial made available. Staff from all those parts of the Press would be involved. We wouldn’t be offering space to house the journal’s editorial operations, which is in any case not common at university presses.

On the flip side, will MIT Press require a certain commitment period from shift+OPEN journals? (Can they withdraw from the program if they choose to, or will MIT Press become the owner of participating journals?)

We do expect a term of three years to start and would hope to extend that at the end of the initial contract period. But the journal’s owner will have the ability to opt out at that point if they so choose. The Press isn’t necessarily looking to take ownership of these titles but we will consider it if the current owner of the journal would like to explore that with the Press.

There will be some variation in publishing cost from one journal to another. Is there a limit to how much MIT Press is willing to spend on subventions for any individual journal?

Yes, this program is not intended for a very large journal that is publishing several hundred articles per year with extensive editorial operations and production costs. We’re certainly open to taking on those kinds of journals via other methods, but not through this program. We have enough support to underwrite a modest-sized journal that is publishing on a quarterly basis and has a traditional set up. There’s a range of possibilities that we can consider inside those parameters and we plan to examine the operations of the selected journal very closely to make sure that it can reasonably fit within our financial constraints.

Is there a threshold number of participants the Press is willing to take on to start with?

We’re going to start with one title in this initial phase but we will likely want to expand this effort and will seek out other sources of funding that can assist us in building out this program.

How will the MIT Press know whether shift+OPEN has been a success and should continue?

There are a number of factors to consider. If at the end of the initial term both sides are pleased with the progress made and want to continue working together this would be a key marker of success. But we’d also want to look at several other indicators around the operations of the journal to see if they’re trending in the right direction. If submissions have increased and the number of citations to articles have gone up along with the usage data we will take that into consideration when evaluating success or failure.

How much money is the Arcadia Fund contributing to the shift+OPEN project?

As mentioned previously, the gift from the Arcadia Fund is directed towards a number of open access initiatives of which Shift+OPEN is just one.

Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson is University Librarian at Brigham Young University. He has worked previously as a bibliographer for YBP, Inc., as Head Acquisitions Librarian for the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, as Director of Resource Acquisition at the University of Nevada, Reno, and as Associate Dean for Collections & Scholarly Communication at the University of Utah.


4 Thoughts on "Digging into shift+OPEN: A Conversation with MIT Press"

Am I reading this wrong, or is this program basically funding for one journal to turn diamond OA for three years in hopes that in that time a sustainable ongoing business model (or other sources of revenue) will turn up?

Thanks for the interview, Rick and Nick. This may be starting as a small scale experiment but the challenge of flipping smaller HSS titles – often published by smaller societies and university presses – is one that’s all too often left out of debates about how to transition to fully open research. One reason for that is because there’s rarely money available to buy time to figure out longer term sustainability. Whether or not this works (and let’s hope it does!), there’s likely to be useful learnings. And as Robert has noted in these pages before, Diamond has potential to be a viable route for societies.

I enjoyed learning about the diamond OA model. I’ll keep my ears peeled for more.

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