Online or invisible

Full-text searches, full-text teasers, the attitude of german publishers to open access and a possible future for scientific publishing

While many english-language scientific publishers allow their authors to make articles published in journals available to anyone on an oa server free of charge, german publishers have difficulty with such a practice: an information event organized by the german initiative for network information e.V. (dini recently provided an insight into the attitude of the german publishing scene and gave an opportunity to review the arguments of oa advocates and opponents as well as the intentions of the german research foundation (dfg).

Open access refers to the free accessibility of scientific information and can be achieved in two ways (the color theory of open access): via the self-publishing, the editing of or publishing in scientific journals that can be used free of charge or. Das publizieren von kostenlos nutzbaren wissenschaftlichen monografien, und das self-archiving, the additional making available of articles published in journals of scientific and mostly commercial publishers for free use by readers.

The preservation of self-archiving options for authors should be presumed to be a reluctance on the part of commercial publishers, as it could in principle lead to financial losses. In order to determine the attitude of english-language publishers towards self-archiving, the sherpa romeo project created a database containing information on the open access guidelines or policies of these publishers. Surprisingly, over 90% of the publishers surveyed allow their authors to self-archive, including big players such as reed elsevier and springer. The reason: parallel, free accessibility of an article increases the citation numbers of the journal and promotes the article and the journal. However, consent to self-archiving rarely means that the original file of the publication may be made available to the public: in most cases, a modified layout, different pagination or similar is a prerequisite for the possibility of secondary publication, and in some cases only preliminary versions of the publication, the so-called preprints, may be made available free of charge.

In order to gather information on the attitude of german publishers, the deutsche forschungsgemeinschaft dfg called for the joint project open access policies – what do german publishers allow their authors to do?? Of the university library of stuttgart and the computer and media service of the humboldt university of berlin. Within the project, the partners contacted, among others, 30 publishers with the intention of documenting their oa policies regarding self-archiving. The disappointing response (only one third of the publishers responded) indicates a low level of awareness of oa ies in the german publishing scene.

In the arguments for and against open access that were exchanged at the above-mentioned information event, there was the almost customary mixing of the topics of scientific publishing, electronic publishing and open access, especially on the part of non-open access publishers and interest groups. Conventional publishers claim that the quality arance of the content of submitted articles, which is ensured by qualified colleagues (so-called peer review), is their very own achievement. The necessity and importance of peer review within scholarly communication are widely recognized, and its possible absence or failure is not an original oa problem. In addition, quality arance of content is only organized by the publishers – it is carried out, mostly free of charge, by scientists. Even technical quality arance is usually only provided by established publishers themselves.

Last but not least, open access has been wrongly associated with so-called non-profit publishers such as professional societies not primarily focused on economic gain: very few (and none of the recognized) open access publishers are run by professional societies. Eine historiezierung erfuhr das heute unter dem begriff „journal crisis“ apostrophierte zugangsproblem zu wissenschaftlichen informationen zum beispiel durch zitierung einer publikation der association of american universities aus dem jahr 1927:

Librarians are suffering because of the increasing volume of publications and rapidly rising prices. Of special concern is the much larger number of periodicals that are available that members of faculty consider essential to the successful conduct of their work.

Price increases in the scientific information supply are thus justified with the increase of the production of scientific contents: according to a study cited by thieme verlag, this increase in production has been between 3 and 3.5% annually over the past 200 years, and the annual increase in the number of scientific professionals in the same percentage range was identified as the cause. All this notwithstanding the fact that library budgets, measured against information supply needs, have since deteriorated dramatically, and open access, as a contribution to mitigating the journal crisis, explicitly requires documents to be freely accessible on the internet.

Not surprisingly, 80 years ago the association of american universities knew nothing of open access servers and the possibility of electronic information exchange via the internet, free of charge and within seconds. Also conspicuous is the emphasis on the noun access to the neglect of the adjective open with reference to the percentage of 90% of journal articles in the stm segment (science, technology, medicine) that can be accessed online, usually at a high price. Conventional non-open-access publishers can still score points with the motto "open access" innovation in online retrieval the evening also included a number of additional services, such as crossref, an infrastructure for linking citations.

Hybrid publishing

Many of germany’s newer university presses, which make their publications available on open access terms or offer them for sale, are seen as the antithesis of conventional commercial publishers, who subject their products to paid access. Publishers or print providers who specialize in paid-for print publication of the free electronic version of the document.

According to its proponents, this combination of free electronic document version and additional paid print edition, called hybrid publishing, offers numerous advantages. The primacy of electronic publication is reflected in the slogan "online or invisible," which alludes not only to the increased visibility, dissemination, and citation frequency of oa documents, but also to their advertising function for the print edition, which can be purchased for a fee.

Traditional publishers often do not want to cooperate with oa university publishers for fear that the print equivalent of a free electronic publication will not be marketable. Print service providers and publishers who engage in such cooperation (such as monsenstein und vannerdat), on the other hand, hype the advertising effect of the free e-version for the print book and praise it as a full-range or full-text teaser; after all, scientific work with coarse text volumes presupposes a high-quality print edition.

Other added values associated with electronic open access publishing are the shortening of research cycles due to the accelerated dissemination of documents and the simplicity of linking: for example, to other publications, to the research data on which the publications are based, or to central or external sources. National research databases, the so-called current research information systems (cris). University publishers committed to open access are also seen as an opportunity for universities to regain an active role in the publication process: but few of the conventional publishers leave content quality control to the universities and their staff anyway, and the question arises whether this is not in better hands there than in the hands of a commercial enterprise.

Open access journals as a model for success

In contrast to german oa university publishers, which focus on book publication, oa industry giants such as the public library of science (plos) and biomed central concentrate on publishing scientific journals. Regional publishers and those tied to a local university find it difficult to assemble a supra-regional or international, prestigious review panel that is existentially important for a journal. Biomed central, for instance, currently publishes 180 journals with 2007 total expected to exceed 10.000 articles. Biomed central’s journals sometimes achieve a high journal impact factor (jif). The jif is the largely unquestioningly accepted indicator of the quality of scientific publications, at least in stm disciplines – even if it is subject to very justified criticism and alternatives are developing (old hats and new concepts).

Since the use of the articles is free of charge, the costs must be covered by fees for published articles, the so-called article processing charges (apc). The apcs for biomed central journals are on average at 1.100 €, their recent increase was in line with the inflation rate, according to biomed central. A business model based on apcs is also seen as an opportunity to make scientists, who have become unaccustomed to the market due to the subscription practice in the supply of literature, aware of the price of scientific publishing. The persistence of the oa pioneers at biomed central seems to be bearing fruit: the increasing number of articles has led to an increasing number of submissions, which in turn have led to increased interest. Further contributing to the success are the growing awareness of oa and the increasingly frequent and binding oa policies of universities and research funders, which require or enforce oa publications by researchers.

Biomed central considers the open access concept – at least as far as journals are concerned – to be more promising in the stm field, since there is greater prere for scientists to publish (quickly) here. However, the partial conversion of funds available to libraries for the subscription of scientific journals into apcs can prove risky for libraries. The sum of apcs at heavily publishing universities may further exacerbate the financial plight of libraries. It seems more sensible to finance the apcs via a university-wide fund.

Reluctant opening at the borsenverein

The statement of the german publishers and booksellers association on open access, which has become a service, looks very modest in comparison to the open access university publishers and biomed central. Whoever expects access to complete electronic documents under the full text search online (vto) will be disappointed – unless you are technically gifted and not afraid of lawyers.

Vto sees itself as a distribution platform for small and medium-sized publishers and aims to provide a record of book content on the www. Potential buyers can use a full-text search to browse the holdings of participating publishers and – depending on their specifications – read a certain number of pages online with or without registration. There is no free access to the entire document, including the possibility of printing it out or passing it on. Thus, the new developments and initiatives in the open access scene are countered by strong restraint to half-heartedness on the part of the borsenverein. However, the vto does not only provide evidence of scientific literature, which is the target of the demand for open access.

Dfg supports open access

The dfg is obviously eager to further support open access and is looking beyond formal scientific communication. Wikis, blogs and other web 2.0 techniques are increasingly gaining acceptance in discussions of scholarly content and publication techniques – not least because of their networking capabilities and their speed advantage, owed to the lack of communicative formalization.

Not necessarily open access, but at least electronically available are the so-called living documents, as found in the living reviews series of the max planck society. These documents, which are subject to regular content updates, also belong to the new interactive publication types and techniques, which the dfg wants to take into account more strongly in its request.

In addition to the demand for disciplinary repositories, i.E., repositories that are dedicated to a scientific community, there is a need for stronger networking of the existing institutional and disciplinary repositories. In addition, the dfg has already called for the interdisciplinary information platform open access, which provides subject-specific information on open access and contributes to raising awareness among scientists and scholars.

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