MSP and Open Access

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Our Position

First pos­ted: May 2019

Open-ac­cess (OA) pub­lish­ing is a vir­tu­ous aim, but the means to achieve it, and achieve it well, are not at all clear. In par­tic­u­lar, we be­lieve that a prop­er pub­lish­ing sys­tem

  • should not dis­crim­in­ate against au­thors of less­er means; and
  • should not set up in­cent­ives aligned with quant­ity (as against qual­ity).

To our mind, mod­els based on au­thor charges (APCs, stand­ing for the eu­phem­ism “art­icle-pro­cessing charge” or “art­icle-pub­lish­ing charge”) fail on both these counts, and we are op­posed to their propaga­tion.

We think that bar­ri­ers to au­thor­ing are worse than bar­ri­ers to read­ing. For read­ing, even with sub­scrip­tion pay­walls, there’s arX­iv, there’s email­ing the au­thor for a copy, there’s all sorts of more or less leg­al ways of ob­tain­ing the con­tent. However, for au­thor­ing, APCs would shut the gate tight, es­pe­cially if one is caught in the middle, not poor enough to qual­i­fy for a waiver, not fun­ded enough to af­ford the fee. Aside from sin­gu­lar sci­entif­ic peaks, this sets an un­ac­cept­able ceil­ing on most au­thors’ op­por­tun­it­ies, es­pe­cially if they’re not lucky to be born in an af­flu­ent coun­try or one that would fund their re­search.

Re­latedly, we do not think the cur­rent trend for com­bined agree­ments between rich in­sti­tu­tions/con­sor­tia and big pub­lish­ers, cov­er­ing both read­ing ac­cess and open-ac­cess pub­lish­ing, is a good re­cipe for glob­al change, as it won’t real­ist­ic­ally be ex­tend­able to the large num­bers of smal­ler, in­de­pend­ent pub­lish­ers (thus lead­ing to either smoth­er­ing or con­sol­id­a­tion), and more im­port­ant, still ex­cludes au­thors of less­er means.

There­fore, we think Dia­mond OA (= free to read, free to pub­lish for all) would be ideal, but un­for­tu­nately it’s not clear how to fund it, and how to fund it sus­tain­ably over the long term.

A plaus­ible mod­el might be con­sor­ti­um fund­ing, where a set of high-means in­sti­tu­tions be­come mem­bers of a “club” sup­port­ing a whole journ­al (or rather, a whole port­fo­lio of journ­als), in con­trast to fund­ing in­di­vidu­al art­icles, and re­main­ing blind to the af­fil­i­ation of the au­thors. The hard ques­tion, of course, is how to con­vince in­sti­tu­tions to join (and, most im­port­ant for long-term sta­bil­ity, to stay) when budgets shrink and the tempta­tion to free-ride is nat­ur­al. Non­ethe­less, MSP is ex­plor­ing such a mod­el for its port­fo­lio.

Up­date, April 2020: The Sub­scribe to Open mod­el, re­cently pro­posed and pi­loted at An­nu­al Re­views, seems to solve most of the col­lect­ive-ac­tion prob­lems we saw when con­sid­er­ing con­sor­tial fund­ing of Dia­mond OA journ­als. At present, S2O ap­pears as the most plaus­ible and sus­tain­able open-ac­cess op­tion for MSP, and we will soon be­gin ex­plor­ing it in earn­est.

Up­date, May 2021: Con­tinu­ing our ex­plor­a­tion of the Sub­scribe to Open mod­el, MSP has joined the Sub­scribe to Open Com­munity of Prac­tice. We are ser­i­ously con­sid­er­ing a pos­sible switch to S2O in the fu­ture.

Up­date, Feb­ru­ary 2022: Start­ing with the 2023 sub­scrip­tion sea­son, MSP will try the Sub­scribe to Open mod­el for these journ­als: Geo­metry & To­po­logy, Al­geb­ra­ic & Geo­met­ric To­po­logy, Al­gebra & Num­ber The­ory, Ana­lys­is & PDE, and Pa­cific Journ­al of Math­em­at­ics. That means that, each year, if enough sub­scribers con­tin­ue to sup­port the journ­al, that year art­icles will be made open ac­cess, free to read by any­one. The S2O mod­el is ex­plained here.

Short of this, we think that (at least in math­em­at­ics) fair-priced schol­ar-led sub­scrip­tion journ­als re­main the best stew­ards of qual­ity and fair­ness. While sub­scrip­tion journ­als do set bar­ri­ers to dir­ect ac­cess, non­ethe­less they spread costs across a large com­munity, their in­cent­ives are aligned with qual­ity not quant­ity, and they do not dis­fa­vor au­thors of less­er means.

Fi­nally, MSP is sin­gu­lar among pub­lish­ers of math­em­at­ics journ­als for the care we give to the type­set­ting and copy­ed­it­ing of art­icles we pub­lish. Our au­thors ap­pre­ci­ate it, as the quotes on this page show. Such care, however, does not come cheap — no mat­ter that we don’t need to sup­port a schol­arly so­ci­ety (we pub­lish only for the sake of pub­lish­ing) and no mat­ter how ef­fi­cient we are (in­deed, es­pe­cially pro­por­tion­al to our pro­duc­tion qual­ity, we are re­mark­ably low cost). However, we can­not be as cheap as the quasi-auto­mated or routine pro­cessing of manuscripts that some find sat­is­fact­ory and pro­pose as suf­fi­cient for OA pub­lic­a­tions. In par­tic­u­lar, any level of au­thor-charge that would keep our pro­duc­tion value would also pose quite a bar­ri­er to most less fin­an­cially for­tu­nate au­thors.

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