I’ve been supporting a group of postgraduates who edit a long lived New Zealand Journal, NZ Natural Sciences We are talking about moving it onto our ‘lightweight journal publishing model’ platform in due course, more of which later.
I’m really proud to support the current editors, Katie and Brendon. This is a journal that has run since the 70’s, edited by a few postgrads, who then enter academia and mentor others in running it. As well as being an outlet for new research, it gives postgrads a taste of reviewing, editing and soliciting new work, which must be invaluable for their skills as research authors.
We have traversed some really interesting territory as we prepare to migrate the journal. Applying modern licensing retrospectively (CC-BY, o’course), talking about preservation, and wondering what the hell to do with a statement from copyright New Zealand. (Answer: its not a bill. Its money. Not that you could easily tell from the statement).
I laid out the options to the ed. team. You could use something like Hindawi or Scholastica to host the journal, but you’d need a revenue stream. And it was that, the way to get funds to support the publication, which is currently free as its just a bunch of files on a departmental web server at the moment and a google site, that caused a level of complexity they didn’t want to deal with. And quite right too: adding a treasurer, accounts, tax, and all that stuff detracts from the aims of this exercise. Editors change from year to year, and keeping commercial relationships with service providers is a big part of what journals do now.
So it was fascinating when they forwarded me an email from Exelely. It was a cold-call to the editors asking if they would be interested in letting them host the journal, for a fee, which would be paid for with Article Processing Charges (APCs). Its a pretty standard business model: the heart of so called Gold Open Access. Exeley have an interesting offering, providing a lot of the commercial services you’d expect.
The question that bugged me though, as up front and open as Exeley appeared, is what seperates them from a ‘predatory’ publisher? I’d rather call the phenomenon ‘questionable’ publishing, as its never really clear cut who qualifies as predatory. What level of service from a publisher qualifies them to make profit from scholarly communications? There are obvious lines you can cross: for example, hijacking, where a journal that emulates another so closely you can’t tell the ‘real’ one from the predator. How about double dipping, where a journal collects APCs and charges journal subscriptions at the same time? The IEEE make it really clear that they reduce subs for organisations that contribute APCs. Elsevier, not so much. Then there is Exeley.
I have an opinion that any profit made from the work that government pays for (and occasionally industry) is wastage in the system. An inefficiency when improved with allow more money for the actual research, the stuff that makes our world progress. Money taken away from creating new knowledge. I realise that this could be carried reductio ad absurdum, especially when you start thinking about equipment, but consider that in NZ, at least, universities don’t pay goods and services taxes. Why would the government collect its own money back? Now that the nominal cost of reproducing data is approaching zero, and storing it is becoming cheaper  making a profit from this seems questionable.
After a few night sleeping on it I realise what my problem is with Exeley. Its for-profit. That, in my mind, makes it questionable. Not predatory, as they don’t seem to be profiteering, but I’ve recommended to Katie and Brandon that they don’t follow up on their offer. Its entirely up to them of course. if Exeley was a non-profit and belonged to the Open Access Scholarly Publisher’s Association, and its code of conduct, then I’d be far more likely to tell them to take a closer look. As it is, we have a good solution for the NZ Natural Sciences journal that will meet most of their needs, and we can provide it for free.
 Dear archivists, yeah, I know. Disk and maintenance ain’t free. But I’m making a point!