Open Access in Amsterdam: A New Model for New Journals

Organizers of the last session on the last day of the 2010 Annual Meeting, “New Emerging Business Models in Journal Publishing,” joked about the difficulty of rounding up a crowd to talk about journals in such a time slot. However, a good number of dedicated attendees put off their final happy hour and heard presentations on some of the innovative approaches their colleagues are taking in journals publishing. One such innovation is coming out of Amsterdam University Press, where they are extending a commitment to open access to journals.

Business Director Martin Voigt shared with the audience how working with partners has made this a feasible model.

An international member of AAUP, Amsterdam University Press (AUP), does not have a formal journals program: its journals are currently managed by the press’s editors. Five of their journals (one forthcoming) are open access, a continuation of the AUP’s commitment to exploring feasible models for open access monographs through the OAPEN program. The press decided to explore the possibility of open access journals for a variety of reasons. In addition to the desire to make scholarly work accessible, they feel it may be an answer to the serials crisis in journals, which has been slowing the development of new journals and has led to a shrinking audience. The obstacle in the way of this ideal was, of course, funding.

While many presses would like to make their content more accessible, all are aware of the costs required to develop and maintain a journal. AUP’s solution to this problem was to work with partners – libraries, faculties, institutes– to create a “financial basis” for any new journal. Working with scholarly partners ensures the quality of the content, as representatives from all of the partners constitute the journal’s advisory board. Collaboration makes sense for the partners, as they all have a vested interest in the field and the existence of a journal for publishing in that field. The partners also benefit by working together, rather than in competition, with similarly focused organizations. Involving a wide swath of a particular scholarly community also has the very practical benefit of decreasing the contribution for each partner. The cost of supporting the open access journal replaces the subscription fee (and is often less) that these institutions would pay in a traditional model.

As a case study of how this model plays out, Voigt presented on the Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries (JALC). The journal came about when two archaeological institutions approached AUP and asked the press to calculate the costs of an open access journal covering archaeology in Holland and Belgium. After calculating costs, the press collaborated with the original two institutions to find an additional seven partners with interest in the field.

The press has developed a precise calculation of the required yearly costs for the operation of an open access journal. In the case of JALC, assuming a publishing frequency of one article per month, a part-time journal editor, IT development, and overhead, costs total €18,000.  This cost is split evenly between the nine partners, leaving each responsible for €2,000 per year in addition to “their investment in time for acquisition, peer reviewing & editorial board.” This formula has been particularly successful for AUP because there is no risk involved – all costs have been anticipated and paid for by the funding partners. In fact, this model has also allowed the press to make a small profit, through subscription-based print-on-demand articles. Print subscriptions are available for € 99,95 a year, for which the subscriber receives two issues, each containing the previous six articles. Voigt reported that as of June, they had a steady 45 subscriptions, surely not a huge number, but an admirable bonus for an already self-sustaining project.

The benefits of publishing JALC online extend beyond the increased access it offers. While “enhanced publication” may sound like a suspect catchphrase to some, AUP, with the advice of its partners, has found ways to take advantage of the additional capabilities of digital in ways that are valuable to scholars. The online format allows the journal to publish the research data along with the articles themselves. Voigt shared an example of how they have been able to integrate technology particularly useful to archaeologists: he showed an image from an excavation of a burial, and subsequent slides displayed the added views provided by an online Geographical Information System (GIS), viewing the image as an X-ray and separating the objects.

When asked by an audience member whether the partners funding model has made publishing decisions political, Voigt said they had not run into problems of that nature. This is certainly a question that would need to be addressed by any press considering a similar model, taking into account the different types of potential partners with different sets of interests. University presses, however, are no strangers to the complexities of partnering with various institutions, something that they are engaging in more and more frequently. Amsterdam’s initiative of collaboration may prove to be a model for the successful merging of open access and sustainability.

View the presentation slides here:

Meredith Benjamin
Communications Coordinator, AAUP