Why I Can't Afford (To Publish In) Open Access Journals

Why I Love Open-Access Journals

The open-access movement has always struck a chord with me. I personally love the idea of opening up the realm of research and publications by scientists and scholars to the public. There has been a lot of discord over the years on the monetization of scholarship, where you essentially have academics competing to submit articles (Publish or Die - I'll come back to that...), then have other scholars review said articles for free, and then publish, and readers (or more likely institutions) must subscribe in order to access said articles. 

Open access seeks to undo (the later part at least, I have my own gripes about submission/review) some of this, and help society as a whole have access to the research that others are doing. I find it fascinating, that in an era where we have the knowledge of man in the palm of our hand, the only thing stopping us from true access isn't necessarily data connection/digital divide, but money to bring down the paywall to websites and publishers.

I remember when Aaron Swartz died. I also remember when scholars started to post/link to their articles in remembrance (#pdftribute). To me, Aaron really did a lot for the cause, and I often think how much more he would he would have done, especially for the open-access movement. Maybe that was a turning point for many to learn about his work, but the open access movement has led to a lot of interesting conundrums over the years that I am beginning to see, even in my academic life. 

Publish or Die.... or Pay?

The need to publish in academic life is undeniable. The mantra 'Publish or Die/Perish,' or my personal favorite "I should be writing..." is ingrained relatively quick into any academicians life, especially when the prospect of promotion or tenureship comes into the thought process.

Traditional journal models aren't going to go away anytime soon (I believe at least), but many are starting to adopt to an open access model or make such options available. Nowadays, a lot of journals I see offer such an option when submitting a manuscript on the prospect of open access publishing "with a payment of $xxx.xx." Now, I haven't been able to check any of those boxes yet, because I don't have the money. I am still looking for grants, and while I have had some very minor success, I really haven't considered budgeting money to pay for publication in the future, but maybe that will one day change. 

Nonetheless, I am starting to meet a barrier for some of my publishing endeavors. A number of journals are moving to the open access model, and ditching traditional publishing models. Thats great. What really stops me in the process is when I find that there is no other option to submit a manuscript for eventual publishing without paying. This just happened with a project I have been working with a few students in the past year and a colleague of mine, where a journal we have been eyeing went open access. I remember when my colleague showed me the email and was happy to see that we may be able to get something online for many to read. Unfortunately, as we looked up the authors instructions as we were finalizing our work, we saw that we would ultimately now have to pay. We have no money for this, and I do not expect departmental funds to go to such work. 

A few other colleagues of mine have mentioned similar situations. Some have managed to find funding from their universities and departments. Some used grants. One friend mentioned considering paying out of pocket. When I hear this and try to imagine paying the hundreds to thousands of dollars to do so, I really wonder where things are going, especially for younger faculty members. 

Predatory Publishing?

The need to publish, as I previous mentioned, is tantamount to new faculty looking to survive the academic cycle and to make a name for themselves. Trying to find a journal to publish in is probably getting easier in some respects these days, I mean, there are plenty more each year. 

But, that doesn't mean it's an even playing field. I am seeing an increasing amount of workshops and papers regarding the threat of predatory publishing houses chasing after academics. For some, this is a nonissue. They know, from experience or colleagues, where to publish and what traditional methods to utilize. For a new faculty member, the miasma of the publishing process is filled with more trepidation, it's all to easy to grab the 'low-hanging fruits' and try to publish anywhere after being rejected a number of times, especially with the need to churn out publications. 

I practically delete en masse a number of emails daily that start with "Dear Dr. Dr. Dy Aungst, (do they even check names or what is the program they use?) we would love to have you publish in our journal....etc." Maybe you have seen these emails, the offer to publish, or be an editorial member, or speaker at some conference, that incidentally always seem to come from the same organizations. 

When John Bohannon published his piece "Who's Afraid of Peer Review?" in Science back in 2013, it generated quite a stir. His so called 'sting' that demonstrated how quickly some journals were willing to turn around and publish some papers online was ridiculous. I really hadn't come across anyone with such an experience first hand, but started to hear similar stories through the grapevine since then.

Pharmacy Practice academics (not referring to pharmacologists that many seem to confuse us with) work in a rather sequestered field of publishing. We have our journals (Pharmacotherapy, Annals of Pharmacotherapy, JAPhA, AJHP, etc.), which use predominately traditional publishing methods. However, like any other field, the competition to publish with increasing submissions to these journals have caused many pharmacy practice academics to look elsewhere to publish. Now we are running into problems many others have been facing. 

Recently, there was an interesting article published in our primary pharmacy education journal (American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education [AJPE]) by John Bowman titled "Predatory Publishing, Questionable Peer Review, and Fraudulent Conferences" about some dangers that pharmacy academics should watch out for. I really appreciated the piece, and thought it was timely. For that reason, I also recently read a letter to AJPE by a past professor (and I like to think now colleague of mine) about his personal experience with predatory journals, where one offered to publish his manuscript in 30 days pending a $200 fee. 

So Where Do I Publish?

So, that's where things stand, especially in my niche of the wide spectrum of academia. Personally, I think I am doing an alright job navigating this issue (though making a few mistakes). What surprises me, is that I have come across 'newer' faculty (in-person and online) that have had their own issues, and even older academics that are confused about open access, which leads me to believe this may be a growing issue that needs to be addressed.

My fear is that open access will be synonymous with predatory at some point. I also fear a point where many academics will avoid open access because of said costs, especially younger faculty who may not have the funds to pay-up. 

I think there needs to be some changes (and now is a good time to learn since this is all relatively new after all) to the field of open access. We need easier payment schemes to factor in newer faculty resources. We need to help newer faculty identify and understand open access journals to publish in, and reduce any stigma of publishing in such areas. 

New faculty (and old) will benefit from some work conducted to help understand such fears and worries related to open access publishing, such as Jeffrey Beall's list of potential predatory journals he has listed. But I think more needs to be done. It's not just the vetting process, it's not just avoiding predatory journals, it's ensuring that the future of research that will be open access doesn't fall to the wayside or be distrusted by the academicians of the future, who will most likely end up publishing more than their forebears in open access journals in their lifetimes. Hopefully, journals will work to understand the limits of certain pay scheme models and help ensure that cost will not just be one more limiting factor in the future for academics quest to publish or perish.

Side Note: While I have seen some thoughts regarding just uploading manuscripts online for all to see, and the use of public review (or even none) I do not see these articles being given the same credence as traditional publishing routes when you go up to review (even if you were to throw in 'Altmetrics' which many are still trying to figure out).