OA interviews: Dave Ross, SAGE

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With the raft of policies and mandates that impact researchers and their institutions Sian Harris asks a range of publishers and publishing services companies about their approaches to open access

Dave Ross, executive publishing director, OA, SAGE

Our strategy has always been to engage actively with OA. Very early on we entered a partnership with Hindawi Publishing Corporation and launched 30 titles in the medicine and life sciences. Based on our experience with Hindawi [the joint venture finished in 2011], we have since developed our own OA programme and continue to explore options for our publishing partners.

We have a range of OA publishing options available, including fully gold OA journals such as SAGE Open and hybrid OA options across our traditional publishing journals through our SAGE Choice initiative. What has been clear from the start, and is reflected in our OA options, is that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. There are differences in how scholarly publishing works in the social sciences and humanities (HSS) compared with science, technology and medicine (STM). This can clearly be seen, for example, in the lack of funding and budget allocated to the HSS sector, and the US political landscape in its research budget towards this discipline.

And even within STM, for example, the needs of engineers are very different from those of life scientists. A recent study commissioned by the British Academy, ‘OA in the Humanities and Social Science’, went further, and suggested that the market should not so much be viewed as STM vs HSS, rather biomedicine vs the rest.

Certainly OA in the humanities, where the monograph is the main conveyor of information, faces its own challenges, but many other social- science disciplines, where the research article is still the main vehicle, face their own particular problems, mainly due to the relative paucity of funding. In many HSS disciplines, the journal itself serves a very different purpose to those in STM. Selection mechanisms are different and the nature of scholarly work that deals with concepts and ideas rather than empirical data requires different approaches.

Developing scalable and interoperable systems to support OA has also posed significant challenges. Academic publishers work in a global environment and their author base is international. While the well-established western markets of Europe and North America still dominate, emerging economies are contributing an ever-increasing proportion of the research output, led by China and India. As a result, the plethora of national funder mandates provides a very challenging environment for publishers to work within. In addition, private funding agencies also have their own OA requirements.

In order for any publishing model to be successful you have to have the support of your author base. It has always been a key part of SAGE’s publishing outreach to work closely with researchers, libraries and our publishing partners to make sure that our publishing models support their needs and that we work though their concerns and challenges together.

We have received positive feedback from our authors and librarian community in regards to the OA publishing models that we offer. Our social-sciences megajournal SAGE Open was quite a significant move to make given the uncertain penetration of OA models in the social science community and it created a great deal of interest. Since its launch in April 2011 with six papers, the journal has received more than 2,900 submissions from 104 countries with more than 600 articles published and 730,000 downloads.

Author behaviour will to some extent be driven by national funding agencies as OA has shifted from being a bottom-up, scholar-led movement to top-down funder-led. At SAGE we have developed strategies and policies to support the routes that our authors prefer and is most suitable to their publishing needs. We have a growing pure gold OA programme driven purely by APCs, and virtually all our subscription journals offer a hybrid gold option. At the same time we have put in place an adaptive policy to support our authors further within OA publishing.

We believe in enabling author choice. Until now publishers have generally operated a single common licence for all the research it publishes, whether this has been through an assignment of copyright, or the granting of an exclusive licence to publish. The OA publishing model, with a choice of licence type, fundamentally changes the legal relationship between the publisher and author. The long-term implications of a large-scale shift of copyright administration to the author has yet to be felt, but reusability is central to OA and we are experimenting with different CC options in different disciplines.

Our policies will be driven by author feedback and behaviour as we work with them to ascertain the best model. Many HSS authors have real concerns about derivative use, while for others commercial reuse is the issue.

We allow both text and data mining. Because of the disciplines we work in we are not seeing an enormous amount of activity. The main focus for text and data mining has involved large datasets and reports in the life sciences and chemistry, and these are not fields we have a large portfolio in.

We are developing strategies to enable the authors to connect and publish datasets alongside primary research reports. Enabling access to research data is fundamental to the philosophy that underpins OA. SAGE’s vision is that access to research supports and creates healthy minds and healthy cultures. The lack of standardised approaches to presenting and hosting data, however, provides real challenges and the attitude to sharing data is by no means the same across disciplines.

Our status as an independent company enables us to focus on the broad publishing needs of our authors, editors and societies, and drives us and our approach to innovation and change. We currently have numerous OA projects in the pipeline for this year, including the launch of several of our own fully OA journals complimenting our SAGE Open portfolio. 

Our most recent launches include; Research and Politics, which combines openness with a commitment to the rapid publication of key research findings; Digital Health, the first interdisciplinary journal for the digital health practice sector and Big Data and Society which seeks to explore implications of Big Data for societies. We are also launching titles in association with our partner societies such as the ASA and AERA and will be continuing an aggressive launch strategy for the foreseeable future.

SAGE is also currently pursuing a range of potential partnerships, pilots, and models that would include some level of OA content on the books side. We are also exploring participation in important initiatives such as the California State University Affordable Learning Solutions Initiative, which aims to provide very low cost quality educational content for students in this large higher education system.

As the scholarly publishing landscape changes, we are committed to maintaining an open and supportive dialogue with our publishing partners, from scholarly societies to librarians. We value our strong partnerships and stay close to the issues that our partners are affected by. We will continue to adapt, review and develop to ensure that we are supporting both our publishing partners and the scholarly community with the publishing models that best suit their needs, and enable access to the highest quality education to support research and learning.