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Publisher partnership ready to go for gold

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At the end of last year two very different publishers struck a deal that promises a host of new open-access journals. John Murphy spoke to Sage and Hindawi to find out more

Sage has become the first major journal publisher to break ranks and announce the creation of a range of new open-access (OA) electronic titles in partnership with established OA publisher Hindawi. The joint venture will use the ‘gold’ OA model, where authors pay for their papers to be published, and the journals have a liberal licensing structure that allows free redistribution.

Both partners believe they have created a model that ensures the integrity of the published journals. Sage will have responsibility for the editorial development, marketing and promotion of the new journals while Hindawi will provide the technology and expertise needed to run the publication process from the point of submission, through the peer-review process, to the point of final publication.

Hindawi, which is based in Egypt, already publishes about 100 OA electronic journals in science, technology and medicine. In contrast, this venture will be the first move into OA for Sage, which is the fifth largest traditional journal publisher with more than 450 subscription titles. Indeed this is the first large-scale move into OA by any of the major commercial publishing companies and it has shaken the STM publishing world. While to some it is a gutsy move, to others it is ‘breaking ranks’ and threatens to undermine the whole process of scholarly publishing. But it is a well-known aphorism in business that, if you are going to have your throat cut by a new and disruptive business model, it is better to cut it yourself.

David Ross (pictured above left) , business development manager at Sage, said: ‘There is a perception that OA is antipublishing because of the way that it is portrayed. But if you accept that there is a viable business model then Sage does not see them as mutually exclusive. It’s just about Sage providing a service to the academic community.’

And the two companies refute any concerns about quality control in OA journals. ‘Hindawi’s editorial procedures are as robust as any editorial processes of a subscription publisher,’ said Ross. ‘All the same metrics will apply as apply for the subscription model. Citation numbers matter and, in the long term, we want them to be highly ranked. Hindawi already have some journals that are highly ranked in ISI. What matters is that the journal is of high quality.’

Paul Peters (pictured above right), head of business development for Hindawi, agrees. ‘A few years ago there might have been a valid concern about integrity but there are several major journals now being published by OA without any loss of prestige or quality and they are being highly cited,’ he said. ‘Hindawi wanted to remove any kind of bias in the journals because we want them to have a high profile.’

Hindawi’s process involves distributing editorial responsibility across a wide range of people in an editorial board. In order to be accepted for publication an article has to be approved by the editor in chief, one associate editor and at least two external reviewers. ‘We publish the name of the associate editor on each manuscript they approve, in addition to the editor in chief’s name on the journal.

The associate editors are not paid, so we do not see their decisions being swayed by whatever financial model is being used. The editor-in-chief gets a small royalty but cannot accept an article for publication that has not been recommended by an associate editor. In most cases the editor-in-chiefs care more about their reputations than the small amount they are paid,’ explained Peters.

The new journals will have a very liberal licence (a creative commons licence) so they can be freely included in databases and aggregation services. Sage and Hindawi expect the journals to be popular with libraries where budgets are being squeezed; in particular they hope that users in developing countries will gain access to new source material.

The material can be freely, or even commercially, distributed in print or CD-ROM form if a third party wanted to do it. Ross said that some of the major research funders were now giving extra money in their grants to pay for the cost of publication, because they believe that it is important for the results to be widely available. Ross said Sage would continue to launch new subscription journals but the risk profile for OA titles is different as it depends on finding authors rather than finding readers to make it profitable.

Hindawi’s Peters said there is evidence that OA titles are becoming first movers in a lot of emerging fields such as bioinformatics. He said: ‘Openaccess journals can move much quicker because they don’t have to wait to build up subscriptions before launching.’

Hindawi has converted all its titles to OA and has no plans to launch new subscription titles. Neither company will prevent the new venture launching titles which compete with existing titles published by each partner.

Sage’s Ross explained: ‘Even within the subscription world, it is always thought better to have a competing journal within your own stable than having to compete with another company. Every journal has its own character anyway – even if it is within the same field.’

In 2008 the joint venture plans to launch between five and 10 titles, with 10 to 20 more coming out in 2009 and every other year after that. The exact titles have not been announced but they are expected to concentrate initially on the biomedical field where the two companies already have some exposure.

Sage’s Ross said: ‘We think this model can be applied to any field that is highly funded, so any area of STM can be considered. Material science is a field where this could work nicely. Where it goes after that depends on the scientific community and the funding bodies. We do not exclude social sciences in the future. Psychology and soft sciences could use this model because they are highly funded.’