Encouraging innovation

Share this on social media:

Egypt-based Hindawi Publishing has just converted its last two subscription journals to the open-access model. The company's president and co-founder Ahmed Hindawi tells us why

How did Hindawi Publishing come about?

Nagwa Abdel-Mottaleb (my wife and cofounder of Hindawi) and I were graduate students in the USA from 1992 to 1997. I was researching high-energy physics and so I often used the Los Alamos archive. This led me to consider publishing tools, especially as the internet was lowering the barrier of entry into the publishing market. At the same time I became inspired about typography and publication design.

We are from Egypt where there are a significant number of well-educated people but, as a developing country, the wages are much lower than in the countries of established publishers such as Elsevier. This means that our costs are only a fraction of those of other publishers. I like to think, however, that our strength is not just in being based in Egypt but in that we have had to build the business from scratch. Neither my wife nor I had any experience in publishing beyond submitting research papers to other journals. And we don’t have any other commercial academic publishers in Egypt so it has been very difficult for us to hire anybody with any prior experience. This means that we are not tied to the way that other publications have been done in the past. We started Hindawi Publishing in late 1997 and published the first issue of our first journal in March 1999. We now have 64 journals, around 20 of which have been launched in the last couple of months and have yet to publish their first issues. We aim to have about 150 titles by the end of 2007 and about 250 by the end of 2008. All of these titles are fully open access.

Why did you choose the open-access model?

Subscription publishing does not encourage innovation and will not reward the smaller players. We had a couple of successful subscription journals but it became clear that we couldn’t have hundreds of successful journals with this model. Big deals put huge pressure on library budgets and libraries have to take the size of the publishers into account because of the amount of administration involved in dealing with each player.

Authors, on the other hand, do not really care about what other journals you publish. They just care about the reputation and the quality of the peer review and editorial board of the journal they want to publish in.

We have many journals that are too young to be indexed by ISI but of those that are old enough, around 75 per cent are indexed and have impact factors. Our acceptance rate for articles is around 37 per cent and I think our production process is very professional. We do more than superficial copy-editing and this is an important added value. We validate every reference and provide linking via CrossRef.

However, we have the same challenges as any publisher launching a new journal. Once you start getting impact factors the number of submissions increases significantly but new journals generally have to wait about five years before they get an impact factor. There are no current ways to judge a journal straight away or shortly after launch.

How are your journals funded?

Our model charges per page, not per article. Some of our maths journals with a small page size charge around 30 per page. For our A4-sized journals the fees tend to be 50-80 per page. We modelled our charges on what the scientific community accepts in each area. In electrical engineering, for example, contributors to IEEE journals pay when articles go above a certain length so we charge, perhaps, 100 per page after the sixth page. We don’t see people trying to keep their papers below six pages to avoid paying. The average across all our titles is about 600-700 per article. We send invoices to the submitting author and he or she decides how it is paid. We don’t know whether the money comes from institutions, funding agents or individual grants but we don’t think that authors struggle to find funds. Our collection rate for invoices is greater than 95 per cent.

We also print all our journals. For the former subscription journals we still print copies for all subscribers. For our newer journals that have always been open access we offer print on demand. Although we charge for print versions, our view is that they should just cover their own costs. The revenue from printing does not cover any of the cost of open-access publishing.

What are your predictions for open access?

It is an interesting time for open-access development and I believe there is a bright future for such publishing. It is now hard to discredit it on moral, ethical or political grounds. It works for Hindawi and we are already profitable. BioMed Central, which published around 7,000-8,000 articles in 2006, says that it is close to profitability too. Optics Express, published by the Optical Society of America, has been open access for many years, is an important journal and also makes a slight surplus.

Interview by Siân Harris