Making the big move to Open Access publishing

Alison Norwood125

This is a Guest Post by Alison Norwood, Publishing Manager at the Institute of Development Studies.

What’s an academic journal to do when its editorial team find themselves in the position of having to turn the business model on its head? When the journal in question, which has been published continually since 1968, faces serious questions about whether it can continue in the wake of unmovable demands for Open Access?

These were just a few of the many questions facing us at the Institute of Development Studies in 2012 when our funders’ mandates for publishing Open Access had to be addressed. Produced by an editorial team of seven people, the IDS Bulletin had built up a strong reputation among its academic readers and contributors, but being published through Wiley-Blackwell, where readers had to pay to view and download the articles, became an increasingly difficult option when the funders of our research required instead that readers could access content for free. We needed the subscription income to run our journal in the first place, to cover the costs of producing it. We were faced with the fact that if readers were not going to be the income-generators for our journal that we’d need to find other ways to keep it going.

The cost of free content

Having been published almost as long as the Institute itself had been in existence, how could we adapt the business model and look towards not only keeping the journal in publication but building it up into new digital technologies, readable on many platforms, continuing to spread our research work to the readers who would benefit from that knowledge?

We could have given up, and though there were times when it might have felt easier to bow out gracefully, the Institute, which is committed to making sure its research makes a difference to policy and practice, valued the journal enough to keep fixated on its continued publication.

Over 18 months we faced dilemmas about continuing the ultimate purpose of the journal – to spread research findings to developing countries with the aim of decreasing global poverty and inequality – and how we could continue to increase the IDS Bulletin’s circulation without the valued resources of our publishers, Wiley. Although Wiley were offering various ways for Open Access to become possible, these options weren’t enough to satisfy our funders, leaving us in a catch-22 situation.

After careful consideration, we had to make the decision to leave our trusted and beneficial relationship with Wiley and take the step to publishing in-house instead, deciding to find ways to raise the costs required for editorial production and marketing; and also deciding our own licensing arrangements.

Taking publication in-house

Breaking up with any partner isn’t easy, but we’d been publishing solo before co-publishing with Wiley, and we believed we could do it again.

Like a fiction author deciding to self-publish rather than signing up for one of the big four publishing houses, we had to figure out a new plan, a new business model, to cover the work that Wiley had been doing on our behalf for ourselves, and to build on our institutional good reputation to approach new ways of self-funding.

We were stepping into the unknown, yet, we were an established team of publishing professionals with editorial and marketing expertise and IDS is a research leader in many areas of social science. If we could find the funds we were confident we could emerge into a new version of the journal – online only, targeted at the readers we know will benefit from our research, putting our good work out there.

We’re now in that process of planning the journal’s next steps, to be ready to relaunch in 2016 to coincide with the Institute’s 50th anniversary, with a website offering up free access to new and archive articles alike, and extras too like related policy briefings and multimedia. We’re looking into new ways of funding and we want to continue to be visible to all our academic readers and others with an interest in developing countries.

Without the imperative of Open Access from our funders we probably wouldn’t have changed so quickly, we’d have continued to publish with Wiley and to enjoy the success that they brought to the Bulletin. But when situations shift and the trend for change becomes paramount, then sometimes that change just has to happen. Like the increasing trend for self-publishing for independent authors, Open Access can create options for those not in the larger publishing houses to produce their work in a different way, just as effectively.

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