Open Access

OA 69

Written evidence submitted by the Editors of History Journals


This is the response of the Editors of the History Journals listed below to the planned implementation of the Finch Report on Open Access. The major points are:

· APC model publication is not financially viable for many humanities journals or many humanities scholars, and so Green Open Access should be considered acceptable alongside Gold; and furthermore, since the useful life of humanities articles is typically much longer than that in STEM subjects, with a longer embargo period than currently suggested.

· The CC-BY licence proposed for Gold Open Access is not appropriate for humanities publishing.

· Rapid uptake of a Gold Open Access model in the UK while the rest of the world moves more cautiously might damage the international reputation of our journals and our scholarship, as overseas authors become reluctant to submit to UK journals, and UK scholars find themselves prohibited from publishing in overseas journals.

Statement for the Commons Select Committee on Open Access: History Journals

We are a group of Editors of History journals. The group of those who have signed below represent a substantial proportion of academic history journals in this country, and we are all very concerned that hasty introduction of plans for Open Access might seriously undermine the very high reputation enjoyed by British journals.

When the problems with the planned implementation of the Finch Report became evident, we wrote a letter which History journals were asked to sign, which set out a policy we would all intend to follow:

(a) gold open access to be permitted, but green to run alongside;

(b) a 3 year embargo so as to protect subscriptions;

(c) licences that offer authors more protection than the proposed CC-BY licences (CC-BY-NC-ND licences) for both Gold and Green.

Within a very short space of time, 26 History journals signed, which includes nearly all the major academic History journals published in this country. This reflects the very high level of concern about the planned implementation of Finch right across the discipline and amongst humanities journals more generally.

We set out our response in reply to the four points listed.

1. The Government’s acceptance of the recommendations of the Finch Group Report ‘Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications’, including its preference for the ‘gold’ over the ‘green’ open access model.

We welcome the move to Open Access and to greater accessibility of scholarship. However, this has to be done in a way that does not destroy the UK’s humanities journals, which enjoy a high scholarly status and which have strong international sales.

As the editors of history journals (like many humanities journals), we are very concerned that the move to a pure Gold model of open access will not work economically for us, and may lead to the financial collapse of our leading historical journals, which spend considerably more than the proposed 2k APC. For example, Past and Present (a UK journal) and the American Historical Review each spend 6 to 7 k per article. Past and Present publishes only 24 to 30 or so articles per year and hence the overall income of APCs per year will be low; science journals publish considerably many more, shorter articles and can therefore expect to generate sufficient income under the Gold model to ensure that they remain viable.

Generally, academic history journals publish only about 20 to 30 or so articles per year, and each article requires substantial editing and intense peer review, with revisions of articles often required. Book reviews are also a major part of what many journals publish, and these will not attract APCs. Importantly, early career researchers, retired scholars, non UK scholars, and non-institutional researchers will not be able to pay for Gold Access. For humanities subjects, Green open access combined, if necessary, with Gold OA (if it is offered by the author/HEI) and with subscriptions, is essential for the continued survival of our journals.

We worry that the Gold model, if introduced without Green, will lead to a situation where journals are pressured to lower quality, publish more, and cut corners in editing and peer review. This will destroy their international reputation. It seems in any case unlikely that there will be sufficient funds to pay for Gold open access in the case of Humanities, even if ‘gold’ open access becomes normal in STEM subjects.

We therefore strongly support the original proposals that Green access should be allowed alongside Gold. We are very glad that the Research Councils and HEFCE are now making the acceptability of Green clearer. Green open access must be acceptable, in particular, for REF 2020, and it is essential that this be made clear to the community as soon as possible.

Green open access must, however, be combined with a longer period of embargo than currently envisaged: we suggest three years. The useful life of an article in Humanities subjects is considerably longer than in sciences, and therefore it is important to protect this so that subscriptions continue to be paid; if they are not, then the number of History journals will sharply reduce, and it will become much harder for academics to publish their research.

2. Rights of use and re-use in relation to open access research publications, including the implications of Creative Commons ‘CC-BY’ licences;

We as history journals would not want to issue our authors with CC-BY licences, which are a very unrestrictive form of licence which allows commercial reuse, ‘tweaking’, and forms of plagiaristic re-use. In science and social science journals, it might make sense for data to be shared. In Humanities, articles do not provide ‘data’ but rather present arguments, and these are intellectual property. The author’s rights therefore need to be protected. CC-BY licences are not appropriate for humanities publishing. They are not required for Green open access, and should not be required for Gold either. We are, however, happier with CCBY-NC-ND licences, which give greater protection.

Moreover there is the problem of ‘internal’ copyright, where an author uses an image or quotes from material which is under copyright, having secured permission to do so. In such cases, and they include much of what we publish, CC-BY licences (even NC-ND) cannot be used because they would infringe these copyrights.

3. The costs of article processing charges (APCs) and the implications for research funding and for the taxpayer.

This does not affect us directly as journals editors. Humanities journals subscriptions are generally set at a reasonable level. We expect relatively few APC-supported submissions to Humanities journals, as much less research is Research-Council supported.

4. The level of ‘gold’ open access uptake in the rest of the world versus the UK, and the ability of UK higher education institutions to remain competitive

Much of what UK journals publish is written by international scholars, and the signs are that international journals published outside the UK will not move to APC publication in the short and perhaps medium term.

We are concerned that the international reputation of UK journals is likely to suffer if scholars abroad begin to believe that they will have to pay to publish in UK journals. If this were to happen, a very lively sphere of UK publishing, which enjoys an outstanding reputation, would be in serious danger. We would be likely to lose some of the best work to other international journals which do not have an APC system.

We are also very concerned indeed that UK scholars will not be able to publish abroad, as there will be no reason for non-UK journals to adapt to UK rules when only 6% of world research is published in the UK. That would of course not harm UK journals in itself, but it would have a devastating impact on the UK’s international standing.

Signed by the Editors of:

Agricultural History Review

Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies

Central Europe

Contemporary British History

Contemporary European History

Continuity and Change

Economic History Review

First World War Studies

French History

Gender and History

German History

Historical Journal

The Innes Review

Journal of American Studies 

Journal of Ecclesiastical History

Journal of the Royal Musical Association

Journal of Scottish Historical Studies

Past & Present

Recusant History

Renaissance Studies

Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle

Rural History

The Seventeenth Century

Urban History

7 February 2013

Prepared 7th March 2013