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CAUT/ACPPU Bulletin Online


Vol 60 | No 10 | December 2013

Open access threatens journals

Back Print
As the editor of a small Canadian society journal, MUSICultures, the journal of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music (CSTM), I must respond to CAUT president Wayne Peters’ May 2013 column, “Open access publishing serves the public good.”

While I am in principle in support of open access, I do not believe the challenges of open access faced by journals like MUSICultures have been adequately addressed or even voiced. Peters makes one brief acknowledgement late in his column that “smaller discipline-specific societies, which offer access to their journal publications as a benefit of membership, worry about losing their membership without the exclusivity of such a benefit. Satisfying these concerns under an open access model would require new approaches to funding the publication enterprise.” He is indeed correct, but I see no such innovative funding models immediately forthcoming.

Yet CAUT is advocating for open access journals, and is encouraging tri-council to mandate open access publishing for all research funding recipients. In essence, the push for open access is motivated by the benefits it will offer authors, without consideration for the very real challenges that are being created for the journals in which they publish.

MUSICultures is one of the primary benefits of membership to CSTM. So making the journal open access does indeed threaten CSTM’s membership. But it also threatens the very viability of the journal, for the Society provides some key journal funding and, perhaps more important, provides the structures and people required to run the journal, including the editor, the two review editors, and the editorial board. In other words, this is not just a matter of a Society concerned about its membership numbers: if the Society fails, the journal is also likely to fail, not just for financial reasons, but for personnel reasons.

Although I do not know this for a fact, I would guess that a significant number of Canadian academic journals, perhaps particularly those in the social sciences and humanities, are structured like MUSICultures, and that an open access publishing policy will threaten many Canadian journals for the reasons I’ve identified. Journals like MUSICultures are important because we make a point of encouraging Canadian scholars to submit manuscripts, and we have a particular interest in research on Canadian subjects. We are not limited to either, of course, nor do non-Canadian journals exclude Canadian scholars and research, but I would argue that we provide a more accessible publishing venue for Canadian scholars and research than many of the larger American and British journals in related music disciplines. The threat to small Canadian society-run journals could also potentially limit opportunities for Canadian scholars and Canadian research to be published.

My last point is to say how absolutely frustrated I am as a small journal editor at the almost complete lack of support and assistance for people like me when navigating the waters of open access publishing, particularly from those most adamantly in support of it, such as CAUT and tri-council. I am in the process of moving MUSICultures from a print to a digital format to make access more open. But I have, quite frankly, been overwhelmed by the number of issues that have arisen in the process that I had not anticipated. Nor can I find anyone who can either prepare me for future challenges or help me manage current problems.

I am not a paid editor; I volunteer my time as part of my research and service mandate as a tenured faculty member at a Canadian university. As the author of scholarly articles, I understand the value of open access and support it. But as the editor of a journal that publishes such articles, I do not believe that we have developed or even suggested the innovative structures and alternatives that will be required to allow small Canadian journals to survive mandated open access policies. I call upon CAUT for greater consideration of and assistance with the issues that I, in my position as editor of a small journal, face.

Heather Sparling
Canada Research Chair in Musical Traditions
Cape Breton University
Editor, MUSICultures

Editor’s Note
Professor Sparling eloquently raises a serious issue about open access publishing. CAUT has advocated for a more coherent tri-council approach to assisting small society-based journals with the transition to new modes of scholarly communication and will continue to do so in the future.