Free Access and the Future of Gated Publishing

27 October 2017, 2353 EDT

I am just back from the launch of the Texas National Security Review (TNSR), a new partnership with War on the Rocks and underwritten by my home institution. Forgive the quasi-promotional qualities of this post, as I think the new journal raises fundamental questions about the gated publishing model.

TNSR promises to be disruptive to the traditional game of academic publishing in the security space in a few ways. First, all their content will be available for free.

Second, the journal will include both peer-reviewed and straight-up policy pieces, sort of International Security meets Foreign Affairs. The journal’s main aim is for policy relevant scholarship, to bridge the gap by soliciting contributions from scholars and practitioners in the same pages. The inaugural issue thus features more academic pieces like Jon Bew’s on grand strategy and Rose McDermott and co-authors on the psychological origins of deterrence alongside policy pieces by Kathleen Hicks,  John McCain,  and Jim Steinberg.

Third, even as it has legacy print editions, it will take advantage of new media with an attractive web design, accompanied by podcasts and other content that War on the Rocks has popularized in the security space. Certainly, existing journals like ISQ have made efforts in this direction but it is more baked in to the DNA of TNSR.

Fourth, with the involvement of my colleague Will Inboden and my former colleague Frank Gavin, the journal also promises to be more inter-disciplinary, providing a home for diplomatic historians and international relations scholars alike.

It is an open question whether the journal can become a place that academics feel is a desirable outlet to publish their peer-reviewed work. We have seen in recent years the proliferation of new journals like the Journal of Global Security Studies and International Theory, and I don’t have a feel for how they fit in the existing landscape of security-oriented journals like IS, Security Studies, Journal of Peace Research, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution.  But, it does feel like the landscape is shifting in important ways.

I find the free access to be particularly interesting, and it seems to recognize journals as quasi public goods that need to be underwritten by benefactors.

From Paywall to Pay-to-Play? Is there A Better Way?

We academics have to play the game of publishing in peer-reviewed outlets for journals that are published by for-profit entities that largely put their work behind paywalls so that your average person has no access to our scholarship.

I find that model incredibly frustrating, and it is equally aggravating when we are invited to make our work open access for a few thousand dollars more. We also have the proliferation of fake pay-to-play open access journals, who offer even less value since the journals aren’t even prestige publications.

It’s also upsetting when some of the research aggregators like seek to monetize our academic work by collecting papers and then turning their services into fee-based services. With Elsevier’s purchase of SSRN, there is concern out there that there aren’t great platforms for open access sharing of content.  I suppose that journals survive in this model largely through library subscriptions, and yet is likely a business model that is ripe for disruption.

There are a few journals like Research and Politics that have sought to turn the model on its head by providing open access for readers and yet are still published under the imprimatur of Sage, one of the traditional publishers. I am not sure how that particular business model is faring or if it merely is a subsidized product under the traditional model. It appears that the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the major benefactor of Bridging the Gap efforts has underwritten some of the costs of the journal.

I see some productive efforts by publishers to recognize the problem, particularly if the paywall inhibits readership. In recent years, we have seen efforts here on the Duck and other places to provide temporary ungated access to the PDFs of pieces, and that proved to be a somewhat satisfactory option. Publishers also appear to be content with allowing us posting our work on our personal websites after a period of time.

Other publishers have also developed new tools to share pieces that offer more permanent access. For example, I am an editor of a reviews journal, International Politics Reviews, published by Springer Palgrave which allows us to share some pieces through a platform called ReadCube (though I’m not sure how many we can actually share per issue).

Maybe the Texas National Security Review is the future. Whatever happens, it seems like we are potentially on the cusp of major change in academic publishing, especially if governments demand that research they finance be made freely available to the public.