The Challenge of Building Structural Equity in Open Access Publishing – from a Small Publisher Perspective

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The theme for the International Open Access Week in 2021 is ‘Building Structural Equity’. Equity for everyone is a challenge in publishing in general. However, it is a task that needs to be dealt with for open access publishers as their business models, in general, need to include equal opportunities for authors.

Global equity – researcher experiences from Uganda

Equity was also the focus at the OASPA conference in September 2021. The Stockholm University Press team found the conference inspiring and would like to share our reflections on the importance of building structural equity in open access publishing.

From a global perspective, there is an underrepresentation of lower and middle-income countries (LMI-countries) in knowledge production. One of the keynote speakers, Dr James Tumwine, Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at Kabale University in Uganda, gave a simple example speaking from his own experience.

James Tumwine stated that many Ugandans do not have a credit card, which prevents them from accessing scholarly publications since many publishers require payment via a credit card to access their publications online. Professor Tumwine suggests that cooperation between high-income countries and researchers from LMI-countries is a way forward towards more equitable knowledge production.

In his talk, he stated that: 

“Knowledge doesn’t belong on the market. Healthcare doesn’t belong on the market. Education doesn’t belong on the market”.

Open access is vital for researchers to access academic publications, but most importantly, to have the possibility to disseminate their published research globally. However, finding relevant funding for open access books and journals has proven problematic in the current environment. The publication costs (BPCs and APCs) are often too high and without reach for LMI-countries researchers, and funders do not always have their applications open for anyone to use. 

Stockholm University Press publishes researchers from all over the world

So what does Stockholm University Press do towards more significant equity in open access publishing? Firstly, we provide an opportunity for researchers worldwide to submit proposals and manuscripts to all book series and journals. Our main focal points for submitted contributions from any part of the world are rigorous peer review and provide global dissemination through open licensing.

Funding for open access books

Funding for covering book publishing costs is a challenge, as it is not available for everyone. Stockholm University Press is, as mentioned above, open for anyone to submit book proposals. However, each project has to cover its costs. For this, we use a model where we apply a Book Processing Charge (BPC) on a book-by-book basis.

This model has worked reasonably well; however, we notice inequity built into the model even at a local/institutional level. For example, only some departments at Stockholm University offers an opportunity for their employed researchers to pay for the BPC, though most departments do not. So, if this is a challenge for us locally, one can imagine how difficult it is to solve the funding problem globally.

Diamond open access journal publishing

Diamond open access refers to a business model where the researchers do not have to pay themselves or find funding for publishing costs. Few journals in the world are classified as ‘diamond open access’. A recent report organized by OPERAS, The Open Access Diamond Journals Study (Bosman et al., 2021), estimates approximately 29,000 journals worldwide with an open publishing model without author charges. However, it is hard to tell since many journals published with this model are still excluded from established indexes. The study also noted that the ‘diamond journals’ registered in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) publish about one-fifth of the total global scholarly output. 

Still, moving towards diamond publishing is not that simple. The study from OPERAS suggests five recommendations for diamond journals (Berecerril et al., 2021) which is; to streamline technical support, ensure compliance with Plan S, build capacity, increase effectiveness, sustain and invest in the future.

The journals published by Stockholm University Press strive to reduce or remove the fee for authors, and some of them use a ‘diamond’ model. Nevertheless, the funding opportunities for journals in Sweden are diminishing in favour of other mechanisms to push the open access agenda. The challenge to find funding for journals could be connected to initiatives like the rise of transformative agreements with larger publishers. However, this requires further investigation if we are to find an equitable publishing model for the future.

Equity and bibliodiversity

The topic of ‘Bibliodiversity’ was raised at the OASPA conference as a way forward towards equity. In addition, bibliodiversity is often discussed in terms of cultural diversity applied to the writing and publishing world.

The strategy for Stockholm University Press states that we should not focus our publishing program towards any specific disciplines. Therefore, our submission forms are open for researchers from any academic field to publish their books or journals with us, as long as they adhere to our editorial and peer review policies.

As a small academic publisher, we see ourselves as an option to the more prominent players in scholarly publishing, where researchers can publish at a reasonable cost. We also find it essential to collaborate with OASPA, AEUP (Association of European University Presses), OPERAS, LIBER, etc. Most importantly, we need to change experiences and learn from each other. 

Transition and change take time

The transition to a fully open access equitable publishing landscape is a long-term commitment. The ever-changing landscape and the challenge to stay up-to-date with current trends are why we have chosen to emphasise collaboration with colleagues from other presses and institutions to ensure that we are up-to-date with the latest developments. 

The team from Stockholm University Press not only supports their authors and editors, but we also educate and guide researchers from any department at Stockholm University, assisting them while seeking copyright advice, open licensing and funding for publishing. 

Contributing to more equity in publishing is always high up on the agenda for the Stockholm University Press team, with the tools that we have. We look forward to continuing to receive proposals from the global community and guiding researchers through the process.

Facts about Stockholm University Press
Established in 2015
Publishes peer-reviewed books and journals with a Creative Commons licence
Hosts 16 book series
Hosts 10 journals
Has published a total of 40 books

References

Becerril, Arianna; Bosman, Jeroen; Bjørnshauge, Lars; Frantsvåg, Jan Erik; Kramer, Bianca; Langlais, Pierre-Carl; Mounier, Pierre; Proudman, Vanessa; Redhead, Claire, & Torny, Didier. (2021). OA Diamond Journals Study. Part 2: Recommendations. Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4562790
Bosman, Jeroen; Frantsvåg, Jan Erik; Kramer, Bianca; Langlais, Pierre-Carl, & Proudman, Vanessa. (2021). OA Diamond Journals Study. Part 1: Findings. Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4558704


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