“How do I start an open access journal?” (and will anyone read it…?)

One of the most exciting innovations in scholarly publishing in recent years has been the emergence of open source software (such as open journal systems) which radically democratises the process of starting a new journal. It’s still a difficult project which requires some funding and much effort but it has been opened up as a possibility in a way it simply wasn’t previously. There’s an interesting post on the Thesis Whisperer which discusses how to do precisely this and offers some great advice:

For the Managing Editors and Editorial Committee of the peer reviewed, interdisciplinary Gender, Sexuality and Diversity Studies (GSDS) journal Writing from Below it’s been a learn on the job affair, with attendant highs and lows. This is a list. It’s not an exhaustive list, but I’m writing it in the hope that if you have some niggling desire to found an open access journal you don’t know where to start, this might give you a platform to leap from.

I’m not going to go into the reasons why we founded Writing from Belowhere, but if you want to know more, our editorial, GSDS Takes Sidesgives a pretty good run down. I’m also not going to go into the politics of OA, but there’s lots of great stuff out there if you’d like to read more.


But my excitement at this possibility goes hand-in-hand with a caution about academic over production. Should we be worried that ever more papers are being published in ever more journals and being read ever less? I think it’s obvious that we should be. So what are the long term implications of an innovation like Open Journal Systems? Given it radically lowers the start up costs for a new journal then, other things being equal, it seems likely to contribute to a proliferation of new journals. But is this a good thing? In terms of individual projects I find this technology incredibly exciting but from a more detached perspective I worry that it risks intensifying an already problematic tendency towards overproduction of papers and journals.

I’m not for a second blaming this problem on OJS – it seems clear to me that this over-publishing and under-reading has its roots in an institutional structures of incentives which rewards the former and implicitly treats the latter as ‘efficiency’. But it does seem as if OJS, though fantastic in and of itself, risks entrenching this problem by removing obstacles to participation. On this level it’s clearly equitable, in so far as it that it opens up the possibility for those who would have previously lacked the resources to do so. It’s also individually rational to found an innovative journal as a career advancement strategy. But where is this all going in the long term?

One aspect I find particularly interesting is the role that the proliferation of open access journals would play in restructuring academic networks. For instance as the Thesis Whisperer article describes:


We really do have an awesome advisory committee. This mostly came about because of bravery. If there’s an academic in your field whose work you admire, approach them. I think we were only turned down by three or four people–everyone else came back immediately with an “Of course! I’d be honoured.”


Once our first issue was ready to go, we built a FaceBook page and set up a Twitter profile. We have four admins on our FB page because a multiplicity of voices is always good, and it spreads the load. Likewise the tweeters amongst us login and tweet, and add followers, and follow back. We share our Call for Papers, great quotes, and news about what’s happening with the journal, but we also like to spread the social networking love. This means sharing or tweeting other cool journal pages or calls for papers, as well as news or information that we think our followers will like.


Categories: Digital Sociology, Higher Education

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