Math Journal Editors Quit for Open Access

To protest the high prices charged by their publisher, Springer, the editors of the Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics will start a rival journal that will be free for all to read.

July 31, 2017
 

The four editors in chief of the Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics have informed their publisher, Springer, of their intention to launch a rival open-access journal to protest the publisher’s high prices and limited accessibility. This is the latest in a string of what one observer called “editorial mutinies” over journal publishing policies.

In a news release last Thursday, the editors said their decision was not made because of any “particular crisis” but was the result of it becoming “more and more clear” that Springer intended to keep charging readers and authors large fees while “adding little value.”

Nearly every member of the board of the Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics will be resigning when their contract with Springer ends in December. These members will form the editorial board of a new journal to be called Algebraic Combinatorics. The journal covers an area of abstract algebra that can answer questions such as the number of possible five-card poker hands in a 52-card deck.

The four editors in chief of the old journal will transition to the same position at the new journal in December. In the interim, two editors in chief have been appointed to get the new journal up and running.

In an interview, Hugh Thomas, an editor in chief of the Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics, said the board approached Springer to explore making the journal freely available online, but they were told that “this was not something that Springer would consider.”

With support from an open-access advocacy group called MathOA, the editors plan to create a freely accessible online-only journal that will follow the principles set out by the Fair Open Access Alliance.

Unlike the old journal, which charged authors article processing charges (APCs) of up to $3,000 to make articles accessible to readers without subscriptions, the new journal will be freely accessible to anyone. “We think $0 is a better deal,” said Thomas.

Initially the new journal will receive financial and computational support from a French OA initiative called Centre Mersenne. Victor Reiner, interim editor in chief of Algebraic Combinatorics, said that the journal would work with MathOA to secure more funders but expected its running costs to be very low -- “We won’t need much,” he said.

Asked what challenges lie ahead for Algebraic Combinatorics, Reiner said a key obstacle will be getting academics to recognize the new journal as the successor to the old one. However, Reiner said he has been “very heartened” by the support the announcement has received, adding, “It seems people have been clamoring for this.”

Reiner said that beyond the switch to OA, he hopes the new journal will continue to “run similarly smoothly, with the same high-quality papers and the same mathematical scope.” He added, “I just look forward to us making decisions on our own, without consulting Springer.”

In a statement, Springer said that it intends to keep publishing the Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics and is looking to appoint a new editorial board. Asked whether the company had worked with the editorial board to address their concerns, Springer said that it had “expressed its availability to change the existing business model of the journal.”

The spokesperson said that Springer already offers free access to archived journal issues after an embargo period of three years, and noted that research articles from the journal can easily be shared with other researchers online through the publisher’s SharedIt initiative.

This is not the first time that a journal’s editorial board has decided to revolt against their publisher. In one high-profile 2015 case, the editors and editorial board of the linguistics journal Lingua decided to resign and start rival journal Glossa in protest against publisher Elsevier’s open-access stance.

According to the Open Access Directory website, cases of mass journal resignations can be traced back to 1989 and have taken place on average once per year since the late ’90s. However, research by Todd A. Carpenter, executive director of the National Standards Organization, has suggested that such editorial mutinies rarely cause long-term damage to the abandoned journal.

A press release from MathOA says that “nearly all” of the editorial board members will be leaving the old journal to join the new one. Thomas explains that this is not indicative of any divide in opinion on the move -- one member has decided to retire, and another has been unreachable. “To my knowledge, no one has expressed an active intention to remain with JACO at Springer,” says Thomas.

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