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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 2 | Feb. 6, 2003

Putting an End to Expensive Print Journals

UBC group wants them online and free

By Cate Korinth

When scholars wish to gain status among their peers, they try to publish their work in prestigious academic journals.

For years, publishers of those academic journals monopolized and charged exorbitant fees for information that researchers believed belonged to the public.

Some of the journals such as the Brain Research Bulletin charge individuals as much as US $1,538 for 12 issues and US $3,383 for institutions.

A group of academics at UBC is out to change all this.

“Print journals are doomed,” says UBC Education Prof. John Willinsky. “It’s inevitable, all academic journals will be available online in the next five to 10 years.”

The move from paper to Internet journals is gaining ground in all fields of research on campuses across North America.

Of the approximately 20,000 journals published worldwide today, about 15,000 are published both in print and online and there are more than 1,000 journals that can only be read on the Internet.

“Not only will all journals go digital, many will also be free of charge,” predicts Willinsky.

At UBC’s Public Knowledge Project (PKP) in the Faculty of Education, Willinsky and nine graduate students explore ways to use the Internet to publish high-quality research at no cost to readers.

“The proliferation of free journals reviewed by academics and posted on the Internet proves that free public access to research is possible and is already a reality,” says Willinsky.

On the Internet, publishing costs are greatly reduced. Printing and mailing expenses vanish. And because authors own the copyright for their own research, they can ensure that it remains in the public domain.

The people who publish journals contend that they need the subscription revenue, whether publications are paper or electronic, to ensure the quality of the editorial process.

“That is simply not true,” asserts Gene Glass, editor of Education Policy Analysis & Education Review, a free online journal published in Arizona.

“Quality standards for research are higher at Internet journals because their editorial boards often span cities and countries, bringing top academics in the field together on one board. Editors also respond electronically with their reviews in a matter of days,” explains Glass.

To decrease editorial costs, graduate students at PKP wrote software to automate parts of the editorial process. Dozens of copies have been downloaded for free since November 2002, when PKP posted it on the web.

Rowly Lorimer, editor of the Canadian Journal of Communications, argues that for electronic journals, “site licenses or pay-per-view revenue will still be needed to maintain servers, pay for copy editing, proofreading and page layouts.”

Lorimer’s paper journal provides back issues for free on the Internet one year after print publication.

Instead of charging readers or delaying access, Willinsky suggests authors or their professional associations pay a small publishing fee.

To sample free journals online, check out www.csci.educ.ubc.ca/publications/insights.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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