SLASIAC Scholarly Communication FAQ - DRAFT


Scholarly Communication FAQ - DRAFT


The following “frequently asked questions” are designed to respond to faculty concerns about new models of scholarly communication. 
This document was prepared by the University of California’s Office of Systemwide Library Planning, and last updated February 19, 2003.

Alternative publishing models
Peer review and journal quality
Effect on/role of scholarly societies and university presses
Copyright assignment

Alternative publishing models

What are “alternative publishing models”?
Scientists have traditionally shared the results of their research through journals published variously by universities, scholarly and scientific societies, and commercial publishers. In recent years, an increasing number of voices have been heard expressing concerns about the rising number and cost of scholarly journals, increasing delays from article submission to publication, and diminished access resulting from subscription cancellations by libraries. Alternative publishing models address these issues by creating options to the traditional publishing system, and include low-cost journals published by scholarly societies or communities, online repositories such as the University of California’s eScholarship, and “open access” journals that may be supported by university or foundation funds. Most of these models are still evolving. 

Are alternative publishing models the same as ejournals?
In general, the term “ejournal” refers to journals in electronic form that are delivered over the Internet. Ejournals may simply be digital forms of established print journals, or they may be new publications that are “born digital.” “Born digital” journals, in turn, may be motivated by alternative publishing goals, or produced under traditional publishing business models. Alternative publishing models create or utilize options outside the traditional publishing realm and often take advantage of the benefits of electronic publishing, but are not necessarily only available in electronic form. Many of the questions that arise about alternative forms of scholarly communication do not apply to electronic forms of journals from established publishers, but some questions, such as those regarding preservation and persistence apply to all types of digital content.

Why should I care about them?
The already high and still rapidly rising cost of scholarly journals is eroding the ability of University libraries to adequately supply research materials to their faculty and students. Data collected by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), a membership organization of over 120 of the largest research libraries in North America, reveal that the unit cost paid by research libraries for serials increased by 207% between 1986 and 1999. While serial costs increased at 9% a year, library materials budgets increased at only 6.7% a year. Libraries simply could not sustain their purchasing power with such a significant gap. Even though the typical research library spent 170% more on serials in 1999 than in 1986, the number of serial titles purchased declined by 6%. More dramatically, book purchases declined by 26%. With such drastic erosion in the market for books, publishers had no choice but to raise prices (although not nearly as high as did journal publishers). In 1999, the unit cost of books had increased 65% over 1986 costs. As points of comparison, over the same time period, the consumer price index increased 52%, faculty salaries increased 68%, and health care costs increased 107%. (1)

The increasing quantity and costs of serial publications require an increasingly greater percentage of the total library budget, which has become unsustainable for even large research universities. At the same time, it is clear that the digital environment has enabled new ways of publishing and accessing scholarly information. These issues have increasingly commanded the attention of respected academic organizations. In March 2000, for example, forty stakeholders in the scholarly publishing process came together in Tempe, Arizona at a meeting sponsored by the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and the University of Kansas to build a consensus on a set of principles to guide the transformation of the scholarly publishing system. The resulting “Tempe Principles” have led to a call for action at universities nationwide. Alternative publishing models generally seek to embody these principles, including:

  • Tempe Principle 1: The cost to the academy of published research should be contained so that access to relevant research publications for faculty and students can be maintained and even expanded. 
  • Tempe Principle 2: Electronic capabilities should be used, among other things, to: provide wide access to scholarship, encourage interdisciplinary research, and enhance interoperability and searchability. 

The Tempe Principles can be found on the web at (

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released a report in July 2002, documenting the results of a project that examined intellectual property issues associated with publishing in science. The report identifies the need for a set of “core values” on which all parties can build a ground for new publishing systems and legal frameworks. Specifically, the report recommends a system that will promote broad access to and use of scientific information within existing copyright law. The report also offers guidelines to authors and publishers for preparing licensing agreements. The final report can be found on the web in both HTML and PDF formats at (


Are digital journals and other communication products too ephemeral to be reliably cited in other publications?
Many online journals and repositories provide persistent, stable URLs for their articles. Most major citation style authorities, such as the Chicago Manual of Style (2)  and the APA Publication Manual (3), now specify standard methods for citing electronic publications. UC’s eScholarship Repository includes a suggested citation for each article and online book.

What about archiving?  Can the persistence of digital publications be trusted?  How can I be sure my article will be there five (or ten or fifty) years from now?
While there are serious long-term issues with the preservation of electronic journals, work is currently underway to ensure persistence and preservation. The Andrew W. Mellon foundation, for example, has provided grants to seven major libraries to undertake projects devoted to preservation of digital scholarly journals. Many of these projects grew from meetings held in 2000, sponsored by the Digital Library Foundation (DLF), the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), and the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), to establish minimum requirements for ejournal archival repositories. More information and progress results can be found on the web at (

In addition, the US Congress has provided funding for a National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, led by the Library Congress, to develop a “national strategy to collect, archive and preserve the burgeoning amounts of digital content, especially materials that are created only in digital contents, for current and future generations.” (See

UC’s digital content and publishing programs, such as the Online Archive of California and eScholarship, are committed to ongoing preservation of their materials, and UC’s licensing contracts contain clauses for archiving of digital content and perpetual access for all licensed materials. Meanwhile, for journals subscribed to or licensed by UC that are available in both formats (digital and paper) UC is securing a “copy of record” to ensure that a print copy is available within the system.

Peer review and journal quality

What are the mechanisms for peer review in alternative publishing models?
Low cost and open access journals are not incompatible with the peer review process. Many alternative publishers utilize peer review; some using digital mechanisms that can expedite and streamline the process. Technology developers, such as Berkeley Electronic Press (bePress), offer tools and services that “ease the flow of scholarly communication.” Current alternative publishing projects that incorporate rigorous peer review include BioMed Central, Public Library of Science, Internet Journal of Chemistry, Journal of Machine Learning Research, New Journal of Physics and UCIAS (UC International and Area Studies) Edited Volumes. More can be found on the SPARC Partners web page (

How can I tell if an ejournal is peer-reviewed?  How can I locate alternative peer-reviewed ejournals?
While there is no comprehensive and authoritative list of alternative peer-reviewed journals, there are many resources for finding out about alternative scholarly publications, including:

You can also ask professional associations, scholarly societies, and colleagues for any information they might have about alternative peer-reviewed journals.

What if there are no peer-reviewed alternative ejournals in my field?
There are other ways to contribute. You can learn about copyright and negotiate contracts to retain rights to the use of your work. You can submit papers to reasonably-priced or alternative journals sponsored by academic societies.

The following actions that faculty can take in support of alternative models of scholarly communication are adapted from the Create Change web site (

  • As a member of a scholarly association, encourage your association’s electronic publication program, urge them to explore alternatives to contracting or selling their publications to commercial publishers, encourage reasonable pricing for association publications, and encourage the creation of competitors to expensive commercial publications. 
  • If you are a journal editor, consider moving your journal to a non-profit publisher (See the SPARC Partners page (, or Create Change ( Support your library’s participation in SPARC.
  • Examine the pricing, copyright, and licensing agreements of any commercially published journal you contribute to as an author, reviewer, or editor. Don’t assume the standard agreement is the only option. If possible, refuse to do business with publishers who practice “predatory pricing.” 
  • Encourage discussion of scholarly communication issues and proposals for change among your colleagues in your department, in your school, and on your campus. 
  • Include alternative, open access, electronic publications in your promotion and tenure deliberations.
  • Participate in your campus’s intellectual property policy discussions; help develop campus policies that promote the wide and affordable distribution of your research. 
  • Support your library and UC’s cancellation of expensive low-use titles and encourage your colleagues to do the same. 
  • Include your librarian in departmental discussions of scholarly communication; invite them to the meeting when you are visited by a publisher’s representative. 
  • Support your library’s participation in SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. (
  • Become a more savvy consumer. Familiarize yourself with journal cost-effectiveness studies such as those conducted by Cornell ( and the University of Wisconsin (
  • Use the eScholarship Repository ( for your working papers, technical reports, conference proceedings, peer-reviewed series, and other forms of scholarly output.  You can find out how to sign up your institute, center, or department at (

Are alternative journals of sufficient quality to be used for promotion and tenure decisions?
Many alternative journals do maintain the standards and quality to be used for promotion and tenure decisions. For example, Organic Letters is a peer-reviewed American Chemical Society (ACS) journal that was launched two years ago with a price of less than one-third of its closest competition, Tetrahedron Letters. Organic Letters quickly surpassed its mainstream competition in impact factor (according to the 2000 ISI Journal Citation Reports) in the subject of Organic Chemistry. The perception that new or alternative journals are of lower quality is based on lack of information about new models of scholarly communication, and this perception will diminish over time as alternative publications receive scholarly recognition.  Universities can promote acceptance of ejournals by establishing policies that recognize peer-reviewed electronic journals as equivalent to print publications for consideration in promotion and tenure decisions. The UC University Committee on Academic Personnel has discussed this issue extensively, and supports the consideration of electronic publications in academic peer review. All divisional Committees on Academic Personnel (CAPs) use the same criteria for evaluating electronic and digital scholarship, which includes the significance and impact of the publication as well as the significance, impact and reputation of the journal in which it appears.

Journals gain prestige as the articles they contain are cited in other journals. A 2001 study by Steve Lawrence (published in Nature and available at analyzed 110,000 peer-reviewed computer science conference papers from 1990 to 2000 and found that online articles are cited 4.5 times more often than offline articles. Thus, as more scholars and authors make use of online and alternative journals these will no doubt acquire the same prestige as their print forerunners. 

In the cost-constrained print environment, rejection rates provide a measure of quality. How does this translate into the relatively unconstrained digital publishing environment?
Rejection rates and quality control are aspects of the editorial policies of the particular journal, not necessarily of the media of production. While the digital publishing environment may be practically limitless, individual journals will still be able to enforce editorial standards. Journals will also want to adhere to a usable format that does not overwhelm readers.

Effect on/role of scholarly societies and university presses

What is the role of UC Press in the University’s electronic publishing efforts?
UC Press is working closely with the California Digital Library on partnerships that include making hundreds of books publicly available online free of charge (  By December 2003 there will be nearly 1,500 UC Press titles available to the UC community; 400 of these will be available to the public. This represents the largest collection of university press books online. UC Press has also partnered with the CDL and UC International and Area Studies (UCIAS), a group of internationally oriented research units on eight UC campuses, to publish articles, monographs and peer-reviewed edited volumes. The UCIAS Digital Collection offers the online volumes available free of charge to scholars to facilitate international intellectual exchange and collaboration. UC Press may publish print editions of the volumes. As a highly regarded publisher, UC Press brings credibility and sets an example for other university presses to explore new modes of scholarly publishing.

Revenue from society journals (and some commercial journals) subsidizes other society activities; how can we be assured that our societies will not suffer as a result of alternative publishing ventures?  How can considerations of society support figure into alternative publishing models?
The University of California recognizes the importance of scholarly societies to quality scholarly communication and the importance of the continued financial viability of their publishing programs. Part of the focus of new models of scholarly communication is to find opportunities to work with societies to discover mutually beneficial solutions. Most societies are not professional publishing houses and therefore have outsourced their publications to commercial companies, which has exacerbated the cost problems. The change resulting from new technologies makes it possible for societies to take back scholarly publications from the commercial publishers and forge new partnerships with, for example, SPARC, BioOne, and UC’s own eScholarship.

It can be argued that what is good for scholarship is good for scholarly societies, and that the societies are comprised of scholars, researchers, and faculty who will gain from increased access to scholarly information. Scholarly societies need to work together with scholars, institutions, and libraries to ensure a viable infrastructure for electronic publishing. As noted by the participants in the 2001 Roundtable on Scholarly Communication in the Humanities and Social Sciences (, active and continuing partnerships and the willingness of stakeholders to explore new economic models are critical to this effort.

Copyright assignment

Why should I care if I retain the copyright?
In traditional scholarly publishing, researchers submit their articles and reports to peer-reviewed journals without compensation. The publisher of the peer-reviewed journal then sells subscriptions (and/or access licenses) to these scholars’ own institutions. Within the bounds of the license agreement, authors who retain copyright generally have more control over the use of their materials. 

Tempe Principle Five ( states: The academic community embraces the concepts of copyright and fair use and seeks a balance in the interest of owners and users in the digital environment. Universities, colleges, and especially their faculties should manage copyright and its limitations and exceptions in a manner that assures the faculty access to and use of their own published works in their research and teaching.

Creative Commons ( describes the benefits of making intellectual property freely available online and offers a set of machine-readable copyright licenses to include with online content. The organization, hosted by Stanford Law School, seeks to educate content creators about licensing options.

Why not just mount my articles on my home page?
Posting copies of your working papers, published articles, or other products of research and scholarship on your (or your department’s) home page can be helpful in making this information available to your students, your colleagues, and others.  However, it is also important to deposit your work in an established digital repository or archive for two reasons. The first is preservation – personal and departmental sites may not be persistent, while responsible repositories commit to the perpetual maintenance and availability of your work. The second is access – depositing your work in an established repository increases the likelihood that it will be indexed by major search engines, journal indexing and abstracting services, other archives complying with the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) protocol, and finding aids where it can be discovered and accessed by the widest possible audience.


How can I prevent other people from “stealing” my work if it’s freely available online?
Copyright laws clearly apply to online materials; so while it is easier to plagiarize or steal online scholarship, it is still illegal. Stolen or improperly used intellectual property is easier to track down online as well. Papers that have been peer-reviewed and published in an electronic journal would unlikely be able to truly benefit a plagiarizer.

What good can we/I do as just one University/person?
Scholarly journals rely on input from faculty and researchers, who want to share their ideas and findings with their colleagues. Often, content is given away by authors without financial remuneration, but with rewards in the form of building a reputation in their fields and with promotion or tenure from their institutions. If contributors start to question the practices of the journals they contribute to, and find alternate ways to disseminate their work that won’t bankrupt their institutions, traditional publishers will have to adapt their practices in order to keep their audiences. 

In addition, with the support of an enlightened faculty, university libraries can cancel journals that charge exorbitant prices or offer only restrictive licensing agreements. Libraries can then devote more resources to supporting collaborative, inclusive, and innovative publishing models.
1 “Capitalizing on Competition: The Economic Underpinnings of SPARC,” Mary M. Case, Director, Office of Scholarly Communication, Association of Research Libraries. <> Accessed 1/29/03.
2 <>, accessed 1/29/03.  
3 <>, accessed 1/29/03.


Last updated: April 10, 2013