There is an important need to distribute resources and support not just on the basis of existing, well-endowed publishing infrastructure and ecosystems. Currently, there are several industry-wide issues besetting open access growth and development. These issues affect the entire industry: north-south; poor-rich: Improved metadata and interoperability. If the solutions or advances in this area are left in the hands of big commercial corporations, the whole essence of OA will be constrained. These corporations need to invest and develop business models to recover that investment. If the cOAlition is investing in this infrastructure to guarantee that actors in scholarly publishing can use to develop their products, it will further the development of Open Access in the developing world and elsewhere.
Technological solutions are in fact the least subjective aspect of the sector that we should aim for. Questions around knowledge evaluation and notions of quality and standards are fraught with certain biases, some of which can actually be tackled with processes and efficiency supported by resources both technological and material. Some as basic as having access to cheaper technology and procedures in the ecosystem, which scholarly publishing communities in the South do not have or cannot get cheaply.
Angela Okune: In this collective letter, they point to the fact that journals published by university presses, especially those in the humanities have a modest margin, if that, and often simply strive to break even. The authors agree with the proponents of Plan S that the profit margins of commercial publisher like Elsevier (that can reach c.40%) are exploitative and excessive but point out that these profits are largely drawn from journals in STEMM subjects with subscription prices many times those of African Studies journals for example. Here I read the authors as also arguing that society and university presses are not the same as the mega-corporate presses and thus distinctions must be made within the universal policies that all are expected to follow.
"Institutes and learned societies, which in African Studies include the International African Institute, the British Academy sponsored British Institute in Eastern Africa, the Royal African Society, the U.S. African Studies Association, all signatories to this letter along with smaller societies in the discipline, do not publish to make a profit on their own behalf. Surpluses from journals published by societies with university presses tend to be modest. The aim for the best performing journals is to break-even or to earn a modest surplus of 5-10% from publication income to fund wider programmes. We agree with the proponents of Plan S that the profit margins of the commercial publishers (that can reach c.40%) are exploitative and excessive. But these profits are largely drawn from journals in STEMM subjects with subscription prices many times those of journals in HSS. The annual institutional subscription for the Journal of African History is currently £331 (print and online, 3 issues). The annual subscription for Journal of Southern African Studies is £844 (print and online, 6 issues). Shifting such journals to a pay-to-publish model is not the answer to limit the profits of commercial publishing and would effectively make HSS journals more expensive for research universities that would have to contribute APCs, currently c.£1,800 per article in African Studies. Such a shift would be uneconomic for institutions at the individual journal level and will in all likelihood enhance the profits of commercial publishers via APCs." (pages 3 - 4)
Angela Okune: During the discussion, Sulaiman Adebowale observed parallels across the continent where many academic scholars began to set up journals, largely due to a decrease in the spaces where they could publish as a result of the Bretton Woods structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s:
"As academic scholars in their desire to get published and the limited spaces for them to get published...we all know how that happened over the years from the 80's downwards and the death of the university presses and the funding allocation funding problems and well, basically the birth of some commercial publishers interested in scholarly publishing at that time and how towards the 90's...you all saw information technology as a tool to break out of that mode of operation to disseminate. And, and it's all across the continent, this collective academic initiative to set up journals," (31:35).
Sulaiman notes with interest how these initiatives then move from the need to share, the need to publish, the need to disseminate towards commercial models of operation in a way to sustain those journals.