Acknowledging a downside to APC: opening up scholars and scholarship to exploitation | Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir les savoirs communs
Brainard (2019) in an April 3, 2019 article in Science, reports that a U.S. judge has ruled that a “deceptive” publisher [OMICS] should pay $50 million in damages. This is a timely opportunity to acknowledge a downside of the APC business model, that is, opening up scholarship to further commercial exploitation, including exploitation by publishers that do not or may not meet reasonable standards for academic quality and ethics in publishing, and to make recommendations to limit this potential for exploitation.
The SKC team often focuses on the article processing charges (APC) business model for OA journal publishing, in order to observe and analyze trends. However, this focus is not an endorsement of either OA publishing (as opposed to OA archiving), or the APC business model that is used by a minority of fully OA journals. This post acknowledges a major downside to the APC model. APC "opens up" scholars and scholarly works for further commercial exploitation by traditional and new publishers that offers a wide range of quality in academic terms, ranging from excellent to mediocre and including a few with unethical practices that are not compatible with advancing our collective knowledge.This judge's ruling provides an opportune moment to acknowledge this flaw in the APC business model, and to discuss potential remedies. I argue that it is essential for scholarly publishing to be scholar-led so that advancing scholarship is the primary priority. One model that I recommend as one to build on and expand is the SSHRC Aid to Scholarly Journals program. This program provides modest funding to scholarly journals that are under the direction of qualified Canadian academics. This funding is awarded through a competitive process that in effect serves as a journal-level academic peer review process. OA initiatives where key decisions are made by the research community (directly or through librarian representatives) are more likely to ensure high quality and ethical services than policies favouring and/or providing support for OA publishing with no clear vetting process of publication venues.