Wednesday, July 15, 2009

JVP's Big Switch - A Good Thing or Not?

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, as many readers of this blog know, is the flagship publication of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Like the journals of many other small societies, JVP is a high-quality, largely volunteer effort. With the growth of SVP, the journal has grown too - from 422 published pages during its first year (1981) to 1,245 pages during 2008. This sort of expansion is not without its problems - how do you fit the increasing number of scientifically worthy submissions within the fixed-page format of a relatively expensive publication medium? Massive backlogs are bound to happen (and have, apparently). One option is to drastically increase the rejection rate of previously worthy papers - not necessarily a healthy option for the journal or the society as a whole (particularly for students and others not in the inner circles). Another tactic is to increase the number of pages per year, or the number of issues. For a society-funded journal, this is a very expensive proposition.

So, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology has taken a compromise position - partnering with commercial publishing house Taylor & Francis Group. At the face of it, this seems to be a win-win situation. . .the number of issues will be bumped up to six issues per year, which will decrease the journal's backlog and allow more high-quality papers to be published. The society retains editorial control, gets a bunch of free color pages every year (no small chunk of cash saved here!), and will get a memoir issue every year too (also a major bonus - these things are very, very expensive to produce). Taylor & Francis also has an open access option for many of their journals (although it is unknown yet if JVP will have this available), which may be a step forward from the previously no-open-access-option of JVP.

This all seems like a Good Thing. So, why am I hesitant to completely cheer on the switch? My caution lies entirely with all of the uncertainties behind a switch to a big commercial publisher. The T&F Group seems to have much more restrictive policies on PDF distribution, for instance. . .in my quick look through their present journals, I didn't see any evidence for any journal that authors are allowed to purchase a PDF for a reasonable price that would legally allow posting of a copy on a personal or institutional website (as JVP presently does--something I really like about the journal). At best, authors get the concession of a free PDF for emailing purposes only. . .and only for up to 50 colleagues. There are days when I like to think more than 50 people might be interested in my research, but perhaps this is a fantasy. My hope is that something better has been negotiated for the society, but it is presently too early to tell. Furthermore, non-members of the society at non-subscribing institutions can look forward to paying $37/article (regardless of page count!) for PDF access. This is a step ahead of the previous situation (no easy way to get a PDF short of writing the author, assuming their contact information is still valid and the author is still alive), but a debatable improvement nonetheless.

Other questions abound. What will happen to copyright (previously assigned to the society)? T&F is no Elsevier (thank goodness!), but what are the options for the society if the publisher engages in unethical publishing practices or overpriced bundling schemes?

All we have to go on right now is the press release. I am sure that many more details will be unveiled in the months leading up to the formal handover to Taylor & Francis. Some of my fears will be unfounded (I hope), and other unforeseen issues may rear their heads. At the very least, I will be keeping a close eye on further developments. If you publish in JVP or are thinking about doing so, and care about authors' rights, I encourage you to remain vigilant too.


220mya said...

Andy - the press release by SVP does not indicate any limit on the number of folks you can email the PDF to.

Although this deal is not ideal in all respects, I think it does put JVP in a much better position than it is in now. And, the contract is for 5 years, so if it doesn't work out the journal and society can move on at the end of that time.

Andy said...

I agree that the press release does not indicate any limits, but it is also not the purpose of the release to provide every detail of how the journal's policies will change (nor would I expect them to do so). As mentioned in my post, it is quite possible that something different from T&F's usual has been negotiated for JVP - we just don't have the full information yet. My main concern is that T&F, as a commercial publisher, has policies in place that may differ substantially from the present (society- and author-friendly) policies of JVP. I have communicated many of these questions to the appropriate individuals at SVP already, and (with their permission) will provide an update when I find out anything.

I also agree that many aspects of the deal will greatly benefit JVP, particularly the increased throughput in published pages and journal issues. But at what price to authors and the society has this been achieved? My hope is that everything works out quite equitably--there just isn't enough information yet to know for sure.

Jerry D. Harris said...

T&F is a very strange choice, IMHO. I've never been impressed with them -- their journal web site (Informaworld) is among the worst I've seen among the big publishers (they don't even give author e-mail addresses so you can write for reprints!), and also among the least subscribed to by libraries. They're also not any sort of paleontological powerhouse -- their other "big" paleo journals are Ichnos, Alcheringa, and Historical Biology -- all fine journals in and of themselves (I can say that; I'm on the editorial board of one of them); they're just not the kinds of journals that paleontologists are clamoring to get into -- which may be a function of those journals' marketing strategies more than a function of anything about the publisher. But it does speak to profile -- you want wider publicity and coverage, you go with someone that will provide it. Not that I'm advocating Elsevier or Wiley or anyone else -- I'm all sold on open-access now and have never much liked any of the big publishing houses or their policies. I'm with you on keeping an eye on this situation to see how it will affect potential JVP authors, and what restrictions will be placed upon them...

Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. said...

Any word on whether JVP will be removed from as a consequence? One benefit of the current arrangement is that those institutions that get One journals get ALL the One journals: a great benefit.

Andy said...

The news release says that "JVP will continue to be archived at BioOne and at JSTOR as at present," so apparently it will all still be available through BioOne as in the current system.