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Scholarly Publishing

This guide provides information about common issues in scholarly communications, including author rights, publishing open access, and depositing your work in a repository.


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Scholarly Publishing Impacts Researchers


Scholarly publishing is the process of creating and evaluating scholarly content, disseminating it to the scholarly community and the public, and preserving it for future use. It facilitates inquiry, collaboration, and the creation of new knowledge. Yet, most scholars pursue their research and disseminate the results with little or no expectation of direct financial reward.

In recent decades, scholarly publishing has undergone significant changes. While disseminating research has grown easier because of electronic journals, e-books, and the internet, the financial costs of publishing have skyrocketed. This is largely driven by consolidation in the academic publishing industry and proliferation of academic journals. Below are some of the main issues and unsettled questions in scholarly publishing.

Journal prices have increased significantly

Journal prices have increased significantly for more than three decades, and library acquisitions budgets have not kept pace, leaving libraries to purchase fewer books and journals. Complicating the issue further, some large journal publishers are aggregating or "bundling" electronic content, offering libraries packages of journals with strong economic inducements to buy the package over selecting individual titles. Libraries lose the ability to deliver titles of most value to the local community and must commit larger and larger portions of their budgets to fewer publishers. In FY2020, 22% of Iowa’s acquisitions budget went to five commercial publishers (Elsevier, Springer Nature, Sage, and Wiley). Mergers among and acquisitions by commercial publishers are increasing, usually resulting in higher journal costs.

Alternative models have emerged for disseminating scholarship

In response, new ways of disseminating scholarly information have emerged that attempt to make research more open and available to read and affordable to publish. Open Access (OA) refers to scholarly literature that is freely available for use without paywalls or other barriers and openly licensed for reuse. Freely available content with little or no restriction is also called libre OA. Freely available content that may not be reused without permission is also known as gratis OA. OA publishing includes peer-reviewed literature, as well as accepted versions of published journal articles placed in digital repositories. The NIH Public Access Policy is a well-known mandate that requires open access publishing of NIH funded research. Several universities (Harvard, MIT, Duke, Princeton and Kansas among others) have passed institutional open access mandates that require all faculty journal articles to be deposited in their institutional repository unless a waiver is sought. The University of Iowa's institutional repository, Iowa Research Online, accepts work from Iowa faculty and other researchers when appropriate rights are available. Including research in a repository makes your research more accessible. Most of the content in Iowa Research Online is free to read but not free to reuse (gratis OA).

Faculty members are concerned about tenure and promotion

Rewards in the academic environment are often based on the prestige and impact of a faculty member’s publication record. More and more journals, however, are issued by profit-making entities, charging several times the price charged by non-profit publishers. Commercial publishing can perpetuate high prices, restrictive access, and often undesirable licensing terms. On the other hand, scholars may be reluctant to submit their work to open access publishers due to reputation concerns. Will publication in an open access journal be valued less by tenure review boards than publication in a traditional print journal? 

Scholars have lost control of the process

Publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals should foster shared scholarship, establish priority in making discoveries, and initiate conversations among scholars. Such publication is also a tenure requirement for faculty in most disciplines, especially at institutions focused on research. Because of the pressures to publish, coupled with long-standing academic traditions, faculty often sign away all rights to their scholarly work to publishers in exchange for publication. Scholars who sign away rights can find themselves needing to request permission from publishers to place their own articles in a repository or use them in another work. 

What You Can Do

Publish to Maximize Impact

Where you publish can maximize your research impact. Studies indicate that open-access articles are more immediately and more frequently cited than articles that are only available behind a paywall. Increased citation rates lead to greater research impact.

There are several options for making your research more widely available:

  • Start by retaining your copyright. This will allow you to disseminate your work more widely, including posting a version into a repository, such as Iowa Research Online.
  • Consider making your work open access.
  • The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) offers a list of free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals in a broad array of disciplines. Select “For authors” to see the various open access options available.
  • Post your article to a repository, such as Iowa Research Online or a discipline-based repository

Use Your Influence

  • Support open-access publishers and reasonably priced non-profit publishers by submitting papers to them instead of to costly commercial journals.
  • Accept invitations to referee papers for open access journals.
  • Serve on editorial boards for open-access journals.
  • Encourage your scholarly society to follow publishing best practices including maintaining reasonable prices for its journals and allowing authors to self-archive their work.
  • Find out more about your publication before you decide to publish in it. Examine the pricing and licensing agreements of journals you contribute to as an author, reviewer, or editor. If possible, refuse to contribute to or edit for journals from publishers who practice "predatory pricing" or who do not allow authors to retain their copyrights.

Take Action on Campus

  • Encourage discussion of scholarly publishing issues and proposals for change in your department, college, or university.
  • Invite your library liaison to faculty departmental meetings and graduate seminars to discuss scholarly publishing issues.
  • Deposit your research and departmental materials in Iowa Research Online (IRO)
  • When sitting on grant-review panels or hiring, tenure, or promotion committees, give due weight to peer-reviewed publications regardless of their price, medium, or business model. Don’t rely solely on prestige or impact factor as this discriminates against new journals that may be of high quality.
  • Educate the next generation of scientists and scholars about the benefits of sharing their research. Explain to your students that open access is compatible with peer review, copyright, and career advancement.

Guide Info

Creative Commons License
Anderson, Mark; Burnett, Mahrya; Lawrence, Janna; Robertson, Wendy (2021) Scholarly Publishing GuideUniversity of Iowa Libraries. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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