The challenges of open access publishing
in philosophy

Bryan W Roberts and David Teira

On 14 January 2021 the editors of BSPS Open, in partnership with the CPNSS (LSE), organized a virtual workshop on the challenges of open access publication in philosophy. Publications that are open access (OA) are freely downloadable as a PDF, under a Creative Commons Licence, often with an option to pay for print copies on demand. Making a publication OA is well known to increase its impact, accessibility, and citation numbers. The problem is commercial publishers will only allow OA for authors who can pay large fees, making OA inaccessible to many. But non-profit OA publishing is also difficult to fund and sustain.

As speakers Sabina Leonelli (University of Exeter) and Ties Nijssen (Springer) put it, OA is crucial for philosophy, since this is a field that thrives in the interaction with people from different disciplines, experts from within and beyond academia, and the general public. A significant number of readers (and even authors) are not professional philosophers and OA facilitates outreach and feedback from multiple audiences, thus increasing the diversity of views.

The aim of the workshop was to bring together OA editors and publishers to share their experiences, map the challenges they face, and explore potential solutions. For this, we adopted a flash-talk format: there were three (ten minute) keynotes and twelve (five minute) interventions from OA stakeholders. The list of speakers is at the end of this piece. There were up to ninety participants who engaged in very interesting exchanges with the speakers and among themselves on the platform chat. We wanted to share with BJPS readers the challenges that were raised, in order to spur further thought and discussion in the profession.

First, we have preprint servers like the Phil-Sci Archive (USA), facilitating OA publication of published and unpublished manuscripts, and conference proceedings. They may also host mirrors of established OA journals. Preprint servers face some of the challenges we will discuss in the third and fourth points below, but they face one challenge of their own.

(0) Encouraging a culture of preprint publication

Although many commercial journals allow philosophers to post an OA preprint version of their published papers (usually, the final version before the publisher copyedits and typesets the paper), only a minority in the profession do this.

Second, we have native OA journals that are largely funded by the editors’ home universities. They are managed by unpaid editors (either faculty or graduate students) who use editorial platform such as the Open Journal System. Examples of such journals include αnalytica (Greece), Erasmus Journal for Philosophy of Economics, Lato Sensu (Belgium), and Recerca (Spain). For them, the main challenges are:

(1) Covering copyediting expenses (the journals at the workshop have budgets of around €3000)

(2) Building a reputation and attracting good quality manuscripts

(3) Keeping the editorial team alive. Getting the journal off the ground and finding replacements when editors leave is difficult since the amount of work involved is significant and without compensation.

Third, we have native OA journals that have already solved challenges (1) and (2) and have become independent editorial ventures in partnership with a non-commercial publisher. Philosopher’s Imprint (USA) and Ergo (USA) each receive a sufficient number of submissions (around 700 per year) that charging authors a small fee subsidizes their operating costs, namely, copyediting. The hosting and typesetting is provided by the University of Michigan Library. For these journals, challenge (3) is further complicated as follows:

(4) Managing the peer review process for a large numbers of submissions

This is also a problem for the Phil-Sci Archive and can only be solved with more unpaid editorial work. Also, Ergo and Philosophers’ Imprint have each developed their own open source editorial platform. Although this has served them well, keeping the software updated requires dedication.

Fourth, we have traditional journals, often with a print version, but which have transitioned to OA online: Dialectica (Switzerland), Locke Studies (Canada), and Theoria (Spain). In addition to challenges (1-4), they confront a fifth:

(5) Making a journal’s archive available OA

Libraries and independent funding bodies can help solve this challenge. Locke Studies has transitioned to OA and digitized its entire archive with the support of the library and the philosophy department at the University of Western Ontario. In Canada there is also Coalition Publica, an organization that provides infrastructure and funding for OA publishing. Theoria funded their transition with a grant from the regional Basque government and special support from the University of the Basque Country.

Dialectica lets its previous commercial publisher to keep their archive but will also republish it entirely in open access. It is now investing in solving challenge (1), developing a set of open source tools for automatizing professional copyediting. They are using and extending a markdown language that simplifies copyediting and can be used to generate XML versions of the papers as well as properly formatted and indexed PDFs and webpages with minimal copyediting.

The fifth and final group are the OA behemoths: non-commercial publishers like the Public Library of Science (PLOS ONE) and for-profit companies like Springer or Routledge. We find additional challenges here.

(6) The transformation to OA risks publishing becoming less equal for researchers due to expensive submission and/or publication fees, and different levels of editorial service depending on the size of the field (for example, biomedical editors have more support than those in the humanities).

PLOS has a waiver programme with a $3 million budget (covered by their revenue), plus institutional agreements whereby publication fees are paid by university libraries. Springer has a waiver fund for researchers in low-income countries. Springer aims to transform all its journals, across all disciplines, to full OA via read-and-publish agreements.  These agreements, between publishers on the one hand and universities and library consortia on the other, allow researchers affiliated with signatory institutions to read and publish in the relevant journals without incurring any fee. While this strategy is getting traction in Europe, there is also interest in other arrangements, for example, India’s one nation, one subscription. Another challenge for this strategy is whether the costs of read and publish agreements should be calculated per number of authors (so that rich countries subsidize the rest) or number of readers (so that the sciences subsidize the humanities). Hybrid journals, where authors can choose whether to publish behind a paywall at no cost or to publish OA for a fee, may provide a temporary solution.

(7) Financing scholarly societies

Many academic societies are funded by the commercial publication of a journal. Publishing journals OA in an inclusive manner (with low or no author fees) would deprive societies of a significant portion of their budgets, leaving only conference registration and membership fees as sources of income.

For instance, the British Society for Philosophy of Science endorses inclusive OA through BSPS Open (more below), but uses royalties generated by the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science to fund scholarships, grants, and conferences, keeping its membership fee low. Which goals should scholarly societies prioritize?

The last challenge concerns monograph publishing.

(8) How to cover the costs of OA monographs?

Routledge is developing less expensive formats for shorter books and making OA single chapters of conventional books. Calgary University Press, in partnership with the British Society for Philosophy of Science, has created a collection of philosophy of science monographs (BSPS Open). Calgary raises the necessary funds with grants and sales, at no cost for authors (but for a limited number of books: ten in five years)

As Helen Beebee (BSPS Open Editorial Chair) put it in her final remarks, perhaps it is time to have a permanent forum where OA stakeholders in philosophy can share their experiences.


Speakers: Sabina Leonelli (Exeter),  John D. Norton (Phil-Sci Archive), Helen Beebee (BSPS Open) +  Stavros Ioannidis (αnalytica), Julien Dutant (DialecticaAlastair Wilson (Ergo), Marina Uzunova (Erasmus Journal for Philosophy of Economics), Alexandre Guay (Lato Sensu), Kristin Hoffmann (Locke Studies), David Velleman (Philosopher’s Imprint), Yann Benétreau (PLOS ONERamón Feenstra (Recerca), Tony Bruce (Routledge), Ties Nijssen (Springer), Javier González de Prado (Theoria).


Bryan W Roberts
Co-Editor-in-Chief, BSPS Open & CPNSS, LSE

David Teira
Co-Editor-in-Chief, BSPS Open & UNED, Spain

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