The Ins and Outs of Open Access

Katherine Bowers

This article is part of a SEEB series written and organized by Jennifer Wilson on the “Public Humanities.”


In November 2017 two projects of mine were published within a matter of days of each other. The first was a journal article, which came out in Gothic Studies, the flagship journal of the International Gothic Association, and the second a book chapter, which came out in a volume I co-edited with Simon Franklin for Open Book Publishers, an open access scholarly publisher based in the UK. When I tweeted about the new publications, both received the typical favorites and re-tweets, but it quickly became clear that there was a stark difference between them. In the case of the Open Book Publishers volume, people began reading it almost immediately. Open Book Publishers keeps count of some data about its readers and the book garnered hundreds of reads in the first week; at the time of writing (7 months later) it is somewhere around 2100, astronomic figures when you consider typical academic book sales after six months. Simon Franklin and I are particularly pleased because the book has easily reached many readers in Russia; for those interested, OBP has blogged about their Russian readership here.

However, almost immediately I began to receive a stream of emails about the Gothic Studies article. All of the emails asked me for access as the journal hadn’t yet been mailed to subscribers by its publisher, Manchester University Press, and the online version was locked behind a significant paywall through Ingenta Connect, a subscription digital content hosting and delivery service. Even worse, when the article was first published, even I, its author, did not have access to the printed version without paying the $33.50 plus tax fee Ingenta charged. I was unable to access more than the table of contents through my institutional library, and when I emailed colleagues with access through other Canadian, UK, and US research libraries, they, too, were locked out.

The point this sad tale of academic publishing strife hits home is that open access publishing helps get research disseminated and read widely, including to and by those without institutional access to content hosts such as Ingenta, JSTOR, Project Muse, and others in this vein. Surely this is the goal we all have: after all, we publish research in order for others to read and ideally engage with it.

Navigating Open Access Publishers                                                     

So how does one go about publishing open access? There are several ways to do this, as outlined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative. The first option – called the “gold” route – is to publish with a press or journal that is open access, in whole or in part.

Examples of dedicated OA publishers include OBP (mentioned above) or UCL Press (the first fully OA university press in the UK), or an OA journal such as those hosted by the Open Library of Humanities or, specific to our field, Modern Languages Open or KinoKultura. OA presses typically operate on a model that allows users to read for free on their websites, but charges them for print-on-demand or ebook versions, while OA journals tend to be online only.

Hybrid OA presses or journals have an open access publication option that authors can choose, often for a fee. Some examples of hybrid OA presses with Slavic lists include Cornell University Press (through Cornell Open) and Academic Studies Press (which has a new OA line); both of these were made possible through an NEH-Mellon Open Book Grant, which also has enabled past titles to appear OA, with the promise of more to come. In terms of journals, Slavic Review is a hybrid OA journal with open access publication possible for articles through the Cambridge Core. This list of presses is by no means exhaustive; more presses and journals with open access options can be found by searching the Directory of Open Access Books or the Directory of Open Access Journals.

Publishing OA isn’t free; in most cases an OA fee will be required from authors to offset the publisher’s costs. UCL Press charges £5000 for a 100,000 word book with additional fees for extra words or color illustrations, although some limited grant funding is available for authors to offset or cover these costs. OBP states on their website that they do not require a fee, but that they ask for authors to pay for publication costs with grant funding, if possible (my co-edited volume’s publication, for example, was funded through a larger project grant from a UK funding body), but they have recently set up a Patreon to help support their OA practice. Journals, too, charge a fee for “gold” OA publication. In the case of Slavic Review this fee is $2980, while Modern Languages Open has a $750 (discounted to $600) fee. In the case of MLO, financial support is available through the Liverpool University Press Authors’ Fund for early career or precariously employed researchers who wish to publish with them but do not have access to the needed funds. Had I had the resources to fund it, I could have published my Gothic Studies article “gold” open access because Manchester University Press is a hybrid OA publisher. Publishing in Gothic Studies as part of MUOpen would have cost me £950.

These fees seem high, but they are part of the OA “gold” model that is inescapable. Publishing OA eliminates or significantly decreases the profit that journals and presses get from limiting access, and the losses must be made up somewhere in order for these businesses to continue to operate. Each of the content hosts I named above – Ingenta, JSTOR, Project MUSE – does also work with publishers who wish to publish open access on their respective platforms: Ingenta Open, JSTOR Open, and MUSEOpen. However, publishers pay to host their content OA on these services, while institutional subscriptions or individual paywall fees pay for hosting of non-OA content. KinoKultura was pioneering in our field in that it was an early OA peer review journal and publishes research articles without requiring fees of authors, but it is also a scholar-run and self-hosted operation and does not rely on a larger press for content hosting or dissemination.

The Ins and Outs of Self-Archiving

So what if you can’t afford open access or these presses and journals aren’t a good fit for your research? There is always the second route – the “green” route – of publishing open access, a practice known as self-archiving. Because so many research bodies and academic institutions now mandate that research published with their support be made openly available, many publishers and journals have policies that enable authors to publish a copy of their own work on a personal website or in an institutional repository. This practice is known as self-archiving.

You can look up any publisher or journal’s self-archiving policy on the UK-hosted SHERPA/RoMEO database, which has a color scheme for explaining what is and is not allowed:

In this scheme, Slavic Review and Canadian Slavonic Papers/Revue canadienne des slavistes are green and both allow post-print (that is, accepted, post-review, but pre-copyediting and proofing) versions to be archived by authors, but Russian Review is yellow and only pre-print (the submitted version before reviewer’s comments are incorporated) is allowed. SEEJ, SEER, and MLR are white, and each has a specific policy. SEER’s policy states that a post-print or publisher’s version (the version from the publisher’s website) can be archived after a 2-year embargo period, while SEEJ’s policy allows for immediate archiving but requires permission from the journal and then specifies that only a publisher’s version may be archived. MLR’s policy includes a 1-year embargo and then states that only a post-print can be archived. The intricacies of what is allowed and what is not may seem confusing, but the best practice is always to check SHERPA/RoMEO and, if any confusion remains, to inquire directly with the press or journal. Additionally, this helpful blog post helps shed light on what all of these terms – pre-print, post-print, publisher’s version – actually mean: Understanding Your Rights: Pre-Prints, Post-Prints, and Publisher Versions.

If I had thought to do this with my Gothic Studies article before publication, I could have self-archived the post-print version as Gothic Studies is a blue journal, giving those who wished to read it access to, at least, the accepted, post-print version, if not the published, post-proofed version. Manchester University Press was extremely helpful in facilitating green OA publication, even providing a special version of the article for self-archiving. This version is not the version published in Gothic Studies; it is not formatted for the journal, but, rather, appears as a Word doc, and it has not been through the final copyediting and proofing stage. In the case of my article, this means that some of the footnotes, which the editor queried, are incorrect (or in one place missing a page number!) and there are a few minor typos and stylistic infelicities. However, this version is the one that was officially accepted by the journal after I incorporated the peer reviewers’ suggestions.

Institutional and Shared Repositories vs Academic “Social Networking”

“Green” open access publishing or self-archiving is wonderful in that it can open up research that would otherwise be closed off behind paywalls or inaccessible to those without certain institutional affiliations. There are also several ways to self-archive. You can do it yourself, creating a personal website and hosting your own self-archive. This option works well for self-publicizing but means that your work will be read only by those who happen across your site. A classic model is the institutional repository, which hosts research created by those affiliated with the institution. This can be a great option for hosting material, and often institutional archivists are very flexible and helpful. One drawback is that those who change institutions, as is the new normal for those in precarious employment in our field, may find that their research becomes scattered across several different institutional repositories. Another issue is that not all institutional repositories are created equal: some appear in Google Scholar, but others do not.

To address this issue, some scholars have turned to academic social networking sites like ResearchGate or academia.edu. Both ResearchGate and Academia.edu are for-profit companies and their business models raise some ethical concerns as they profit off of users’ freely uploaded research. Academia.edu in particular drew sharp criticism in 2016 when some users were asked if they would be interested in paying to have their work “recommended” by the site’s editor. A number of essays caution against trusting sites like ResearchGate or academia.edu to host your scholarship and offer alternatives including Paolo Mangiafico’s 2016 blog post “Should you #DeleteAcademiaEdu? On the Role of Commercial Services in Academic Publishing,“ Sarah Bond’s 2017 Forbes piece “Dear Scholars, Delete Your Account at Academia.edu” and Jon Tennant’s response to it. If the goal of conscientiously publishing “green” open access research is making it available to all, exploitative sites like ResearchGate and academia.edu defeat that goal. Furthermore, many presses and journals do not consider these sites to be legitimate repositories and uploading work to them violates authors’ copyright agreements. This helpful post from the UC Scholarly Communication Office, “A Social Networking Site is Not an Open Access Repository,” includes more information as well as this illustrative chart.

The Humanities Commons

A better option is a model like the Humanities Commons CORE. This is an academic repository that was initially created by the MLA through a grant from the Mellon Foundation to address issues of access, as outlined in Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s essay “Academia, Not Edu” from October 2015. HCommons.org offers free academic social networking with a research repository and the option to host a personal or research website without fear of corporate exploitation, organized by academics, with a focus on openness and inclusivity. Work uploaded here is freely available for all to read, whether site members or not. Better still, ASEEES is a piloting organization, so there is already a home for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies on the site, which promises to be a great resource for our field as it becomes more populated.

Coming full circle, I conclude with the question that opened this post: why publish scholarship open access? I have made conscious choices to publish open access and to add my work to the Humanities CORE because I firmly believe that scholarship should be accessible to everyone. On an aside note that I don’t have space to discuss in detail here, the field of open education – a growing initiative to make educational and teaching materials free for anyone to access and reuse, promoting open, accessible, and inclusive learning worldwide – is also engaging in this conversation in a related area; as part of the open education movement, the Humanities CORE includes Open Syllabus and Open Pedagogy collections.

This blog post has detailed the current – as of 2018 – state of open access publishing in our field, but there is room for growth in the future. The vision of bodies such as the Open Library for the Humanities, a humanities-based OA library that seeks to reimagine models of scholarly publishing and dissemination in the arts, humanities and social sciences, is forward-looking, and the future is open and inclusive. Particularly in fields like ours, which unite scholars from multiple countries and institutional cultures, and in the current climate of job precarity and underemployment, it is important that the research that defines us as academics be available to foster and develop the conversations and connections that are necessary for the continued strength and vibrancy of our field.


Dr. Katherine Bowers is Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia, A specialist in nineteenth-century Russian literature, she is working on a book on the influence of European gothic writing on Russian realism. A list of recent publications — and their corresponding Open Access links — can be found on her ASEEES Commons site.


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