“Traditional publishing houses need to change if they want to retain their authors”Name: Prof Dr Kurt Möser
Position: Professor of History
Expertise: Cultural history of technology, contextualised history of mobility, military history in the Industrial Age
Institution: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Philosophy
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An interview with Prof Dr Kurt Möser on 30 November 2015
I strongly support public academic discourse and I want my work to be read and discussed. Time and again I receive feedback along the lines of: “That‘s great what you’re doing. Why haven’t we heard of it before?” Therefore, my area of research really presents itself for OA, especially considering the popularisation of these topics. For example, if journalists approach me, I do not have to point them to a specific title in print: I can just point them to an online OA resource and the journalists can check it themselves with a few clicks.
“The Humanities profit from OA in particular, since they are a discipline that builds very much on discourse.”
Traditional commercial publishing houses need to change if they want to retain their authors. For example, American publishers in particular are becoming more and more accommodating towards their authors. Publishers have become aware that they have to offer more to the scientific community. I published my professorial thesis (Habilitation) with a traditional commercial publisher 10 years ago, and I was very happy with their editing process, i.e. their general support throughout and their marketing activities. As an author, good editing is the most important service that a publisher can offer. Therefore, as long as the publisher fulfils their traditional tasks to my satisfaction – editing, author support, and marketing – I am still interested in publishing with them. However, to my mind, this is an exception nowadays. Big publishing houses demand a lot of money and make author promises that aren’t always honoured. You can find your book on the backlist very quickly. For example, I noticed that a certain one of my books can now only be obtained from antiquarian bookshops online and Ebay! This would be different if my book had been published OA in the first place.
In addition, OA has helped us get the information we need much easier and faster. Before OA, the academic communication process was slower. Even today, conference proceedings need two to three years to be published in print. It then takes even longer until they are made available in the relevant libraries: you suggest the publication for acquisition, the acquisitions department purchases it, it then has to be catalogued and only then does it become available. This whole process has helped us get what we need much faster, thanks to OA.
Also, in contrast to the Life Sciences, we have a slower turnover rate in the Humanities. That is to say, some of my essays that date back to the early 2000s are only now being noticed in the community (which would be out of the question in the Life Sciences where research might be out of date after six months). If such old publications are made available OA, they can still be easily accessible today and this can have a positive effect on a researcher’s career.
“I think that this is simply a generational issue.”
There is also still a strong scepticism towards OA in that some authors fear that their own authorship gets lost through OA and that their research circulates online without their name even being mentioned. For example, if you voice an idea or contribute to a discussion at a conference, someone could publish your idea half a year later under his or her own name. (Conference proceedings are still the main type of publication in the Humanities.) Of course, this would be plagiarism, but this causes a lot of concern among some colleagues.
Researchers in the Humanities are also anxious to build or maintain their reputation, and this is why they continue to publish with traditional commercial publishers. This problem is notably apparent among younger colleagues; they still want to publish with the traditional publishing houses because it is a matter of prestige where one has published one’s thesis. As a result, they fear that by publishing their thesis OA, their growth in prestige could be threatened. Of course this is connected to personal habits; when you receive catalogues from commercial publishers and flip through them, you think that if an author has published with a certain publisher, that his or her research is of a certain standard. However, I think that this is a very ephemeral factor that will lose traction over the next 10 years. I also believe that if good people move towards OA that the quality of OA publications will automatically improve.
Something we need to take heed of is that the possibility to get published faster and more easily must not lead to sloppiness! Everyone involved in the OA process, from authors to publishers, needs to maintain self-discipline in this respect. An OA publication must not be of a worse quality than an “old-fashioned“ print publication.
It is a question of money really; as mentioned above, scholars in the Humanities still publish with traditional, commercial publishers simply for reasons of reputation. The problem is that traditional publishers do not know how to make money with OA. Publishers see OA as an economic attack on the traditional publishing business model. They needn’t worry, however, as publishers could take new opportunities by starting with putting their titles online and requesting just a small licence fee. Such models could enable more Open Access to research.
In addition, when I look at the steep prices of journals, especially Anglo-American ones, I think that this is quite concerning. I have been working for around 30 years now and I see how libraries – particularly from smaller institutions with low budgets – have to cancel journal subscriptions. Some even need to tell their researchers that if they want to read a particular journal no longer stocked that they have to travel 50 km to the next library! Such arguments will help us move away from the traditional publishing business and open up more of our research.
Copyright: Maike van Wasen, KIT Scientific Publishing. Creative Commons CC-BY Licence.
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