A Call for Change in Academic Publishing

Open Letter from JIS Editor Henry Hagedorn:

I have resigned as Editor of Archives to start an online journal for insect biology produced in collaboration with the Library of The University of Arizona. The new journal has the potential to change the way we share information in our discipline. Below you will find a detailed explanation of my motivation for starting the new journal and some details of the journal as well.

I resigned because I strongly feel that commercial publishers are ripping academic scholars off. By being an editor for Archives I was an accomplice to highway robbery. Archives was started by Allen Press in 1986 at a cost of $250 to institutions. In a few years the journal published about 65 papers each year. The price started to increase when the journal was acquired by Wiley-Liss in 1990. By 1996 an institutional subscription was over $1000 and today it is $2000. Yet, with a few exceptions, the journal continued to publish only about 65 papers a year!

Why has Archives increased the cost of an institutional subscription by nearly an order of magnitude since 1986 without an equivalent increase in the number of papers published? Based on a 60% increase in the consumer price index since 1986 one might have expected the cost of an institutional subscription to increase from $250 to $400, not $2,000. Making some assumptions about the cost of publishing and income generated from subscriptions, I suspect that Wiley-Liss is making a profit of about $500,000 per year on this rather small journal. What is the real cost to society of the scientific work published in this journal? About $2 million in grant costs and salaries per year, borne mainly by granting agencies and research institutions.

The price increase for Archives is not an isolated case. Institutional subscription prices increased for all three of the major journals publishing work in insect physiology and biochemistry (Archives, Journal of Insect Physiology and Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology). The total cost to our libraries for these three journals is now $5260, while in 1990 they cost $1565. The number of papers published annually by all three journals has nevertheless remained roughly constant at 300 papers for the last 10 years.

In the last 10 years our library at the University of Arizona has cancelled many journal subscriptions because of price increases such as those shown above. I know that many other academic libraries are in the same situation. As a result our libraries no longer have the journals we rely on.

The Faustian bargain: your copyright for tenure

Beyond the issue of cost, the commercial journals have also subverted the basic concept that is essential to academic communication; free access. Since Gutenberg, academic publishing has been tied to paper, and that tied us to an expensive method for the dissemination of our work. In the previous century this evolved into a lucrative commercial operation. Authors were obliged to trade the copyright to their work to ensure its publication so they could get tenure. It was a particularly insidious bargain because it allowed market forces to distort the basic drive of academia to disseminate ideas and encourage discussion. Forcing readers to pay dearly for the right to read our work is the last thing we want; free dissemination should be the long-term goal. I think the goal is attainable.

The electronic journal could free us from the market forces that distort the contract academic institutions have with society. Electronic journals cost much less to publish than print journals, reprints can be made available free by providing PDF files, and archiving can be achieved electronically at low cost. They also provide options such as full text searchability unavailable in print formats. I will argue below that the expertise we need to achieve this is available within our libraries. By joining forces with our libraries we can regain control of academic publishing.

However, going electronic will not necessarily allow us to break the Faustian bargain. Indeed, the commercial publishers have been increasing online access to their journals, for subscribers only of course, and at an even higher price. The academic community created the web for academic purposes and we are on the verge of losing it to those who want to use it to make a profit from academic journals. We must keep the academic portion of the web open and free. I believe that universities should be at the forefront in achieving this goal by publishing academic journals.

A New On-line Journal: A Collaborative Project with the Library

Following this line of reasoning, and with the support of the Dean of our Library, Carla Stoffle, we decided to start an online journal in direct competition with the excessively priced commercial journals. By "online" we mean that it will not have a print version. This journal would be published by, and initially supported by, the Library of the University of Arizona. Our guiding principle is that academic institutions, such as universities, should be involved in publishing scholarly work. The new journal will be a move in that direction.

What kind of journal?

We decided to found a broad journal that would cover essentially all areas of insect science as it would be more likely to be successful than a more narrowly defined journal. Such a journal goes against the current trend for journals to be increasingly specialized. In my opinion this trend is a phenomenon created by the commercial publishers who see more specialized journals as a way to increase revenues. In an electronic world such specialization is moot. High quality peer reviewing is the key to the success of such a journal, not the title or subject area. Ensuring high quality peer reviews is the function of a high quality editorial board.

We have therefore created the Journal of Insect Science. It will have an international scope and a connection with the Entomological Society of America, and with similar societies around the world. It will also be associated with SPARC, BioOne, and PubMed Central. Our relationships with these organizations are important so I have copied below statements of purpose from their home pages.


Our objectives in creating the Journal of Insect Science are to ensure:

  • High impact; assured by publishing high quality papers
  • Wide dissemination among institutions; assured by association with SPARC
  • Inclusion in indexing services
  • Copyright retained by authors; we will ask for limited rights to maintain the paper on-line
  • Free reprints via PDF files
  • Hyperlinked references to other online journals; assured by our relationship with PubMed Central and BioOne
Why a collaboration with the Library?

Creating a journal published by an academic institution involving the university library is a novel approach. One of our goals in this project is to demonstrate the feasibility of using existing expertise in our libraries to wrest control of academic publishing from commercial publishers. What are advantages to this approach?

  • The academic library is part of the scholarly enterprise and thereby understands the desire of scholars for free access - a concept that is opaque to commercial publishers.
  • The library can provide expertise in formatting (see below) that would be otherwise costly to purchase.
  • The library is our best ally in the battle to maintain archival material. Maintaining archives just costs money for the commercial publishers.
  • SPARC - the association of academic libraries (see below) - brings real clout to this endeavor. They can assist in international publicity, announce the journal within their member libraries, assist with getting accepted by search engines such as ISI, BIOSIS , and Medline, and provide free legal advice.
  • The library is not driven by market demands. One of the unusual features of a library is that it is not there to make a profit, but rather to serve.

There are problems with the electronic-only approach. An on-line journal is both more accessible and less accessible to the academic audience. An on-line only format allows distribution to a worldwide audience, but there are some that are out of the loop. Scientists in some countries would not have easy access, in fact, might be denied access. My guess is that over time this problem will solve itself as on-line access becomes more widely available. In the meantime a printed copy, or a CD version, can be created for those out of the loop.

Another question is, will people read an on-line journal? Are we so accustomed to paper that we will refuse to read on-line journals even though they offer powerful advantages? I doubt that this will be a real problem since readers can make paper copies from the PDF file.

If you are just getting started, will publishing in an electronic journal reduce your hopes for glory and fame? This is an important issue that can only be addressed by ensuring that the papers published in the journal will be of high quality, which will ensure a high impact factor. That is the function of the quality of reviews and of the Editorial Board.

I welcome your comments.

Henry Hagedorn

Related Topics:


SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition, is an alliance of libraries that fosters expanded competition in scholarly communication. SPARC creates "partnerships" with publishers who are developing high-quality, economical alternatives to existing high-price publications. Through its activities, SPARC reduces the risk to publisher-partners of entering the marketplace while providing faculty with prestigious and responsive alternatives to current publishing vehicles. To accomplish this, SPARC: encourages the introduction of alternative scientific communication outlets of high quality and fair price; guarantees a subscription base and market new products to potential subscribers; and generates support for SPARC projects through its public communications program."

The importance of this relationship to the new journal is that SPARC will help to ensure subscriptions to the new journal from their member libraries, and will help to obtain early access to indexing services.

If you are interested in joining the revolt against commercial journals SPARC has created an on-line site that offers suggestions, such as protesting prices of how to resign from editorial boards. Please visit createchange.org for more information on this movement.


BioOne is a unique aggregation of high-impact bioscience research journals. As an innovative collaboration among scientific societies, libraries, academe and the commercial sector, BioOne is working to help transform the scholarly communication process by providing expanded access to scientific research results. BioOne provides integrated, cost-effective access to a thoroughly linked information resource of interrelated journals focused on the biological, ecological and environmental sciences.

PubMed Central

PubMed Central is a web-based archive of journal literature for all of the life sciences. It is being developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). With PubMed Central, NCBI is taking the lead in preserving and maintaining open access to the literature in electronic form, just as NLM has done for decades with the printed biomedical literature. We may not have all the answers to this grand challenge, but we invite all journals to join those that have already committed to creating this resource for people all over the world.

PubMed Central aims to fill the role of a world class library in the digital age. It is not, and has no intention of ever becoming, a journal publisher. Access to PubMed Central is free and unrestricted.

Recommended Readings

Declan Butler, Is your journal really necessary? Nature 407: 291, 2000.

Andrew Odlyzko, The economics of electronic journals. available at: http://www.press.umich.edu/jep/04-04/odlyzko0404.html. [This site lists other articles by Odlyzko that are also very informative.]

The Public Library of Science. [Open letter supporting the establishment of an online public library.]

Christopher Reed, Drowning in a sea of refereed publications. Chemical and Engineering News. January 29, 2001, pp 37-38.

Mike Rosenzweig. Reclaiming What We Own: Expanding Competition in Scholarly Publishing. available at: http://www.arl.org/sparc/rosenzweig.html. [Mike is the editor of the new journal, Evolutionary Ecology Research. This article provides a front-line account of the situation.]

Tom Walker. Free Internet access to traditional journals. American Scientist 86:463-71. Also available at: http://www.amsci.org/amsci/issues/TOC98/TOC98-09/contents.html. [Tom Walker headed a project to electronically publish the Florida Entomologist on the Internet.]