Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Funding, Open Access, and "Author Pays".

I've been pointed to a discussion about the journal "Internet Archaeology" by a friendly colleague. The journal IA has recently dropped its paywall and is now free access for everybody - to which I say Hooray and Thank you.

However, as someone in the discussion on Antiquist points out, it's not all free. The journal is financed by an "author pays" scheme, which means you need to be able to pay for having your paper published. The discussion quickly goes off into other terrains where there are problems in data access, but for me, the interesting bit is that one of the contributors says that "author pays" is not a problem, since nobody pays for that out of their own pocket anyways.

To which I say... not true. Definitely not true.

I would never publish in an author pays scheme, not only because I am a firm believer in the principle that the money flows towards the author, not away. I would also not be willing to shell out even more money for an experiment, thankyouverymuch. As a rule, I pay for my experiments myself, because getting funding for them? Difficult. Having an institution behind you makes things easier, but even then it's not guaranteed that you will get funding. Plus the time you have to spend on trying to secure said funding... never underestimate how much of your time, and energy, applications can suck out of your life.

I had plenty of experience with that topic when I tried to secure funding for my phd thesis (hint: I didn't get lucky). You have to do a new application package every time, then it takes ages to go through the system, and finally if you don't get funding, you have to deal with the emotional fallout. (At least I did.) At the end, I estimated about two to three weeks' work worth for each application. There's quite a lot of times that I've heard people complain that they are not getting around to really working, because in order to secure further funding so they will not lose their job, all they have time for is write one grant application after the other.

At some point, especially if the experiment is more work-time and not too much monetary investment for the things you need, you might decide it's not worth the effort to go for funding, and just go ahead and do it. Then, at the end, if all went well, you have an experiment and some results... and there you are. The thing should now be published. The last, very very last thing that I, personally, want to do in that case? Pay the journal.

So who is going to pay the people working at the journal? Actually, I would be fine with a paywall for journal articles - let the reader pay. With one caveat, though: make the prices reasonable. 30 or 50 USD for a 10-page article? You bet that nobody who can get around paying that will pay. However, if you charge 10 or 15 USD - that would be much more reasonable.
And for things that are older than, say, 2 years? If the journals would just charge one or two dollars, you can bet that I would not take the trouble to get the article via the library, or maybe ask a friend who has access. I'd pay, just for the convenience of having it at once. Because it's not a high price, and I'd be comfortable in paying that. Probably a lot of other folks would think exactly the same, and do exactly the same.

Oh, and in my ideal world? The author should get 10% of the income that the article generates. Fair pay for the work that went into it.


Anonymous said...

I remember a friendly supervisor who wanted the best for me advising c.12 years ago, "Well, you could apply for funding, but that takes an age with no guarantee of success at the end. Or, you could go and get a job that you can fit round the research, then in the same timespan you know what money you've really got as it's already in the bank and you've got a CV full of lots of experience and transferrable skills you'd otherwise not have."

Good advice, especially when a contemporary became unwell and got the letter from the funding agency, with words to the effect, "It has come to our attention that you cannot currently complete your research. We shall now collect all of the money we have granted to you thus far." This did not aid his recovery.

And now I have a job got with those transferable skills I'd not otherwise have.


Lena said...

So true. It's all very well if you are part of academia with a good chance of funding, but if you are outside it, or pursuing some "unpopular" research, well, best of luck - you'll need it. I've met people who worked full time while doing their Ph.D. part time, and while I really want to do a Ph.D., if I can't get a fully funded position, it's not going to happen. And to do all that and still having to struggle to get your articles funded...