OpenEdition, a platform for academic journals and books

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By Marie Lebert, April 2012.

After running a research project on ebooks, I am starting a new project on open access (research, writing, translating).

Abstract

Here is an in-depth look at OpenEdition, an electronic platform for academic literature (mainly journals) in the humanities and social sciences, launched in early 2011 as a new step for a 12-year project. OpenEdition, a publicly-funded project, is not a 100% open-access platform, despite its name, but an effort towards open access, with 28% of the collection in free access without any restrictions, 25% of the collection with a free HTML version and fee-based access to other formats, and 47% of the collection with an embargo period from one to three years and older literature available for free. With a Freemium service for libraries and a hybrid free/fee-based service for journals, the French project tries to build a “new open-access economic model” with different access policies depending on journals’ requirements. The project started with the creation of Revues.org in 1999 (now part of OpenEdition) as a free electronic platform for academic journals. Two websites were added then: Calenda, a free social science agenda launched in 2000, and Hypotheses.org, a free platform for academic blogs launched in 2008. The whole project has deeply improved the electronic publishing and dissemination of academic journals, first by offering a pioneer platform, second by offering high-end tools to the academic community, and third by experimenting new models. After being in free access for several years, the platform began diversifying its access policies, first by including journals under embargo in 2008, second by partnering with the commercial platform Cairn in 2009 to offer toll-access subscriptions to some journals, and third by launching the Freemium programme for libraries in 2011, for libraries’ patrons to access downloadable articles of free-access journals, and recent articles of toll-access journals. In 2012, new projects include the development of a book collection, and the inclusion of journals and blogs in other languages than French.

Why I write about OpenEdition

I am writing about OpenEdition, a publicly-funded electronic platform for academic literature (mainly journals) in the humanities and social sciences, because it took me some time to understand what this project was about, in the hope my article would speed up things for other researchers and/or for newcomers to the platform. This to the best of my knowledge, because useful information is still lacking on the platform launched in early 2011, such as FAQs, an extensive About webpage, a History webpage, user statistical tables per year, and an in-depth description of each access policy option. OpenEdition is not a 100% open-access project, despite its name, but an effort towards open access, while experimenting a “new open-access economic model” I have tried to understand after gathering data from different sources, a mind-boggling task at times. If some information is wrong despite my efforts, suggestions for corrections are welcome by email as long as they are backed up by a freely available source on the web.

A new platform for an existing project

OpenEdition (“Edition” is the French word for “Publishing”) is a French publicly-funded project launched in January 2011 as an electronic platform for academic literature in the humanities and social sciences. The hybrid free/fee-based platform has offered fee-based services for academic libraries since February 2011, with 2/3 of the fees going to publishers, and 1/3 of the fees going to the team running the project. OpenEdition is not a new project, but a new step for a 12-year old project that started in 1999 with Revues.org (“Revues” is the French word for “Journals”) as a free platform for academic journals. In early 2011, the publications’ catalogue moved from the URL revues.org to the URL openedition.org.

With 340 journals and book series (22 book series) in March 2012, the collection is mainly in French, with a small part in English, and a few titles in other languages. The book collection launched in 2009 is still small but is expected to rise significantly with the addition of 15,000 monographs in 2012-19.

OpenEdition aggregates three existing websites: Revues.org, Calenda and Hypotheses.org. Revues.org was created in May 1999 by Marin Dacos as a free electronic portal for academic journals in the humanities and social sciences, a pioneer project at the time. Calenda was launched in July 2000 as a free social science calendar. Hypotheses.org was launched in February 2008 as a free platform for scholarly blogs.

Since spring 2007, the project has been managed by CLEO, run by Marin Dacos, now a CNRS research engineer. CLEO is a “mixt unit”, meaning an inter-institutional research unit founded by four French public institutions (CNRS, EHESS, University of Provence, University of Avignon), and supported by TGE ADONIS, an umbrella network launched in March 2007 by the CNRS. CLEO had a 13-people team in October 2007.

CLEO’s mission was officially renewed in January 2009 (document signed in September 2009), with the additional support from TGIR BSN, an umbrella network launched in 2008 by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

The acronyms above stand for:
CLEO: Centre pour l’Edition Electronique Ouverte / Centre for Open Electronic Publishing
CNRS: Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique / National Centre for Scientific Research
EHESS: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales / School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences
TGE ADONIS: Très Grand Equipement [pour un] Accès Unique aux Données et aux Documents Numériques des Sciences Humaines et Sociales / Very Large Equipment [for a] Single Access to Data and Digital Documents in the Human and Social sciences
TGIR BSN: Très Grande Infrastructure pour la Recherche [sur une] Bibliothèque Scientifique Numérique / Very Large Infrastructure for Research [on a] Digital Scientific Library

In March 2012, CLEO had a 24-people team. Its projects have received grants and awards from organisations relying on its open-access efforts. Marin Dacos has become a reference in electronic publishing and open access, as well as Pierre Mounier, CLEO’s deputy-head.

Five access policies

[For simplicity, I use the term “journals”, but numbers also include reviews, bulletins, and book series, that are often listed together in the catalogue anyway, with no separate numbers.]

As of 12 March 2012, the catalogue included 340 journals and book series (22 book series), with 265 publications currently available, the 75 other ones being “forthcoming”.

“Forthcoming” doesn’t mean the 2012 issue has not been published yet, but means there is/are no recent or older journal issue(s) available online yet. A “forthcoming” journal’s page only includes a short introduction about the journal. Why not include a new journal in the catalogue when there is at least one issue, in part (foreword, table of contents, summary of articles, book reviews) or in full, and list the “forthcoming” journals separately? As a result, the numbers below include both online and “forthcoming” journals, because no separate numbers are given. The only way of knowing a journal is still “forthcoming” is to click on each journal title and/or to open a new browser tab to check the list of journals available online and see it is not there. [A small icon after “forthcoming” titles listed in the catalogue would be handy, and solve the problem if CLEO does prefer not to list the “forthcoming” journals separately.]

The five access policy options are:
(1) open access Freemium (85 journals on 12 March 2012),
(2) open access (95 journals),
(3) embargo period (104 journals),
(4) embargo period with access to subscribers (7 journals),
(5) embargo period with access to subscribers via [the] Cairn platform (46 journals),
with a total of 337 journals on 12 March 2012.

I checked the five options. [A small icon per access policy after each journal title would be handy too.]

(1) Open access Freemium (85 journals). Users can read the journals online in HTML. They can’t download PDFs of articles for their own use. They can access PDF and ePub versions only if their library has a Freemium access to OpenEdition (a service launched in early 2011, with a full description below, in the part “The Freemium programme”). Individual users will be able to buy downloadable versions of articles on OpenEdition’s bookstore, a digital bookstore selling versions for mobile devices (iPhone, Cybook, Sony Reader, Kindle, and the likes) with a print-on-demand service. [An experimental digital bookstore was launched in early 2011, but hasn’t been linked to OpenEdition yet, as explained by Marin Dacos in an email received on 10 April 2012.]

(2) Open access (95 journals). Users can read the journals online in HTML, with a free PDF version for each article. On 12 March 2012, 66 journals were available on the 95 journals listed, with 29 journals still “forthcoming”, meaning there is/are no journal issue(s) available online yet. 25 journals had the DOAJ label. 10 journals didn’t offer any PDFs, may be older titles before automatic PDF file generation was set up by CLEO in fall 2008. [I counted all this manually.] On the top and right side of each journal’s home page, there are old press releases going as far as a few years ago, as well as a selection of journals, events and blogs on the same topic(s). [On a netbook, the screen clutter makes it difficult to focus on the content of the journal. The old press releases could be moved to the bottom of the journal’s home page, as well as the links to relevant journals, events and blogs.]

(3) Embargo period (104 journals). Users can only access the table of contents, summaries of articles, and book reviews of recent journal issues. Users can/will be able to freely access the full journals after the embargo period (one to three years). Libraries subscribing to the Freemium service can access the journals’ recent issues. [A small icon after each journal title already offering free access to older journal issues would be handy.]

(4) Embargo period with access to subscribers (7 journals). Users need to subscribe to the toll-access journals to access them on OpenEdition via a login/password for individual subscribers and via an IP address for institutional subscribers. Users can/will be able to freely access the full journals after the embargo period (one to three years). Libraries subscribing to the Freemium service can access the journals’ recent issues. [A small icon after each journal title already offering free access to older journal issues would be handy.]

(5) Embargo period with access to subscribers via [the] Cairn platform (46 journals). Cairn.info is a commercial platform selling subscriptions to toll-access journals, and pay-per-view for some of them. The Cairn platform began partnering with Revues.org (now included in OpenEdition) in 2008 under a TGE ADONIS initiative. Subscribers could acccess 20 journals from Cairn in 2009, and 40 journals in June 2010. Users can/will be able to freely access older journal issues after the embargo period (three years). Libraries subscribing to the Freemium service can access the journals’ recent issues. [A small icon after each journal title already offering free access to older journal issues would be handy.]

As a side remark, the .org domain is usually used for non-profit organisations, or organisations with a non-commercial character. Why not a .com domain for the fee-based options launched from 2008 onwards, with extensive linking between the .org and .com websites, “mutualization”, and interoperability standards?

On 12 March 2012, there were 66 journals with the CNRS label, meaning journals supported by the CNRS; 54 journals with the ERIH label (ERIH: European Reference Index for the Humanities); and 77 journals with the DOAJ label (DOAJ: Directory of Open Access Journals). A user manual available on CLEO’s website provided numbers for 2009-10: 47 journals with the CNRS label, 41 journals with the ERIH label, and 21 journals with the DOAJ label.

As stated on DOAJ’s website: “We define open access journals as journals that use a funding model that does not charge readers or their institutions for access. From BOAI [Budapest Open Access Initiative] definition of ‘open access’ we take the right of users to ‘read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles’ as mandatory for a journal to be included in the directory.”

Users can freely download the articles’ full texts for the 25 journals with the DOAJ label available in the open-access option (option 2), but they can’t freely download them for the 52 journals with the DOAJ label available in the Freemium option (option 1). The PDF and ePub files are intended for libraries’ patrons subscribing to the Freemium service, or for individual users purchasing them in OpenEdition’s bookstore. This is allowed by DOAJ, as explained in an email received on 25 March 2012 to answer my question about “the right of users to download the full texts”. I understand this is about content and not about format, but to download an HTML page (with all its widgets) is less easy than to download a PDF or ePub file.

How is a journal included in the platform? (The policy is similar for book series.) A journal first needs to send an application. If the application is approved by CLEO’s academic committee, who meets every two months, there is a several-step process leading to the first journal issue being published online. The whole process takes six months for simple projects, and from nine to twelve months for standard projects, which may explain the high number of “forthcoming” journals in the collection. The process includes: (1) checking the availability and compatibility of electronic files; (2) dealing with legal rights including copyright; (3) designing the webpages; and (4) structuring the journal content in Lodel (which stands for “Logiciel d’Edition Electronique” (Electronic Publishing Software)), a software created by CLEO to handle long texts, footnotes, diacritics, and various character sets.

CLEO’s basic service for journals is free. A fee-based voluntary subscription for publishers was launched in 2009 as a way to financially support the development of CLEO’s new services, for these publishers to be able to enjoy them first, before they are made available to all. Mandatory fee-based services include: (1) the design of the journal’s webpages, each journal getting its own design; and (2) the posting of journal issues by CLEO when the journal’s editorial team doesn’t want to do it.

Launched in 2009, Manuscrits de Revues.org is a fee-based experimental service intended for editorial committees, who can manage the editorial workflow from article submission to proofreading, including the peer-review and revision process. The software is the Open Journal Systems (OJP) developed by the University of Vancouver’s Public Knowledge Project (PKP) through its federally funded efforts to expand and improve access to research. As described on OJP’s home page: “OJS is open source software made freely available to journals worldwide for the purpose of making open access publishing a viable option for more journals, as open access can increase a journal’s readership as well as its contribution to the public good on a global scale.” So why are journals charged to use the software on OpenEdition?

A few numbers since 2000

Back to the past for Revues.org, Calenda and Hypotheses.org, the three websites now included in OpenEdition.

[I gathered data from various sources, the main source being the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine, and wrote the lines below to the best of my knowledge. This project being a publicly-funded project, a History webpage would be useful, with a 12-year chronology.]

Revues.org was created by Marin Dacos in May 1999 (domain name created in March 1999), when he was a student, as a federation of journals in the human and social sciences. The free service was managed by the association SIR (Science Internet Revues), founded in September 1999 to “favor the publishing on the internet of publications’ websites from academic institutions” (excerpt from http://www.revues.org in 2001), with a volunteer team of young researchers. In November 2002, Revues.org was hosted by the University of Avignon, and supported by the French Ministry of Research. In December 2004, Revues.org was funded by the Ministry of Research, the MHS (Maison des Sciences de l’Homme / House for Human Sciences) and the CNRS. In October 2005, Revues.org was funded by the Ministry of Research and the CNRS, and supported by the EHESS and the University of Avignon. Revues.org was funded and supported by the same institutions in December 2006.

Since spring 2007, the project has been managed by CLEO, run by Marin Dacos, now a CNRS research engineer. CLEO is an inter-institutional research unit founded by the CNRS, the EHESS, the University of Provence and the University of Avignon. (More details above in the part “A new platform for an existing project”.)

User manuals available on CLEO’s website mentioned 150 journals with 35,000 free articles in 2008, and 200 journals with 40,000 free articles in 2009. The 2009-10 user manual mentioned “freely available” 50,000 articles and books (from 250 journals and book series), with free access for half of them and a “mobile barrier” (i.e. restrictions to use) for the other half, including 40 toll-access journals provided by the commercial platform Cairn.

I used the WayBack Machine to get more numbers by checking Revues.org’s last crawled versions for each year (i.e. if numbers are dated November, October or July, this means the website was not crawled in December). The term “journals” is used for simplicity, and covers journals, reviews, bulletins, bibliographies, and book series, that were listed together from 2010 onwards.

2000 (August): website crawled for the first time.
2000 (October): four journals.
2001 (December): seven journals.
2002 (November): 11 journals.
2003 (December): 18 journals.
2004 (December): 32 journals.
2005 (October): 37 journals, 9 “forthcoming” journals listed separately.
2006 (December): 56 journals, 6 “forthcoming” journals listed separately.
2007 (December): 76 journals, 15 “forthcoming” journals listed separately.
2008 (December): 117 journals, 16 “forthcoming” journals listed separately.
2009 (December): 227 journals (including 4 book series), a number now including “forthcoming” journals, with 94 journals in free access and 133 journals with a “mobile barrier” (i.e. restrictions to use).
2010 (December): 268 journals listed (213 journals available online, the other ones being “forthcoming”), 128 journals in free access, 140 journals with an embargo period.
2011 (July): 312 journals listed (245 journals available online, the other ones being “forthcoming”), 80 journals in free access, 77 journals in Freemium access, 155 journals with an embargo period.

On 12 March 2012, Revues.org/OpenEdition included 337 journals, with 265 journals available online and 75 “forthcoming” journals. 300 more journals will be added in 2012-19, according to CLEO’s press release on 23 February 2012.

Who has used Revues.org? According to the 2009-10 user manual (which is the latest one freely available on the web), the platform was mainly used by 30 to 50-year-old researchers and professors in 2008-09, while failing to reach many students, with 1.5 million individual visits per month. The same number of visits was mentioned for 2010 and 2011 on Revues.org and OpenEdition.

What is sorely lacking are statistical tables showing the number of users per year, unless they are only available in the Freemium programme. I did enjoy detailed statistics for each journal, review, bolletin and blog, with some of them tracked since 2006, but didn’t go as far as compiling them. Freely available user statistical tables since 1999 would be useful, in general and per access policy. Or at least since 2007, when CLEO was created, with statistical tables for Revues.org (2007-10) and OpenEdition (2011-present).

Calenda, launched by Marin Dacos in July 2000 (domain name created the same month), is a free social science agenda of academic events like symposiums, seminars, conferences, calls for contributions, calls for tender, grants, awards, jobs, etc., fed by the academic community and posted by CLEO if the events are relevant to an academic agenda. Calenda included 1,501 events on 24 January 2001, 1,157 events on 2 December 2001, and 2,090 events on 27 November 2002. A few years later, there were 9,384 events on 3 March 2009, 11,814 events on 27 December 2009, 12,237 events on 26 February 2010, and 15,974 events on 19 July 2011. 250 events on average were added per month in 2009, and 400 events in 2010.

The 18,014 events listed on 12 March 2012 were the number of events posted since the website’s launching, so many of them are obsolete, but kept “to build up the foundations of an archive of social science activity in the 21st century” (excerpt from the 2009-10 user manual). Calenda hoped to offer an agenda of 25,000 events all together by 2019, according to CLEO’s press release on 23 February 2012.

Hypotheses.org, launched by Marin Dacos in February 2008 (domain name created in July 2006), is a free blog platform for academic blogs or “notebooks” (in the Leonardo da Vinci sense, i.e. tracking research progress). These blogs are written by institutional researchers and professors, after project submission and selection by Hypotheses.org’s academic committee. There were 16 blogs on 17 December 2008, 60 blogs on 7 December 2009, 147 blogs on 11 November 2010, 220 blogs on 21 July 2011, and 343 blogs on 12 March 2012, including 268 French-language blogs. New platforms were added in March 2012 for blogs in German and blogs in Spanish. Hypotheses.org hoped to offer 2,000 blogs all together by 2019, according to CLEO’s press release on 23 February 2012.

What about the future? According to CLEO’s same press release, OpenEdition’s goals for 2012-19 are: (1) to add 15,000 more monographs (to the 22 book series available in March 2012); (2) to add 300 more journals (to the 340 journals listed in March 2012); (3) to offer 2,000 blogs all together (including the 343 blogs available in March 2012); (4) to offer 25,000 events all together (including the 18,000 events available in March 2012). Nota bene: The events are provided by the academic community, and the blogs are written by institutional researchers and professors, with CLEO posting the events and opening the blogs.

We don’t know much about the 15,000 monographs that will be added in 2012-19, for example their publishers and the monographs’ access policy. Will they feed the free-for-all collection, the Freemium programme, the Cairn platform, or the forthcoming bookstore? According to information available on the
negociation list” of Couperin, a university consortium of digital publications, 1,000 ebooks should be added in the 2nd trimester 2012, with half of them in open access and half of them in Freemium access.

The Freemium programme

After telling its users about its decision to diversify its sources of income by asking financial contributions from libraries and journals, CLEO launched its Freemium programme in early 2011 as a service mainly intended for academic libraries. The fees go to the producers, producers being publishers and CLEO, with 2/3 of the fees for publishers and 1/3 of the fees for CLEO.

The deal is that the fee-based services for libraries will sustain OpenEdition’s “new open-access economic model”. Libraries subscribe to the Freemium service for their patrons to access recent content, recent content meaning less than one to three years depending on journals. In exchange, any OpenEdition user would get older content for free. Libraries would pay the costs instead of readers.

Users are asked to encourage their libraries to subscribe to the Freemium service and, as a result, be able to download articles as PDF or ePub files on their computer hard drives or mobile devices.

In March 2012, the Freemium service gave access: (1) to PDF and ePub files for articles of 85 journals (minus the “forthcoming” ones, I didn’t count them), otherwise only available in HTML; and (2) to recent issues of all journals with an embargo period (104 journals + 7 journals + 46 journals, minus the “forthcoming” ones).

By subscribing to the Freemium access, libraries are also granted other services: (3) access to an hotline, and to onsite and online training sessions; (4) access to data services such as MARC, UNIMARC and MARC21 records, and to email alerts by keywords or topics; (5) access to statistical data, including counter statistics and server statistics; (6) access to newsletters and additional documentation; and (7) participation in OpenEdition’s official user committee.

Academic libraries belonging to high-income economies, with a GDP per capita of US$12,196 and more, are charged at least 9,900 euros per year (+ taxes) to subscribe to the Freemium service. Libraries belonging to low-income economies, with a GDP per capita of US$995 or less, are granted this service for free. The full range of fees is available on the 2012 price list.

Users like me – who only read academic literature available in free access, as a way to support it – will have to wait for a few years to read recent literature when it has gotten older. But we can already use the free collection with downloadable articles (28% of the collection) and the free collection in HTML with no way of downloading articles (25% of the collection). This is much better than in the late 1990s, but 47% of the collection is still out of reach.

What is the concept behind the Freemium programme? I tried to understand it by reading CLEO’s webpage on OpenEdition Freemium, the 2009-10 user manual announcing the Freemium programme, OpenEdition’s webpage on the Freemium programme, and Marin Dacos’ editorial for the launching of OpenEdition Freemium.

Here is what I understood from the documents above. In the past, toll-access print journals were partly financed by subscriptions from academic libraries. At present, free electronic journals only rely on funding from universities and research centres. This was weakened the existing publishing system, with four drawbacks: (1) free journals depend on less financing sources than their print counterparts because they can’t rely any more on toll-access subscriptions; (2) less financing sources are an obstacle to high-quality free-access journals; (3) these free journals don’t reach any more their most legitimate users, who are students using academic libraries; (4) by suscribing to less toll-access journals, these libraries are now excluded from supporting academic journals, and consequently from participating in the production of academic resources.

According to CLEO, libraries should participate in the building of a strong economic model for free-access journals, to avoid: (1) the weakening of free-access publications because they rely on less financing than their print counterparts; (2) the weakening of libraries because free-access resources are now being developed outside their framework.

Hence the need for a Freemium programme, that covers costs for: (1) “intellectual academic editing” by the journals’ editorial committees, i.e. article submission, selection, peer review, revision, and proofreading (journals also pay a voluntary contribution, as explained above in the part “Five access policies”); (2) CLEO services, i.e. downloadable versions of articles, interoperability standards, embedding of multimedia files (video, sound, high-resolution images, animated maps, photos albums) in journal pages, and other services such as DOI (Digital Object Identifier), Crosslinking, and statistics per journal. (End of the documents’ summary.)

I don’t get the point (yet). Authors don’t expect any payment when they publish their work in academic journals. Most authors are research scientists and professors working in public or private institutions, who write articles as part of their jobs, to advance knowledge in their fields. Journals’ editorial committees don’t expect any payment either, for similar reasons. The print costs are gone with electronic publishing. Less financing sources (i.e. no more toll access) are not an obstacle to high-quality free-access journals, with countless examples worldwide. Free-access publications show no sign of weakening, with authors retaining their rights instead of transferring them to publishers. Students typically access free journals via a search engine because it is faster than via their library website. Most libraries are glad not to be the only repositories of knowledge anymore, and to be backed up by the internet and by a wealth of free resources and journals, given their budget contraints and the rising costs of academic journals since the 1970s.

The only profession who could complain about “weakening” are publishers, who get revenue if not profit from the work of authors they don’t pay [including mine]. Before the internet, journals were the fastest means to disseminate recent research, then gathered in books. With the internet, journals need to adapt their economic model accordingly. Some still want to lock journals in libraries, like in the past. Others seek novel solutions to pay the (much cheaper) costs of electronic versions, and offer free journals with no embargo period on the internet to make publicly-funded (i.e. taxpayer-funded) research available to all. To my eyes, the issue to address is not at the library level, but at the publisher level and above all at the author level. How do authors want to disseminate their work? In journals with an embargo period, in Freemium journals, or in free-access journals offering downloadable versions of their articles? Authors are often the last ones who are asked what would be best for their work. As a pioneer in academic electronic publishing, CLEO could launch an inquiry asking authors what they want, and give them a voice as a change.

A freely available list of libraries subscribing to the Freemium programme would be useful. We also don’t know if the Freemium programme only comes as a bundle offer, or if libraries will be able to subscribe to the journals they want, given their specialty and their budget.

OpenEdition’s economic model

What exactly is the project’s mission? As stated in its short About page: “OpenEdition offers the academic community three international-scale publication and information platforms in the humanities and social sciences: Revues.org, Calenda, Hypotheses.org. These three complementary platforms form a complete electronic publishing framework for academic research and communications. OpenEdition is a space dedicated to highlighting research, publishing tens of thousands of academic documents in open access. The portal’s mission is to promote open-access academic electronic publishing, while respecting the publications’ own economic balance.”

As stated from the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI): “By ‘open access’ (…), we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.”

Are there tens of thousands of academic documents in open access according to the BOAI definition? I don’t know, given the lack of freely available statistical tables per access policy for articles and books. We only have numbers for journals and book series, with 95 publications in open access and 85 publications in Freemium access on 12 March 2012.

OpenEdition does promote “the developement of electronic publishing in the humanities and social sciences and takes part in the dissemination of academic knowledge” by offering a hybrid free/fee-based platform with a user-friendly interface, giving open access (i.e. free access to all) to older literature, and to a portion of recent literature depending on publishers’ requirements. OpenEdition also promotes open-access electronic publishing in some way by offering 28% of journals available in free access without any restrictions and 25% of journals freely available in HTML with fee-based downloadable versions, and by advising journal publishers to make their journal issues available for free after the embargo period (from one to three years).

The “open-access economic model” launched in early 2011 must be costly to operate, with costs that may exceed revenue from fee-based services. Most open-access projects try to remove economic barriers between publishers and readers, whereas the Freemium programme adds two more intermediaries: (1) the subscribing libraries, that now act as an intermediary between publishers and readers, with 2/3 of the Freemium fees going to publishers; (2) CLEO, that runs the Freemium programme for libraries to be able to access the publishers’ journals, while receiving 1/3 of the fees. CLEO will also manage a bookstore selling electronic versions of these articles and books for mobile devices, with a print-on-demand service.

What about languages? OpenEdition, Revues.org, Calenda and Hypotheses.org are still mainly French-language platforms, with an increasing number of foreign-language journals and blogs.

OpenEdition’s catalogue listed 283 French-language journals out of 340 journals (numbers including the “forthcoming” ones) on 12 March 2012. The plurilingual platform probably started in 2009-10 with 13 journals in English, and a few journals in other languages. In March 2012, there were foreign-language journals in English (60 journals, either online or “forthcoming”), Spanish (16 journals), Portuguese (7 journals), German (5 journals), Italian (5 journals), Arabic (1 journal), Basque (1 journal), Latin (1 journal), Slovenian (1 journal) and Turkish (1 journal). An OpenEdition platform in Portuguese was launched in November 2011.

On Calenda, the titles of all events are translated into English, with the full text of a few key events occasionally translated too.

On Hypotheses.org, most academic blogs are in French (315 blogs on 12 March 2012), with blogs in English (31 blogs), German (8 blogs), Spanish (6 blogs), Portuguese (4 blogs), Turkish (2 blogs), Arabic (1 blog), Italian (1 blog) and Russian (1 blog). The number of blogs in German and Spanish should increase significantly after the launching of de.hypotheses.org and es.hypotheses.org in March 2012.

Since January 2009, OpenEdition has partnered with the French Persée project, a free-for-all and open-to-all publicly-funded portal of French academic journals in the humanities – with great About pages (available in English by clicking on a small UK flag on the left). Persée was launched in January 2005 as an initiative from the Ministry of Higher Education and Research. OpenEdition and Persée have “mutualized” their common journals by setting up interoperability standards between the older collection in Persée and the more recent collection on OpenEdition, with 20 common journals in January 2009, and 28 common journals in March 2012. [I would very much like to write an article about this project.]

After so many hours spent gathering information and writing this article, I still don’t know if OpenEdition could be best defined as an electronic platform promoting open access for academic literature, as a service provider for the electronic publishing of academic literature, or as a venture launching new services to have money flowing into the project. It is probably all of this. In any case, the whole project – past and present – has deeply improved the electronic publishing and dissemination of academic journals, first by offering a pioneer platform, second by offering high-end tools to the academic community, and third by experimenting new models.

From an open-access perspective, I don’t know if we can speak about an ongoing effort, or about a step back. On 29 December 2008, on a total of 133 journals, 100% of the collection was in free access without any restrictions. On 12 March 2012, on a total of 337 journals, there were 95 journals (28% of the collection) in free access without any restrictions; 85 journals (25% of the collection) with a free HTML version only, and access to other formats through the Freemium programme or OpenEdition’s bookstore; and 157 journals (47% of the collection) with an embargo period from one to three years, meaning toll-access subscriptions or Freemium access to recent issues, and free access to older issues. If users don’t belong to an academic library, they need to subscribe to a given journal, or buy a given article, or use pay-per-view when available, or wait for a few years if they do want to read it for free.

One can argue that the switch from a free platform to a hybrid free/fee-based platform is a way to provide open access to older issues of more journals, as part of an ongoing effort. To be able to freely access 53% of the collection without delay is a good start. But to have to wait from one to three years to freely access 47% of the collection whereas most of it is the result of publicly-funded (i.e. taxpayer-funded) research seems like a long time.

“Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder. (…) The question is not whether scholarly literature can be made costless, but whether there are better ways to pay the bills than by charging readers and creating access barriers.” (Peter Suber)

For the right definition to reach the world – and not only the English-speaking community – the now 10-year-old open-access movement should find a way to translate a wealth of important texts about open access (with numbers, statistics and examples) into several languages, and offer a plurilingual common portal with high-quality professional translations (while avoiding volunteer translations, unless they are double-checked, translation work being a high-skilled work, especially for such topics). Authors, publishers, librarians, researchers, professors, students, decision makers, the general public, and others, need useful information in their own language(s), even when they read English, as shown in other fields, where access to plurilingual information was a major step for advocacy and better understanding.


Copyright © 2012 Marie Lebert
License CC BY-NC-SA version 4.0

Written by marielebert

2012/04/20 at 14:11

Posted in Uncategorized