University publishing house to start up in September

19 Jan 2021

Affordable open-access publishing? That will be available to scientists in Nijmegen, from September on, when the Radboud University Press opens its doors. It will be starting small, but library director Natalia Grygierczyk is hoping for a flywheel effect.

They’ve been working towards it in recent years, but now it’s definite. From September, the university will officially have its own publishing house: Open Access Radboud University Press. The Executive Board announced the official approval just before Christmas. Scientists can have their work published there in open access form free of charge or for minimal costs. This applies to books and to articles in professional academic journals.

The idea behind it, as director Natalia Grygierczyk explains, is that publicly funded research should be freely available to everyone in the community (open access). Many journals are locked behind the paywall of commercial parties such as Elsevier, and staff can only read them for free if their universities take out expensive subscriptions.

That’s a thorn in the side of both scientists and research funding bodies such as NWO, who have set up stricter open access requirements. Pressurised, commercial journals have often offered an open access option but that’s only half a solution, says Grygierczyk. ‘Yes, articles may be available to read for free but authors (or rather, their institutes) are sometimes burdened with high publication costs. The handling fee can be up to as much as 9,000 euros, in the case of nature journals for example. So it’s really just moving costs around.’

Low costs

Radboud University Press – and similar initiatives at other universities, including those of Delft and Groningen – need to offer a much cheaper, fully digital alternative to the commercial parties. That’s easy, says Grygierczyk, because universities don’t aim to make a profit anyway. ‘We contract out the practical publication work, such as editing and layout, for all types of publications. For the technology, we make use of a special Open Journals Platform which we’ve set up nationally, with funding from NWO. Multiple universities will be using it.’

‘By organising the technology and processing centrally, we keep costs low,’ says Grygierczyk. ‘The costs of the technology are around 3,000 euros a year for each journal. We also plan to apply for funding as a University Library and we receive financial support from the Executive Board.’

‘It’s not the title or the publisher that defines the quality of a professional journal, it’s the editors’

But how does that work in practice? As a researcher, you’d rather be published in renowned professional journals. Nobody’s heard of Radboud University Press. Grygierczyk: ‘We’re hoping to convince journals to operate under our name. Or rather, their editors, because they’re the ones who ultimately define the quality of a professional journal – not the title or the publisher. The editing teams consist of scientists who are often in favour of affordable open access.’ A number of linguistics journals switched like that to an Open Access publisher a while ago, she explains, in the LingOA project. Some of them were previously with Elsevier.

Natalia Grygierczyk

Flywheel effect

The idea is that if more publications do that, there could be a flywheel effect. ‘We’re also focusing on small journals which lack the money or expertise to make the switch to open access. They will be able to make use of the services of the national Open Journals Platform.’

This will not adversely affect the quality, the library director assures us. ‘We won’t be making concessions. Thorough peer review remains a requirement.’ More than that, Radboud University Press is intended to raise the publication quality. According to Grygierczyk, the lead time of an article, from submission to publication, will be faster because the processing is more efficiently organised than at the large commercial publishers. ‘We’re no colossus but a flexible organisation. That means we can push through digital innovations more easily, for example linking research data to a publication.’

Books

The university publishing house also has to be interesting for researchers who normally publish their work in a book with a publisher such as Boom. ‘We’re able to deliver more customisation,’ says Grygierczyk. ‘Digital publications will be standard, with a print out on demand option. But if scientists want to have their work in the bookshop, we can do that too.’

‘Digital publications will be standard’

This is the case in professional fields such as law, where many lecturers write manuals. For them, the Radboud University Press can hire existing publishers for the production and marketing process, acting as a kind of intermediary. ‘Of course, that depends on them wanting to cooperate, since it won’t only be the name of their publishing house on the book, but a co-production with Radboud University Press. We’ll have to wait and see how that works out.’

Grygierczyk can’t name any concrete titles of books or journals expected to be released under the name of Radboud University in September just yet. ‘There are a couple of books in the pipeline, but we won’t be revealing which ones until we officially start up, in September.’ Moreover, she explains, the negotiations with journals and publishers will only start for real this year, now that the Executive Board has definitely given the go-ahead.

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