Prepared by Milan Chytrý, Alessandro Chiarucci, Meelis Pärtel and Valério Pillar (Chief Editors, JVS/AVS)
This Commentary is a part of the series asking the question: should Applied Vegetation Science, the journal owned by IAVS and published by Wiley, become Gold Open Access? For the context and link to other Commentaries, please visit Editorial.
Scientific publication landscape is changing. For decades, we were used to the subscription model in which the cost of scientific publishing was paid by the readers through subscriptions. Nowadays, when most journals are published online, this model means that articles are behind paywalls. Researchers not affiliated to an institution that pays the subscription fees must pay high prices to get legal access to the articles. This situation is awkward because research results, usually funded from public money, are not available to everybody. It is also becoming disadvantageous for publishers, who lose a lot of money due to pirate websites which steal the articles and make them freely available. Therefore, both politicians and publishers are increasingly supporting the shift from the subscription model to the Open Access model of scientific publishing. In the Open Access model, the costs of publishing are paid by the author (or author’s institution or funding agency) and the published article is then freely available to everybody. The background idea is that the funds currently spent by institutions for subscription fees would be re-allocated to publication fees, so-called Article Processing Charges or Article Publication Charges (APC).
Journal of Vegetation Science (JVS) and Applied Vegetation Science (AVS) are published by Wiley, a large international publishing house. However, they are owned by the International Association for Vegetation Science (IAVS). Therefore, any change in the publishing model of the journals must be agreed on by these two partners. Wiley first proposed to flip AVS (but not JVS) to Open Access in December 2018, and it has been discussed between them and the IAVS Governing Board since then.
Not only the traditional model of scientific publishing but also the Open Access model has considerable advantages and serious disadvantages. Open Access includes a great idea of making research results available to everybody. There is an increasing number of funding agencies that require the results of funded research to be published Open Access. For authors funded by these agencies, JVS and AVS may no longer be relevant target journals. However, we are seriously concerned that the Open Access publication model may increase inequality among researchers, making it challenging to publish for those who do not have access to funds. We have discussed the issue with various colleagues, and it seems that in the vegetation science community, there are many researchers, even in rich countries, who cannot afford to pay APCs. Wiley proposes APC of 1900 GBP per article, which corresponds to APCs in similar Open Access journals, but this price would be too high. Even several Associate Editors and Editorial Board members told us that with such high APCs, they could not publish in AVS. Most of these people are affiliated to well-established institutions in wealthier countries and have research grants. Indeed, this problem is much worse for people in poorer countries, small institutions, students and retired researchers.
The mission of IAVS and its journals is to serve all the vegetation scientists globally. From this perspective, changing the journals to Open Access publication model presents a risk of exclusion of many colleagues who cannot afford to pay APCs. Therefore, we prefer to wait until the systems that would guarantee equal access to publication funds are implemented in most of the countries from which we regularly receive submissions. For the moment, we propose that both journals continue to be published under the current hybrid model, in which single articles can be published Open Access if the authors can and wish to pay.
If the future developments showed that the Open Access model is advantageous for the IAVS community, we could think about changing one of the journals to Open Access. This change would require developing a system with APC discounts or waivers for those authors who cannot afford to pay (not only for those from developing countries) and discounts for Editors and frequent reviewers. If one of the journals went Open Access, a broader overlap in the scope of JVS and AVS would have to be allowed. As a result, it would be possible to publish applied and vegetation survey articles in JVS and, conversely, theoretical articles in AVS, depending on the author preferences for Open Access publishing. However, it is perhaps premature to discuss such details now, because, at present, the flip to Open Access is not the preferred option.
Milan Chytrý is a Professor at the Department of Botany and Zoology, Masaryk University, Czech Republic. Alessandro Chiarucci is a Professor at the Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences, University of Bologna, Italy. Meelis Pärtel is a Professor at the Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Estonia. Valério Pillar is a Professor at the Department of Ecology, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil.