The Social Sciences Journal is published by Common Ground, an independent Australian publisher. We are consciously attempting to develop new publishing models which improve on today’s system of academic publishing.
The journal is consciously trying to break new ground in a number of ways:
Increasing unease is being expressed today about our legacy models of academic publishing. Large publishing conglomerates are accused of taking control of the IP of the world's academics and researchers, paying little or nothing for it, and selling it back to the institutions in which these academics and researchers work at monopoly prices. In response, the publishers say that they are making an important contribution by providing an effective conduit for the circulation of ideas.
Nevertheless, authors and their institutions often feel they are beholden to the traditional model. The authors need to publish in refereed academic journals, or perish; and the institutions need these journals in their libraries if they are to be worth their name as places of teaching and research.
Other frequently expressed concerns include: high prices which limit accessibility of the final product; the level of service to authors; the difficulty of getting published; and the length of time it takes to get a publishing decision, and to have an article or book published. Meanwhile, the critics say, the measure of quality and authoritativeness of a particular journal is not the publisher (all they do, effectively, is print and distribute), but the overworked and unpaid editors. Mostly, they do a remarkable job and under difficult circumstances. Sometimes, however, they determine the content of the publication and create the journal in their own image. They 'invite' papers from certain authors. They select the referees to which particular papers are sent. They deem acceptable one paragraph rejections which effectively say that the referee doesn't like what an author is saying. The peer refereeing system, in other words, sometimes seems to be sloppy or even to favour 'insiders'.
Of course, this is often not the case. But the complaints are regular, and cover a familiar range of issues.
One reaction to this situation has been the establishment of free online journals and open access d-presses. Many of these present exciting and innovative alternatives to traditional publishing.
The problem, however, is that the free model still costs. It costs an enormous amount of publishing and editorial time, and this time, ultimately, has a cost. And there are the same problems of process, credibility and independence that beset conventional journal publishing—with the additional handicap of not being available in print, and not enjoying the high production standards of conventional journals (one of the areas where traditional publishing does undoubtedly excel).
Before describing our journal publishing model, we will declare our own commercial interests. We are a small Australian company, operating on a not-for-profit basis. Our commercial agenda is to cover our own (modest, Australian dollar) salaries. With R&D; funding support from the Australian Government, we are also developing an online collaborative publishing tool, CGPublisher.
We publish the journal in four formats:
The journal is sold through the online bookstore in all four formats. The variety of formats means relatively cheap access (a PDF of a single paper costs $AU5, or approximately $US3.5, €2.9—depending on current exchange rates). Royalties are paid to an author at a rate of 20% for direct purchases, and at 50% for photocopying rights or use in course packs, for instance. Payment is made to the author when the value of accumulated royalties of an individual paper exceeds $US50, and when it does, royalties are paid every six months.
To be published in the journal you need to have registered for the conference. This can either be as an in person participant or a virtual participant. Both types of registration provide online access to the journal until one year after the end date of the conference, as well as the opportunity to be published in a fully refereed academic journal. The conference registration fee funds a small team of people to manage the refereeing and publishing process.
This is a very different model to conventional journal publishing.
First, the full electronic text of the journal is available as a part of the conference registration at no extra charge. And the contents of the journal is made available to the world on a per paper as well as a whole issue and volume basis. The reality of journals is that some articles get read a lot, and others barely at all. The full text printed collection of papers is bulky and an environmentally wasteful use of paper. The Common Ground model provides the opportunity to purchase one paper at a time.
Second, acceptance or rejection of a paper is not made on the basis of the space available in a particular year. In the conventional model, there is a limit to the number of articles accepted, and the published outcome does not necessarily reflect the quality (high or low) of what has been submitted. The journal has a clear and consistent refereeing framework, and any paper that is accepted on the basis of that framework is published. When a paper is rejected it is not because all the space in the journal is already filled, it is because the referees have told us that the article is not of sufficient quality to be worthy of publication.
Third, our refereeing processes are rigorous, consistent, fair and objective. We ask referees to evaluate papers on the basis of ten criteria. The referee form elaborates in detail what is meant by each criterion, and asks that the referee provide a score out of 10 on that criterion (Total = 100 points; click here to download a sample copy of the referee form). If the score is low on any criterion, the referee is asked to provide a written rationale. We also invite the referee to annotate the text. Not only does this remove the likelihood of vague rejection paragraphs which in effect say "I don't like this author's professional stance or worldview"; it also makes the referee's task easier. High scores on any criterion do not require explanatory text.
Fourth, publication is rapid. Referees are requested to respond to requests in two weeks. Then the author is requested to respond to the referee reports in two weeks. As soon as the paper has been finalised, it is published in print and electronic formats, and made available in the journal's online bookstore. There's no need for the interminable wait that besets conventional journals, while they get around to publishing and printing your article. Publication is also continuous. Papers are accepted and the publication process undertaken at any time before a conference, and up until one month after a conference. This means that a paper may have been fully refereed and published before it is presented at a conference—and indeed, full refereeing in advance may be a funding requirement for some people attending the conference.
More than anything else—and this is one of the most important differences between our approach and the big publishing approach—we build a community around each journal. The journal is not just a place where god-editors hand down all-knowing publishing decisions.
The conference provides an opportunity to meet annually, and the keynote speakers at the conference are drawn from the international advisory board. These are not staid and formal events—they are times of sharing and conviviality. They are also democratic. There are numerous parallel sessions for sharing your work, formally in the form of a paper for publication, or less formally when you are not ready to submit a paper to the journal. It is not necessary to submit a paper for publication in order to present your work.
All conference participants, including the virtual participants, also become part of a publishing community. Any person who submits a paper to the journal is asked to referee up to three others—if not in the year they submit, then in another year. For this, all referees are listed and credited in the journal as "Associate Editors" for the volume to which they contributed. When referee reports are received, a letter of acknowledgment recognising the contribution of the referee as Associate Editor is sent.
Most importantly, the journal and conference work across areas that we are passionate about. Common Ground and the journal and conference advisory boards are working in this field because it is one we believe in deeply.
Common Ground is working on technologies which will improve and extend what is currently offered through the journal and conference community. Our new software, CGPublisher, provides conference delegates with direct access to the online journal for free downloads of papers. We are also investigating publishing audio versions of the keynote addresses, and making them available through the web to participants, which would be of particular value to virtual participants whose only access at the moment is to the published material.