HOWTO turn your scholarly journal into an open access journal

Seb sez, "The Association for Learning Technology has published a brief guide about how to tender for a new publishing contract for a scholarly journal. This is, on the face of it, dry-as-dust stuff. But what underlies it is the sea change that is taking place in the way that peer-reviewed research is published, and, in particular, the move towards making the results of research (usually publicly funded....) publicly available under one or other Open Access model. Here is the abstract:"
Hundreds of societies publish journals in collaboration with publishers. Some may be considering how and whether to renegotiate or go out to tender. Some may be considering whether they can/should/wish to change the business model of the journal (e.g. by a move to Open Access). Other societies may be considering using an external publisher for the first time. This guide, based on our experience, is written for all of these. In mid October 2010 we issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a new publisher. We had interest from six publishers who asked questions about our intentions. We then received four proposals: one which offered an Open Access model only, one which offered both Open Access and conventional publishing as discrete alternatives, and two which offered approaches that included an Open Access component. Three of the proposals were from big publishers. After evaluating the proposals, ALT's Trustees decided in December 2010 to make the journal, which has been renamed Research in Learning Technology, a fully Open Access journal with effect from 1st January 2012.
Journal tendering for societies: a brief guide. (Thanks, Seb!)


  1. Anyone who is interested in scholarly Open Access journals should check out the Public Knowledge Project (

    For those organizations who have gone open access with their journal, and need a sophisticated web-based CMS to run their journal, including all editorial workflow, referreeing, and publishing, check out PKP’s Open Journal Systems software (

    PKPware is open source, thoughtfully designed, easy to use, and a great way to go “Open Access”.

    Check it out.

  2. @richard – yes, the ALT’s Research in Learning Technology will be running on PKP’s Open Journal System from January 2012.
    Seb Schmoller

  3. I’m on the board of a journal (not a society journal) that moved from a major publisher to open access. The document here dismisses a little too easily the consideration of a journal’s reputation and impact factor. Even with a fabulous editorial board, it can take a very long time for a journal to establish a reputation comparable to established print publications, and in the eyes of some (mainly older) people equity will never be reached. For young scholars, who might be competing with hundreds of others for every permanent academic position available, the reputation of the journals in which they publish can have an enormous impact on their career, starting whether whether they even have one. Thus, such journals start with an immediate handicap of being unattractive to the best and most ambitious young scholars. (Any new journal has this problem, but open source has it a little more, and even an established journal runs into it if it moves from commercial publisher to open source.)

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all be trying to move our professions into the open source world. I think we should. We just need to be realistic about the difficulties that might arise.

    1. Even with a fabulous editorial board, it can take a very long time for a journal to establish a reputation comparable to established print publications, and in the eyes of some (mainly older) people equity will never be reached

      An open access journal doesn’t have to be an online-only one. Many journals have both a print and and an online presence. It’s perfectly okay to charge for the print version of a journal even if the journal is open access, just like how the FSF charges money for printed documentation.

  4. dr,

    You mention (perhaps unintentionally) open source, but I think you mean open access. (?) One of (if not THE) most important aspects of scholarly journals is peer review, which is a controlled environment.

    Good point that there is certainly a magnetism to the prominent journals, which are mostly not open access.

    The question, to me, is how to make journal publishing economically feasible such that the resulting product (information) can be got cheaply, even freely. Acquisition, production, (maybe some marketing?), and content delivery are the realistic difficulties–costs–of which you speak.

  5. @jonathan I run the Custom Book Centre at The University of Melbourne (Australia). The University has invested in an Espresso Book Machine for exactly this kind of thing. E.g. The Percy Grainger Museum is just about to launch an interdisciplinary (OJS-based) journal at:

    The PDFs are then re-purposed for a PoD print version that is available through the University Bookshop. Not only are the print versions useful in themselves, they also serve as a means for supporters to easily demonstrate their support for the journal. At some point, we intend to look at integrating OJS (and OMS) with the EBM interface but there are many other projects.

  6. @dr @anon @John Badger
    We wrestled with these issues when reaching our decision and we have decided to continue with a print edition of the journal, which we will sell at about marginal cost. When we issued the RFP for a new publisher we had not decided to go Open Access, though we wanted to explore this option in the course of reviewing offerings from different publishers and made this clear in the RFP. When we modelled the costs to ALT of conventional and Open Access publishing we found that Open Access did just about stack up, and, with our Editorial Board keen on us making the move, and with our Association wanting to reach out to new people not sat in UK-based universities (where access to our journal is more-or-less universal) we decided to switch. In case this is of interest, we are now undertaking a small project to monitor the transition process, and to devise some criteria by which to judge the impact of the transition. We are looking for other peer-reviewed journals that are also in transition at this time to work with us on this.

  7. anon: yes, I meant open access.

    jonathan: having a print version will take care of those who disdain “online-only”, but I think time will solve that as well. The other issue, reputation, is a harder nut to crack.

  8. So why did ALT go open-access?

    As a trustee of ALT and chair of their publications committee this was a big decision the thoughts below contributed.

    1. We found evidence that citation rates increase when a journal is open access, and for many of Alt’s members working in the field this is important. Organisations such as PLOS have an open access strategy which has increased their influence and reach

    2. Would it compromise the quality of the content? We considered this to be within our control and fully intent to manage quality using our existing rigorous peer review and editorial control procedures.

    3. What are the major inherent risks to moving to online? We looked at the long term use of web citations and considered the ephemeral nature of internet content, there is no value to increasing citations if when you come look at them they have gone! This is addressed through the use of document object identifier(DOI) technology; effectively a URN rather than a URL that allows content to be accessed across multiple sites at the same time; to be uniquely identified and provides a global unique reference similar to the ISBN.

    4. Lastly we considered what additional value publishing on-line might bring. We felt that the potential to publish a paper, the raw research data on which it is based and a video of the author presenting their paper at a conference has the potential to significantly increase the research value. Time to publish is an overriding factor in the field of Learning Technology. Traditional publishing models can take 5 years from research commencing for the results to be in the public domain. If we consider the pace at which learning technology changes, such a pace did not meet our community’s needs.
    Interesting to note that our existing publisher is running a promotion where they are making available the Research in Learning Technology (the ALT Journal – 18 years’ worth) freely available till 30 April on

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