Medieval Publishing will be hit by EU Plan

Last year UK proposed to make research papers stemming from work paid by British Taxpayer’s free online by 2014. July 16 the proposal was confirmed. Next day the European Commission followed the plan of the UK government and made all EU-funded scientific research available for free from 2014. It is believed that scientists will benefit, as they will be able to more productive as no publishers will be able to act as gatekeepers and scholars – due to copyright issues will not be obliged to publish the same results twice albeit with different wording (so-called “slicing the salami thin”). Likewise voluntary and charitable organisations as well as independent scholars will be able to access information hitherto reserved for Universities. “Last, but certainly not least, citizens will have direct access to publicly-funded research in addition to benefitting from the indirect effects resulting from everybody else’s faster access”, says the Memo.

As a first step, the Commission will make open access to scientific publications a general principle of Horizon 2020, the EU’s Research & Innovation funding programme for 2014-2020. As of 2014, all articles produced with funding from Horizon 2020 will have to be accessible: Articles will either have to be made immediately accessible online by the publisher, which can get reimbursement of up-front for publication costs, or researchers will be obliged to make their articles available through an open access repository no later than six months (12 months for articles in the fields of social sciences and humanities) after publication (“Green” open access).

In a press release the European Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, declared that open access to scientific papers and data “will speed up important breakthroughs by our researchers and businesses, boosting knowledge and competitiveness in Europe.”

This will definitively hit the lucrative business of Medieval History Publishing as most European Research in the Humanities is funded by the member-states. Of course there will still be a market in US, but as much research here is dependent on grants from European Universities – hosting visiting overseas scholars working in Archives or Museums – matters will not be that simple.

From a recent roundtable discussion on “The Future of Academic Publication” in Leeds at the 19th International Medieval Congress it appeared that the usual print-run for a book is 300, with 50 presented to the authors, while app 200 – 250 are sold to (American) University Libraries. As most books published by the more prestigious publishers are sold on average for between €100 -120 (whether in print or as an E-Book) this is a lucrative business.

Although the publishers at the roundtable stressed the value of their work connected with the so-called “editorial process”, some scholars, who were present at a later reception, afterwards claimed, that they did most of the editing themselves. Further it was apparent that in a number of instances, these scholars had even been obliged to pay for the editing process, thus in reality the privilege to publish. Further some scholars had experienced that publications, they had contributed to, were not available at their national or academic libraries (in the minor European countries). As copyright was strictly policed, they were not even allowed to circulate their results among colleagues. Added to this should be the dissatisfaction with the fact that the large publishing houses routinely declined collections of papers from conferences. Finally a general dissatisfaction with the quality of the publications was sounded: photos and illustrations were printed in non-colours and LD.

“Something has to give”, as one scholar voiced it! Apparently sooner than later if the different European Countries follow up on the recent decisions by the Commission.

Karen Schousboe


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