Publications all used to count. Although publications never all counted the same, each was meritorious and advantageous to the individual, their resumé and organization: a universal good for the aspirant researcher and vital for nursing as an establishing discipline. However, the world of academic publishing has changed profoundly. Risks and opportunities abound like never before. Most crucially: publications no longer all count.
Making good choices about where to publish has never mattered so much. Researchers have always had to make these choices. Journals, as long as they have existed, have differed in readerships, foci, prestige and reputation. However, like other aspects of society – academic publishing is undergoing ‘disruptive innovation’. The rules and systems of old no longer apply.
The range of ways to disseminate research to different audiences has never been greater or more diverse: research can now be shared instantly through social media (blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter) and via the mass media (online web pages, television, newspapers) (Watson et al. 2012). By comparison, conventional academic journal publishing is slow, passive and exclusionary – leading some to question whether academic journals are even viable and to reject this form of dissemination as outmoded – a Blockbuster's model in a NetFlix Age. Yet: peer-reviewed journal publications remain the traditional currency of the academic resume, the main indicator of success in the academy, and a barometer of the place of nursing in the interdisciplinary world (Watson et al. 2012). Journals are evolving radically in response (Epstein 2012). While some journals are moving to ‘online’ content only, more profoundly, many new journals are being established to serve the need for ‘open access’ to knowledge.
The term ‘Open Access’ was first used for journals in 2002 by the Budapest Open Access Initiative which sought to accelerate progress internationally to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the internet (Budapest Open Access Initiative 2012). This and subsequent statements have each identified that open access journals should provide free access to papers for those with an internet connection and allow papers to be passed freely between people and organizations without permission or copyright restrictions.
There are many different models of open access. Some journals are wholly ‘open access’ while others, particularly more established journals, are partially open access – allowing open access only when additional fees are paid by authors to ensure open access or permitting time or location-specific open access to particular papers. Some journal policies restrict exchange of material while others, in accordance with the Budapest Initiative, allow free exchange without restriction.
The move to open access journals has been very popular. Governments and research funders across the world have called for all publically funded research to be available free online (Howard 2012a, 2012b). Prestigious universities including Princeton, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now encourage or require that their researchers post articles into institutional repositories (Howard 2011). The Electronic Journals Library now indexes almost 34,000 free open access journals and accepts around 18 new journals every day (Morrison 2012).
Academics also view open access as a good thing: almost 90% of 38,000 academics sampled across Europe in 2010 viewed the open access model of publishing as being beneficial for their disciplines (Dallmeier-Tiessen et al. 2011). Yet, less than 9% of all papers are published in open access journals (Björk et al. 2010) and there are wide variations across disciplines. For example, in Earth Sciences approximately one quarter of all papers are freely available compared to less than 8% in medicine (Björk et al. 2010).
Although the movement to open access has many positive aspects, navigating this jungle of journals is difficult. Scholars are left with an ever more bewildering choice of options of where to publish their work. Approximately 70% of academics have yet to publish in open access journals and have not done so mainly due to concerns over the costs journals levy for open access and the overall quality of these journals (Dallmeier-Tiessen et al. 2011). Although the cadre of open access journals is rich, diverse and well intentioned, extensive profits can also be made when authors or funding bodies pay up to $3000 to have their paper freely available without restrictions. Many of us now receive several batch emails each day sent by publishers to solicit submission of our manuscripts. Academics are encouraged to act as guest editors of special editions and recruit amiable colleagues to provide content.
Perhaps the greatest risk among these developments is the proliferation of ‘vanity’ or ‘predatory’ journals that publish work with minimal peer review or quality control (Stratford 2012). These journals often lack robust pre- or post publication peer review, have limited input or supervision from editorial boards or staff, and appear to publish the vast proportions of the papers they receive (Stratford 2012). Such journals even entice deadline-pressed authors with automatic acceptance of papers within 48 hours of original submission. This has mutual benefits for publishers and authors – providing a smooth, assured, and rapid means to add another publication, respectively, to both journal and the researcher's resume.
In such cases, publication in a journal without effective peer review can no longer be considered an asset to the author. In some cases, particularly for new or establishing investigators, such publications could even be viewed as a demerit against the author's potential for success in the academy. Publications do not all inherently count anymore. The importance of researchers being mindful and strategic in their publishing choices has never been greater – how then should we decide where to publish?