Lingua: Entire editorial team of respected linguistics journal resign en mass in turf war over publishing

'We are aiming to find a path from subscription-based publishing to an open access one'

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The Independent Online

The entire editorial team of a respected linguistics journal has resigned en masse in an escalation of the turf war between university researchers and the publishers who dominate the highly-lucrative world of academic publishing. 

The six academic editors and 31-strong editorial board of Lingua, published by Dutch giant Elsevier, confirmed  that they were stepping down in order to set up a rival publication which will be freely available rather than subject to an expensive subscription charge.

The rupture is the latest development in a long-running dispute between publishing houses, which profit from charging often substantial subscriptions for their journals, and academics in favour of an “open access” model whereby their research papers are put into the public domain free of charge.

The academics behind Lingua, who include five researchers at British universities, said they were stepping down in protest at what they said was the refusal of Elsevier, which last year recorded a pre-tax profit of 1bn euros (£710m), to accept their proposals to improve free access to the journal.

Johan Rooryck, the Dutch professor who is executive editor of the journal, said he and others had become increasingly frustrated after being told by libraries that they could no longer afford to subscribe to Lingua. According to the Elsevier website, the institutional rate for the journal is £1,500 a year for a print copy, although the publisher, like many of its competitors, also offers bundle deals of multiple titles to libraries, thereby reducing the total cost.

Writing on his Facebook page, Prof Rooryck, who is based at Leiden University, said: “All six editors of Lingua have resigned their positions in reaction to Elsevier’s refusal to accept our conditions of Fair Open Access. Independently, all 31 members of the editorial board have resigned as well.”

He added: “We are aiming to find a path from subscription-based publishing to an open access one. This has been a long time coming.”

The group said that once their existing contracts with Elsevier run out at the end of this year they will launch their own open access journal, Glossa, with help of funding from Dutch universities, who have been at the forefront of efforts to end the hegemony of the main academic publishers.

The Lingua resignations, first reported by the Inside Higher Ed website, could have profound implications for the entire sector by encouraging researchers in other sectors of academia to break rank and set up freely accessible journals to rival established titles. Nearly two million research papers are published every year in no fewer than 28,000 separate journals. 

Supporters of such a development argue that while publishers are entitled to a reasonable income they have too long benefited handsomely from an arrangement whereby they charge academics for publishing their papers and then profit again by selling on research that is publicly-funded in the first place.

Prof Rooryck said: “Public money must be wisely spent, it is not meant to line the pockets of the shareholders of scientific publishers. Certainly not when university budgets are shrinking everywhere.

“I believe that scientific results reached with public money should be accessible to all taxpayers who have paid for the public money financing those results.”

Elsevier defended its position, pointing out that it publishes 300 fully open access journals and the process of maintaining the integrity of a title with peer review, copy editing and publication is costly. The company also said the proposals for open access to Lingua, charging £285 to make an article freely available as opposed to its current rate of £1,000, would have forced its closure.

In a statement, the publisher said: “Had we made the journal open access only and at the suggested price point, it would have rendered the journal no longer viable - something that would serve nobody, least of which the linguistics community.”

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