Niche journals and self-archiving

Browsing through the SHERPA/RoMEO database of publishers’ self-archiving policies can yield some interesting information. I was looking for niche journals that are intended for members of particular disciplines in a specific geographic area (in my case, Canada). Some disciplines deal with topics that may vary greatly in substance from one geographic area to another. Health services research is one such area, because healthcare policy (e.g. how are particular health services delivered and paid for?) may differ greatly from one geographic area to another.

In 2005, the quarterly journal Healthcare Policy was launched, by “Longwoods Publishing, The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Health Services and Policy Research, the Canadian Association for Health Services and Policy Research (CAHSPR) and Editor-in-Chief Brian Hutchison …“. See: Announcement and Call for Papers. Only some selected contributions to this journal are OA, such as: Editorial: Getting Started by Brian Hutchison, Healthcare Policy 2005; 1(1): 1-3.

When I looked for this journal in the SHERPA/RoMEO database, neither the journal title, nor the publisher, were listed. This was an unusual result. What was usually found was information about the niche journal or the publisher, but not information about self-archiving policies.

For example, for the first 50 journal titles that contain the word “Canadian”, I found information about self-archiving policies for only five. Of these, two, Canadian Geographer and Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, are listed as Blackwell journals, and three, Canadian Journal of Botany, Canadian Journal of Chemistry and Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering, are listed as National Research Council Canada (NRC Research Press) journals. Thus, information about self-archiving policies is currently available in the database for only about 10% of these Canadian journals.

Similarly, of 28 journal titles that contain the word “Canada”, I found information about self-archiving policies for only one, Health Law in Canada, an Elsevier journal.

Is this lack of information a result, at least in part, of the SHERPA/RoMEO database currently being incomplete? Probably, yes. And, efforts to improve the database are under way. See, for example, Copyright Knowledge Bank – Database. An excerpt from the webpage:

The Copyright Knowledge Bank (CKB) is a database containing comprehensive information on the self-archiving policies of journal publishers. It is an extension of the existing well-known and heavily-used SHERPA/RoMEO database of publishers’ self-archiving policies.

At the moment the CKB is still in development. As well as providing more detailed information on open access and self-archiving policies of publishers, the CKB will also have: * Improved coverage … and * Improved functionality …

However, the main reason for the lack of information about self-archiving policies for these Canada-oriented journals is probably because they do not yet have such policies. How best to deal with this issue, from the perspective of authors/researchers/scholars?

For results from a survey of author’s attitudes about such an issue, see: Copyright Issues in Open Access Research Journals: The Authors’ Perspective by Esther Hoorn and Maurits van der Graaf, D-Lib Magazine 2006(Feb); 12(2).

An excerpt:

The following emerging copyright models in OA journals were identified:

* a model in which the author keeps the copyright: this was preferred by nearly half of the respondents

* two models in which the author shares the copyright (with Creative Commons licences): these were preferred by nearly a third of the respondents

* a model in which the author transfers only the exploitation rights to the journal publisher: this was preferred by a small minority.

But, what if the publisher’s policy is the conventional one, in which the author is required to transfer copyright to the publisher?

One response is to make an effort to retain copyright on an individual, article-by-article, basis. An addendum can be added to the conventional copyright agreement. An example is the one recommended by the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL). See: Author Agreement (PDF).


Copyright of the Work remains in Author’s name.

Author agrees not to publish the Work in print form prior to publication of the Work by the Publisher. [ALA requests that should you publish the Work elsewhere, you cite the publication in ALA’s Publication, by author, title, and publisher, through a tagline, author bibliography, or similar means.]

[My thanks to Heather Morrison, AmSci OA Forum, 21 Feb 2007 for information about this addendum].

Another example is available via the SPARC Author Rights page, which provides access to the SPARC Author Addendum (PDF). Excerpt:

1. Author’s Retention of Rights. In addition to any rights under copyright retained by Author in the Publication Agreement, Author retains: (i) the rights to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, and publicly display the Article in any medium for non-commercial purposes; (ii) the right to prepare derivative works from the Article; and (iii) the right to authorize others to make any non-commercial use of the Article so long as Author receives credit as author and the journal in which the Article has been published is cited as the source of first publication of the Article. For example, Author may make and distribute copies in the course of teaching and research and may post the Article on personal or institutional Web sites and in other openaccess digital repositories.

But, what to do if the publisher refuses to accept such an addendum? An alternative approach is one that’s been advocated vigorously by Stevan Harnad: ID/OA (Immediate-Deposit, Optional-Access), paired with a “Fair Use” Button. See, for example, Blackwell Instructions for self-archiving manuscripts, by Stevan Harnad, 17 April 2007. Excerpts:

Blackwell’s is a 12-month embargo publisher.

The solution is extremely simple: always deposit the postprint (i.e., the refereed, revised, accepted final draft) immediately upon acceptance for publication (definitely not 12 months later!) and set the access as “Closed Access” instead of “Open Access,” if you wish, which means the metadata (author, title, journal, abstract) are openly accessible to anyone on the web immediately, but the full-text is not. In addition … make sure to implement the “Fair Use” Button … : EMAIL EPRINT REQUEST …

All searches will lead to the Closed Access Deposit, and that in turn has the Button, which will provide for all usage needs during the 1-year embargo, semi-automatically, almost immediately, via almost-OA.

Embargoes will all die (I promise!) a *very* quick death once all institutions mandate immediate deposit like this; but embargoes will win the day if institutions foolishly make the mandated *deposit* date contingent on when publisher embargo’s say-so.

Will this strategy indeed serve to convince publishers (including publishers of niche journals) to permit self-archiving and minimal embargoes? Only time will tell (and, only if the strategy is used by many authors).



  1. harnad said

    Jim, you missed the point: the ID/OA mandate plus the Button no longer depend on publishers in any way; they depend only on the research community. What the ID/OA mandate will do is ensure that authors deposit, immediately; and the Fair Use Button will ensure that would-be users get access, immediately.

    It is to provide immediate free access for all — not to convince publishers to do anything — that is the goal of the OA movement.

    Stevan Harnad

  2. tillje said

    Stevan, I’ll argue that when an ID/OA mandate-plus-the-Button route is used to foster the self-archiving of postprints, then publishers still *are* involved, as (minimally) the organizers and certifiers of peer review. And, if the publishers choose to impose long embargoes, free access continues only to be available via the Button Route. I’ll also argue that this route has more appeal as a transitional one (to any of Green, Gold or Platinum OA), rather than as a long-term vision for the OA movement.

    You’ve predicted that: “Embargoes will all die (I promise!) a *very* quick death once all institutions mandate immediate deposit like this“. I hope that this prediction turns out to be an accurate one.

  3. tillje said

    Just announced: Science Commons, SPARC announce new tools for scholarly publishing.

    (See also: New author addenda options and tools from SPARC and Science Commons, OA News, May 17 2007).

    The Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine “will help you generate a PDF form that you can attach to a journal publisher’s copyright agreement to ensure that you retain certain rights.

  4. tillje said

    Comment received from Jane H Smith and posted with her permission:

    The journal information used on RoMEO comes from the British Library service Zetoc. This is reliant on the stock of the British Library itself. Unfortunately this means that if a journal is not stocked by them, it will not display on RoMEO.

    However, we are able to add publishers separately and welcome any suggestions for such.

    Jane H Smith
    SHERPA Services Development Officer
    Greenfield Medical Library
    University of Nottingham

  5. tillje said

    Some some information relevant to the ID/OA mandate-plus-the-Button strategy is included in a message posted by Stevan Harnad, OA Mandates, Embargoes, and the “Fair Use” Button (BOAI Forum, 22 May 2007). Excerpt:

    Authors are entitled to distribute individual copies to reprint/eprint requesters on an individual basis. This is called “Fair Use.” It is exactly the same thing that authors have been doing for 50 years, in responding to individual mailed reprints requests, except that these are email eprint requests.

  6. tillje said

    The issue #110 (June 2, 2007) of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter (SOAN), by Peter Suber, contains a section entitled: Balancing author and publisher rights. Excerpt:

    There were two developments in May that could affect the balance between author and publisher rights. First, a group of universities adopted an “author addendum” to modify standard publisher copyright contracts and a pair of non-profits enhanced their own author addenda. Second, a group of publishers adopted a position statement on where the balance lies. Not surprisingly, the two groups strike the balance in different places. I’ll look at them in order.

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