The future of scientific publishing - what should ISIE do?

Edgar Hertwich

The world of scientific publishing is in upheaval. The past decades have seen a consolidation of the power of a few big publishers such as Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley, the publisher of the Journal of Industrial Ecology (JIE), and the emergence of open access challengers. Elsevier reportedly earns returns on the order of 40% off the free labor of writers and reviewers. In Europe, there is a strong movement towards open access, with Germany, Sweden and Norway refusing to renewing subscriptions of Elsevier journals and insisting that all publicly funded research is published in open access journals Hybrid models where publishers collect money both from subscribers and from those publishing open access are now longer accepted. As far as I understand, some of our colleagues are now barred from submitting to JIE and other subscription journals. At the same time, in other parts of the world such as the US, scientists do not have funding mechanisms for open access fees on the order of $3000 and are dependent on subscription journals. The subscription model is being undermined in part by pirate sites posting journal papers illegally.

For JIE, the contract with Wiley is up for renewal, giving us a chance to consider moving to open access. Is this something the Industrial Ecology community supports? Or would you prefer to stick with a subscription model? What can the community do to support more open access to industrial ecology research?

Stefan Pauliuk

Dear Edgar,

thanks for raising this central topic here! I think that the interdisciplinary and transformative nature of our field warrants that journal publications should be accessible to everyone. Many of them are written in a way that makes them accessible to a broad audience, but the works are hidden behind paywalls for an overwhelmingly large fraction of our potential readers.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog entry on the topic:  

where I list and discuss a few options for future publication practices, including preprint archiving, a model where the authors pay a publication fee that is in reasonable relation to their annual personnel costs,  and the question of whether one should get rid of journals all together at some point.

Reid Lifset

A key factor in the viability of open access journals is the ability of authors to find funds to pay open access fees.  Some countries are increasingly providing researchers with funding for this purpose, but others have not moved so quickly.  It would be very useful to hear from members in different countries and universities about how easy--or hard--it is to get funds to pay these fees.

Shoshanna Saxe

In theory, I really like the idea of going open access but it would really depend on the cost. When I was in the UK, the University provided significant funds for open access publication, in Canada now no such support is available. Accordingly, $3000 US ($4000 CAD) could likely prevent publishing with JIE (unfortunately). At a fee closer to $800 USD it would usually not be too much of a barrier. (For context, many Canadian research grants are on the order of `$25,000 CDN a year, spending 16% on one journal publication would be hard to justify to the funder).

Thank you as well for raising this important issue. I am based in Switzerland where the national science foundation mandates open access (OA) publications and provides the necessary funds, either as part of research grants or as specific requests (that includes book processing fees as well). With all the options at hand in support of OA, the easiest for me is publishing in OA journals directly, without bothering about asking and paying for the fees. A colleague recently summarized the state of the issue here for those who read german.

Obviously Sci Hub is not the only alternative, even if everyone uses it. I completely agree with Stefan above, MDPI (with APC at $350 for which many university libraries offer discounts) is one alternative but Frontiers is possibly better and I am sure there are more OA publishers out there. Given these alternatives, and that the ISIE is becoming an independent organization, not renewing the Wiley contract for the JIE seems a natural thing to do.

In my opinion JIE needs to become Open Access:

1) As Edgar mentioned, there is currently great momentum towards Open Access in Europe; in this respect JIE should consider that Hybrid Journals are not compliant with the proposed Plan S of the major Research Funding Organisations in Europe (see ). The next one to two years are probably the time window JIE has to change this.

2) My second point is more specific to the field of Industrial Ecology. We are aiming to solve major sustainability issues. Thus our research outcomes is (or should be) of high relevance for policy makers and stakeholders at various levels, from international organisations down to the local level. In particular the latter mostly do not have access to an university library, do not have the academic knowledge to navigate around the pre- and post-print servers or know about "alternative" access methods. But these are actually the people which might need our research for implementing sustainable solutions, be it as a policy or as a decision for a grass-root initiative. Therefore we actually have an obligation to provide our research outcomes as easily accessible as possible. This includes dissemination on social media and news-outlets, but importantly also includes the possibility for everyone to verify the reports by checking the original publications. In my opinion, pre-prints are not enough here, as policy implications often change considerable during the peer-review process.

I understand, that APC can be a problem for researchers, in particular in developing countries. Perhaps JIE can waive part of the APC if all authors are from developing countries? APCs are also varying a lot (e.g. , Sustainability currently charging 1400 CHF) - I wonder what the true costs would be?

Paul Hoekman

Great to read these posts on this important topic. In principle I am also strongly in favor of the JIE being an open access journal. Like others said, the publication fees will be an important factor. The question is where to strike the balance. Higher fees means less accessible. Lower fees could impact the sustainability or the quality of the journal. It would be interesting to learn from other organizations that are able to produce a high-quality open access journal while charging relatively low fees. Getting a university or other organization to help financially support this move could also make a big difference to lower the risk. And to throw some ideas on the table, here is one of the options from Stefan's post:

Option: Since sustainability research is often interdisciplinary, one can consider getting rid of journal altogether, and just publish articles. Review would be organised not by journal editorial offices but by academic societies, who receive funding and incentives to do their job efficiently, both of which would strengthen them. Publishing and copy-editing is done by private companies, but since all papers are the same, this job can be done competitively at market prices. All papers are categorized in a meaningful keyword system, allowing disciplinary and interdisciplinary clusters of papers to form. Scholarly societies can organize topical groups, resembling today’s special issues, and can award papers of particular relevance and quality. Papers of public interest are highlighted by science journalists, academic societies’ press offices, or by researchers themselves.

What I would like to ask is: would a hybrid option be feasible? I think having a journal is great and the JIE itself is a pillar for our community. But is there a way to remain a journal but still apply some of these ideas around involvement of the society and outsourcing the copy-editing? Nowadays all JIE papers are digital anyways, so do you need to be a traditional publisher to publish a journal? Could we produce the JIE "in-house" in this way? Would this be a way to save costs while still being able to delivery a high quality journal? I honestly don't know what the challenges and benefits of different approaches are, but some of these ideas sound interesting to explore.

Rupert Myers

Two naive questions following Paul's post above:

1. How much does it cost to run a journal like JIE?

2. Are there enough ISIE members to run the JIE independently, by pooling OA funding that we have won/received?

I concur with Shoshanna that in the UK there is significant support to publish OA (at UEdin we can access these funds on Research Council [i.e., NSF] funded work, we can also request OA funding in grant applications).

Niko Heeren

Hihi – I asked Reid the same naive questions. (I'll let him elaborate on this).

My thinking was pretty much the same. Basically the whole EU is pushing towards OA. Why don't a bunch of IT savy come up with a open source publishing platform that can be easily cloned, something like Gitlab. Anyone can run their own Gitlab instance if they want to. Honestly, from a technical point of view that should be easily feasible and I would guess it would also be easy to find money for such a project right now (e.g. from the EU). Users would be communities such as ourselves, the ISIE.

However, as Reid explained me, there are many things that the publishers are doing in the background and those may be harder to replicate, such as ensuring that university libraries include journal in their search engines, etc. But again, I feel like we might be at a point where such an idea could easily catch fire and quickly reach a critical mass. If someone provided an open source publishing system today they could still have a central organ that takes care of these things.

Rupert Myers

@Niko Heeren

Sounds like a proposal idea to me. Although I'd find it a bit surprising if such a research project hasn't been undertaken before.

If the idea has legs, maybe we could use the workshop grant opportunity that @Konstantin Stadler mentioned in the IEOS meeting to develop this.

Edgar Hertwich

Thank you all for the great contributions to the discussion!

I do not know all the numbers, but I estimate the JIE costs around half a million US per year, if you add the individual contributions of the universities where we have editorial offices (NTNU, Tsinghua, Yale) and the subscription costs/OA fees, and this does not include all the time that reviewers and associate editors donate. The expenditure is probably evenly split between the editorial process (manuscript handling to the decision and post-acceptance editing) and the typesetting and publishing. Costs could come down on the puslishing side with using templates to let authors do their own typesetting, OA not needing a sales channel, and potential reviewers being more responsive/helping editors find alternative reviewers if they cannot do the job. More automation may also help, but we have made significant progress on that front. Still, as long as we have a journal, a lot of the tasks will remain and require human labor. Sure, you can push labor costs down, but how desirable is that?

What @StefanPauliuk suggests is an alternative model of publishing that gets rid of journals. Some of the costs may no longer be there, but you also get rid of the quality stamp. Science already has a big problem with predatory publishing and the production of intellectual garbage. We would expose ourselves to this more and more. Maybe it works for fields like physics and molecular biology, but in a field like ours where many have opinions, one can easily see the system being flooded by non-scientific content. I value our journals, as much pain they give me in revising my manuscripts.

Just a short response to @NikoHeeren point:

There is already an open publishing platform which works on top of Github: The Open Journals ( ). It is a NumFocus ( ) sponsered project and runs, among others, the Journal of Open Source Software ( ). This helps to drastically reduce the publishing costs ( ) - but of course excluding any wages.

The papers there are quite short (only a paragraph describing a software). Nevertheless, the review process is the most pleasant one I have ever exprieienced: every point becomes an issue, you can directly discuss with the reviewer and stays online together with the paper: . Btw: Also brighway is published there:


Mmmh. Something wrong with the forum software. The last link from my previous post has the right url but points to a wrong location. Anyway, here again the link to the brightway joss paper:

One more bit of information to consider if ISIE decides to make JIE Plan S compliant (in regard to APC):


"The journal/platform must provide automatic APC waivers for authors from low-income countries and discounts for authors from middle-income countries."


9.1 Basic mandatory criteria for Plan S compliant Open Access journals and platforms( )



Arnold Tukker

Open Access or subscriptions, the basic issue is that someone has to pay for the publishing process. The fundamental problem that has to be solved is that publishers like Elsevier and Springer Nature make excessive profits that do not feed back to the science community. Such publishers have become very savvy at manipulating a science community in which reputation, citations, and high impact publishing makes or breaks careers. In funding schemes that now usually have 10% success rate or less, in the evaluation committees I was part of that I saw operating such factors are decisive if you get a grant or not. This implies that scientists who comply with Plan S are at a disadvantage to those who don’t have to. But back to the topic of JIE. I am concerned about the 500k Edgar mentions, even without the contribution of the universities running JIE. The 6 issues of JIE annually contain probably 100 full-length paper, so we talk about 5000 $ per paper or even more, if contributors from less developed countries cannot be charged (this, btw, shows again that Plan S is not well thought through – what do you do if you get too much submissions from people who are not supposed to pay? Install quota’s?). I guess CML is now publishing at least some 120-140 papers annually, and this would translate to a fully unacceptable bill of 600-700 k per year (>15% of our budget or 10-15 PhD positions). MDPI asks if I am right 1500 Euro per paper, so that would suggest to look seriously into MDPI. We may need to provide additional payment for editorial work, but at ESR for instance the editors get some 10k each at max, and the rest of the work is voluntarily (subject editors, reviews, etc.). ESR is an interesting example from another perspective – they negotiated with their publisher a 30-50k contribution to IIOA, reason why IIOA membership fees are so low. So maybe we should look for a publisher that can provide that (although I wonder if IIOA would be able to repeat this in the current business context). Finally, I like Nico’s suggestion to run the journal ourselves. In fact, Canada sponsored 15 years ago an full-fledged publishing package, then already with the aim to circumvent existing publishing houses. We looked at this when there when thinking about setting up a journal and community after the SCORE! Sustainable consumption network project, but then decided another journal was not the way to go. See for the latest open source releases and the quite affordable technical support they give.


Arnold Tukker

PS Sorry for some typo's in the post including calling Niko Nico, but I haven't found a way to edit submitted posts.

Niko Heeren

This article touches upon a number of the issues discussed here: Editorial Mutiny at Elsevier Journal

QSS is being launched with some financial support from the MIT Libraries. In order to make all articles open access, the journal will charge an article-processing charge of $600 for ISSI members and $800 for nonmembers -- significantly less than the $1,800 Elsevier charged. For researchers without the ability to pay to have their articles be open access, their fees will be covered for three years by the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB).

Jens Peters

Yesterday the EC launched its Open Research Europe Platform. It provides free open access, open peer-reviewed publication for all H2020 funded works.

I think this is super exciting and deserves all possible support. Currently, it is limited to H2020 funded works, but it has a completely transparent pricing policy and states that the EC pays a gross 780€ per article published to the platform ( Thus, this model could also be extended allowing otherwise financed works to be published paying the corresponding (fair and non-for-profit) amount.





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