Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ATG Special Issue on author support

Johan Rooryck

By: Johan Rooryck, Professor of French Linguistics at Leiden University


The Fair Open Access Alliance (FOAA) is a foundation that coordinates efforts toward sustainable Open Access publication. It is an umbrella organisation regrouping various disciplinary endeavors that help transition academic subscription journals to Fair Open Access: Linguistics in Open Access (LingOA), Mathematics in Open Access (MathOA), and Psychology in Open Access (PsyOA). FOAA also has various Sponsor Participants who contribute financially to the effort of coordination. Sponsor Participants include university libraries with a keen interest in promoting the change towards sustainable Open Access in the academic journal publishing landscape.

FOAA collects the experience that has been gained in transitioning the linguistics and mathematics journals at LingOA and MathOA, and supports editors in all disciplines who wish to do the same with legal and practical advice. It also seeks and manages funding for its disciplinary participants.

The Fair Open Access principles

The Fair Open Access principles were first formulated in the Fall of 2015 by the founders of LingOA, an editor (Johan Rooryck, Leiden University), a publisher (Saskia de Vries, Sampan Publishing) and a librarian (Natalia Grygierczyk, Radboud University). The principles were instrumental in the transition of the LingOA journals (Lingua -> Glossa, Laboratory Phonology, Journal of Portuguese Linguistics) to Open Access. They formed the basis for the negotiations between the Lingua editorial team and Elsevier in October 2015, which eventually led to the Lingua editorial team leaving Elsevier to found Glossa. The Fair Open Access principles were subsequently refined and reformulated in 2016 by an interdisciplinary e-mail discussion group led by Mark Wilson (University of Auckland). They can now be found on the websites of FOAA, LingOA, MathOA, and PsyOA, and cited here for convenience:

  1. The journal has a transparent ownership structure, and is controlled by and responsive to the scholarly community.
  2. Authors of articles in the journal retain copyright.
  3. All articles are published open access and an explicit open access licence is used.
  4. Submission and publication is not conditional in any way on the payment of a fee from the author or its employing institution, or on membership of an institution or society.
  5. Any fees paid on behalf of the journal to publishers are low, transparent, and in proportion to the work carried out.

Principle 1 puts the academic community back in charge of publishing the journal.

The journal can be owned by its editorial board or by a scholarly society, but not by a commercial for-profit publisher that is only accountable to shareholders. This can be seen as the academic equivalent of the separation of powers in government: academics own the journal, publishers provide services to it. Principle 1 thus allows the journal’s academic owners to choose a different publisher without changing the title. As a result, publishing companies are again able to compete in offering services to the journal, as in any market. FOAA encourages democratic nonprofit ownership of the journal, and clearly drawn procedures about its governance in a legally binding text that ideally is available on request to the academic community. Journals should make sure that they retain ownership of all correspondence and mailing lists compiled on the electronic submission system put at their disposal by the publisher. The publisher should make available all information it hosts for the journal in a readable format when the journal decides to move to a different service provider.

Principles 2 and 3 put authors and readers back in charge of the articles. Authors have copyright and publish with an explicit Open Access license. As part of their services, the publisher may still take care of any legal issues regarding copyright on the author’s behalf, and under the author’s oversight. We strongly recommend that reviewers also retain copyright of their reviews. Principle 3 also excludes any kind of subscription paywall, including “hybrid OA”. All journal content should be accessible from the journal website to any reader with a standard internet connection. Journals are “free at the point of use” by both authors and readers.

Principles 4 and 5 address publication costs. Article Publication Charges (APCs) should not be charged to the author. Researchers should do research, and not worry anymore about finding funds for publishing their results than they do for any other basic facilities provided by their institution. Publishing peer-reviewed research should be as basic a facility as having a blackboard in class. Ideally, journals should be funded by universities and research funders, and these contributions should not be tied to specific articles, disciplines, or groups of authors. Principle 4 also rejects “APC Big Deals”, where institutions only pay for APCs of the academics they employ, and do not contribute directly to the journals, e.g. via their libraries or via library consortia such as the Open Library of Humanities.

Principle 4 does allow for voluntary APCs, but requests for these must be unobtrusive and never a barrier to publication. This is for instance the case at Glossa: authors are asked to check with their host institution whether there are any funds available for Open Access publication that they could apply for and contribute. If such funds are not available, or if the author does not wish to apply for these, the LingOA 5-year transition fund and subsequently the Open Library of Humanities pay for the publication fee.

Principle 5 addresses the cost structure of the publication fee. The requirement that the publication fee be ‘low’ depends on the particulars of each journal and the level of service provided by the publisher. We recommend a maximum of $1000 per article published. This is not an arbitrary figure: a number of smaller publishers charge a fee that is slightly under $1000, and seem to be able to make a living of it. Also, the basic fee at PLOS One is only slightly higher than this figure at $1300. Finally, Salvatore Mele (CERN, SCOAP3) has calculated that the average investment per article in high-energy physics (28.8k articles) is slightly under $1000 (https://oa2020.org/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/B13_Salvatore_Mele.pdf).

Perhaps even more important than its actual price level is the transparency of the publication fee. We require that the publisher provide an itemized, publicly available price structure for the publication fee that makes the proportionality principle apparent. Most publishers don’t do this at the moment: the publication fee is an opaquely set price that varies as a function of the prestige of the journal. This practice would be puzzling in the case of any other service provider. Imagine having your car serviced at the local garage. When you come to pick up your car, the mechanic informs you that the total price of their services amounts to $2000, but that of course you cannot get an itemized bill of the specific services they performed on your car. They are a fancy garage, you see. If we don’t accept such a situation at the local garage, why do we accept it from publishers? There is no reason to treat journals as luxury goods, charging high fees for prestigious journals and low fees for less prestigious ones, when the basic services performed at both journals are identical. Ubiquity Press is a commendable exception to opaque publication fees. On their website, a transparent breakdown is provided that itemizes the different services, costs, and charges contained in the publication fee. We hope that more publishers will follow that example.

Open Access Transparency

One of the key terms in the Fair Open Access principles is transparency: transparency of responsibilities between journal owners and publisher; transparency of governance of the journal; transparency of access for the reader and the author via the explicit Open Access license; and transparency of publication costs.

We realize that not all journals, editors, and authors can yet comply by all of these principles, given the current state of academic publishing. There are many ways towards Open Access, and we believe that our principles, taken together, reflect an ideal situation that cannot be achieved overnight. But we also believe that each of the principles could serve as the start of a conversation between publishers, editors and authors of subscription journals. Authors could insist on a CC-BY license with the publisher, and refuse to sign away their copyright, as they have a right to do. Editors could insist on more autonomy, or on a proper justification of the price structure of the publication fee. At the very least, editors should negotiate with publishers to have Open Access policies stated more clearly during the submission process (as they are at the LingOA journals, for example), and that authors be informed about their rights regarding copyright. Researchers could challenge the status quo in publishing. In all of these situations, the Fair Open Access principles could be used as a yardstick, allowing academic publishing to move towards a more transparent future.