Tuesday, June 14, 2005

No more paper?

A small storm seems to have blown up towards the academic edge of the Canadian magazine publishing industry as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) is said to be on the verge of adopting a policy to restrict its financial support to only those journals which publish electronically. Many small, specialized journals depend upon SSHRC grants for their very existence.

Last year, SSHRC published a consultative paper called From Granting Council to Knowledge Council, a discussion of issues arising from a cross-country consultation on the future of the research in the social sciences and humanities. Some readers got a strong impression (which was reinforced at the Learned Societies conference in May this year) that SSHRC was about to divert funding from traditional journals to ones that publish electronically. It was also suggested that money would be diverted to creating new kinds of publications that would better communicate with the general public (presumably by avoiding hard concepts and long words?).

A whole bunch of responses have been published from all sorts of associations and individuals. For instance, here's what the Canadian Association of Learned Journals said:

Are we moving from “academic excellence” to “maximum impact”? The later term is harder to determine and measure. Can we argue that a journal with less than 400 subscribers has inadequate impact but a journal with more subscribers has more impact? Indeed, the number of subscribers to a journal is a poor measure of its importance. This is not only true because institutional subscriptions represent far more readers than the single subscription, but also because the knowledge contained may be tremendously important to a small but important audience...

Many of the scholarly journals published in Canada are small and depend upon government grants to survive. Our reading of the report is that money will go to the founding of new scholarly journals for lay audiences (with the hiring of writers), but it is not clear whether these would be in addition to the journals already receiving support or to replace them. We strongly recommend to SSHRC to continue and expand its program of support for scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences. We suggest that the journal community develop a plan in conjunction with SSHRC to ensure the preservation of the strengths of what we have while adding on new dimensions that might serve society better.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was shocked to hear of this move by SSHRC last week at the Magazines Canada luncheon. My colleagues from two arts councils and one small magazine agreed on a couple points:

- that institutional subscriptions brought a (possibly) immeasurable number of readers to a single copy of all journals at NO COST to the reader
- that this rolls downhill (like most things), and the ones likely bearing the biggest brunt of the cuts will be the academic presses, who depend on publishing the paper versions of the journals to keep afloat
- Magazines Canada stands to lose between 10 and 15 members unless electronic journals are admitted

I can't claim to know much about the business models for academic journals, but this seems like a real shame. My guess is that it's not just the small journals who will suffer, either.

6:41 pm  

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