Perhaps you've seen the announcement from Harvard (also reported in the NY Times) that the Arts and Sciences faculty have voted to create an open access, online repository of their scholarly articles. This led to some discussion on the TechRhet listserv about whether or not the articles were going to be peer-reviewed and accepted by journals before being added to the repository. The reports I've read are not specific, but it looks to me like that will be the case. It will be interesting to see how scholarly journals respond to this shift. Maybe Harvard scholars think their work is so valuable that journals will want to publish it even if it is available somewhere else for free. On the other hand, if Harvard can make it happen, maybe the rest of us can as well. After all, SUNY is a state institution, working for the public; there's a logic in making our work publicly available.
I do think there would be some changes that would need to take place. Most of the significant work of scholarly publication is paid for through faculty salaries. I.e., it's part of our job to do research and write articles; serving as an editor or a reviewer is also an important kind of academic service/scholarly work. Scholarly journals, to my knowledge, never pay anyone for this work. Scholarly journals may pay people to do some line editing or copy editing. They might pay to get layout done. They obviously pay for the printing, binding, and mailing of issues. They handle subscriptions, accounts, advertising, marketing, and various service requests.
The question of copy-editing is a valid one. It's quite possible that in other fields, faculty already pay for some copy-editing assistance. We have student interns who do some copy editing for faculty. Also you would have to have someone who would design and maintain this online repository. You will probably also need to have someone do marketing and handle service issues/tech support related to the website. However, universities already have individuals and departments that do this kind of work.
So here is effectively the question for SUNY... First you need to allow for some expense involved in collecting articles, publishing them online, maintaining the website, technical support, and marketing. So you need to come up with a dollar amount there. Then, assuming that a critical mass of other institutions went the same way, you could deduct from that cost the money that you're spending on library subscriptions that you would no longer need. Assuming that you are still spending more (which is a big assumption), you'd have to weigh that cost against the public good of making this knowledge available and the potential marketing/PR advantage.
Eventually, I imagine that journals would atrophy in interesting ways. In English, journals like PMLA or College English or CCC might keep going since subscriptions are folded into professional organization memberships, but maybe not. Otherwise, journals might transform into editorial-reviewer communities. The scarcity of page space and cost would disappear, so acceptance would only be on scholarly standards. New editorial-reviewer communities might emerge within disciplines, but this could happen now. It's not that hard to decide to create an online journal, and it can be done with little money provided one is willing to DIY the site. The challenge is in attracting quality submissions.
On a related note, one of the discussions on the TechRhet list had to do with moving from a peer-review to a post-hoc editorial approach. That is, instead of being reviewed, accepted, and then published, I would just publish and then revise in a public space with the comments of reviewers. I actually don't see these practices as needing to be mutually exclusive. For example:
- You write on my blog about some ideas you have for a research project, response to things you're reading, and perhaps portions of my article. Ideally you can get some feedback here as you're moving along. Maybe you can get yourself into a small writers group where you give each other feedback.
- When you get your article together in draft form, you publish it on a kind of works-in-progress site associated with one or more journals. For example, since I'm co-editor at Kairos Praxis, it might our PraxisWiki. There you would get feedback from Praxis staff and the general community of readers. Perhaps you'd find someone else who was doing similar work and the two of you might collaborate. Ideally, we could have a works-in-progress for "computers and writing," where editors for multiple journals might participate.
- When you felt your article was ready for peer review, you'd submit it. Ideally, some of the reviewers would have been giving you feedback while your work was in progress. In any case, your scholarship would then receive the imprimatur of scholarly review.
- Your article would then be published in an online version of the journal (which may or may not be open access). You would then submit it to be stored in an open access, online repository maintained by your university/college.