Open access and wide-open remit

Groundbreaking journal to publish across all social science and humanities fields. Paul Jump reports

The launch of the first journal spanning all disciplines in the arts and the social sciences could herald a new era in open-access and cross-disciplinary publishing in the humanities.

Open-access journal SAGE Open will be launched in early 2011 by US publishing house SAGE.

Taking a similar approach to the science-focused PLoS One journal, SAGE Open will accept papers in any humanities or social science discipline, quickly peer reviewing them for the validity of their research methodology but leaving it to users to rate their significance and add comments.

SAGE is the first commercial publisher to launch an open-access journal in the humanities.

Doubts had previously been voiced about whether humanities academics, who often lack specific research funding, would be able to afford the article-processing tariffs that a commercial venture would need to charge.

But SAGE Open's article-processing charges will be $695 (£445), compared with $3,000 for the open-access option offered by the publisher's conventional subscription-access journals.

Christopher Pressler, director of university libraries at the University of London and a member of its School of Advanced Study directorate, said the journal's business model involves tapping into the funds for open-access publication sometimes offered by funders or institutions that require articles to be freely available.

Mr Pressler welcomed the launch of SAGE Open and said it would see debate about open access spread from the sciences to the humanities.

"It will be essential for funding agencies and institutions to respond creatively to this opportunity and to support, in practical ways, researchers in these fields to adopt open-access practices," he said.

"This initiative will not fundamentally define how open access engages society with academic discourse in the humanities, but it is an important step forward."

Mr Pressler welcomed SAGE Open's cross-disciplinary focus and suggested that there was also room in the market for a highly selective peer-reviewed journal spanning the humanities. "I would be very interested in beginning a discussion at a national forum on the possibility," he said.

Michael Jubb, director of the Research Information Network, said SAGE Open faced the possibility that "the culture of the humanities and social sciences may mean that both authors and readers regard the new journal as simply an outlet of last resort, so that it attracts few authors or readers".

But he said it could be successful in light of the increasing pressure on researchers in the humanities and social science to publish quickly and the increasing prominence of articles as a medium for disseminating humanities research in the wake of libraries' shrinking budgets for the purchase of monographs.

Dr Jubb noted that readers were likely to search SAGE Open rather than browse it, meaning that they were likely to read only those articles in their field.

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