Publication Lags, Green OA Embargoes and the Liege/HEFCE/BIS/BOAI-10 Immediate-Deposit Mandate

Bo-Christer Björk & David Solomon (2013) The publishing delay in scholarly peer-reviewed journals. Journal of Informetrics (in press)

Abstract: Publishing in scholarly peer reviewed journals usually entails long delays from submission to publication. In part this is due to the length of the peer review process and in part because of the dominating tradition of publication in issues, earlier a necessity of paper-based publishing, which creates backlogs of manuscripts waiting in line. The delays slow the dissemination of scholarship and can provide a significant burden on the academic careers of authors.
     Using a stratified random sample we studied average publishing delays in 2700 papers published in 135 journals sampled from the Scopus citation index. The shortest overall delays occur in science technology and medical (STM) fields and the longest in social science, arts/humanities and business/economics. Business/economics with a delay of 18 months took twice as long as chemistry with a 9 month average delay. Analysis of the variance indicated that by far the largest amount of variance in the time between submission and acceptance was among articles within a journal as compared with journals, disciplines or the size of the journal. For the time between acceptance and publication most of the variation in delay can be accounted for by differences between specific journals.

Now it’s time to put two and two together (and this pertains more to the lag between acceptance and publication: the timing of peer review and revision is another matter):

1. The research community is clamoring for access, particularly those who are denied access to articles in journals to which their institutions cannot afford to subscribe.

2. In many fields, the most important growth region for taking up and building upon new findings, hence research progress, is within the first year of publication.

3. The average delay from acceptance to publication for subscription journals is about 6 months (and especially long for arts & humanities journals)

4. Björk and Solomon point out that for Gold OA journals the delay is much shorter: under 2 months.

5. The delay for Green OA self-archiving is even shorter: zero if self-archiving is immediate (and even negative if a pre-refereeing preprint has also been made OA even earlier).

6. Subscription journals say they are in favor of OA, but they need an embargo in order to keep their subscriptions sustainable.

7. Subscription journals already have a built-in “embargo” because of the 6-month delay between acceptance and publication.

8. So the 6-12-month Green OA embargoes demanded by STEM fields and even longer embargoes demanded by arts & humanities journals not only impede research progress by denying access during the embargo, but they compound the publisher-end delays between acceptance and publication.

This is why the Liege-model immediate-deposit mandate ( together with the repository-mediated request-sprint Button) — now recommended by both HEFCE and BIS (as well as BOAI-10: 1.1 & 1.6) — is so important:

It makes it possible for researchers to request — and authors to provide — immediate access with one click each as soon as the final, refereed, revised draft is accepted for publication, irrespective of publication lags or publisher OA embargoes.

Stevan Harnad