Communicating research. Publishers, repositories, open access.

On the publication of dissertations and other texts in film and media studies

This is a guest post by Sarah-Mai Dang. It first appeared on the Open-Media-Studies-Blog. Translation by Anne Schumann. 

Following years of hard work (with all their highs and lows, inspiration and self-doubt), you have submitted your thesis and successfully passed your viva. Now you ask yourself, where and how do I publish my masterpiece?

Having faced this question myself a few years ago, in the summer of 2014, and since then dealing with the conditions of publication in academia through my job, I would like to summarize my most important findings in this blog post. I have received many inquiries on this topic and to my knowledge there is no central contact point for film and media scholars.

Against the backdrop of the ongoing debates about open access, I would like to explain below which points to take into account when publishing. This overview is a first draft for a reference work. The text is aimed in particular at academics whose dissertations are about to be completed and all those who wish to familiarise themselves with the conditions of academic publishing. Each individual aspect is quite complex and is intensively and controversially debated (see sources). This text should therefore primarily serve as an impetus to examine the conditions of academic publishing. Feedback, comments, questions and suggestions are very welcome!

It is worthwhile to ask yourself several questions when deliberating how and where to publish a text. What is the objective of the publication? Which values do I represent as an academic? What does my research and teaching practice looks like? Which sources do I frequently refer to myself? Which formats best suit my own demands? Which platforms are the most appropriate for research? Where do I find useful teaching materials?

It is important to ask yourself these questions as early as possible, since selecting the right publisher for a book publication can be quite time-consuming if you want to consider your different options. Additionally, you need a presentable project in order to enter into negotiations with a publisher or the editors of a series. It can take 1-2 years from submission to the official book publication, and the situation is similar for journal articles.

Difficult choices

Film and media studies books and articles are usually published by a book publisher or in an academic journal. However, in view of the possibilities offered by digital technologies for publication, dissemination and communication today, it is worth asking yourself what a traditional publisher has to offer. If I can upload and share a document online, thereby publishing it, then why go the conventional route via a print publication or a journal? This blog post will examine a variety of publication strategies and thereby contribute to this debate.

Publishing companies

If the book (journal article, or any other printed text) is to be published by a publisher, it is important to consider numerous aspects when selecting the place and format of publication, including one’s own (political as well as academic) profile, the journal or the publisher’s reputation, the contract terms and conditions, as well as dissemination and accessibility.

Positioning/Reputation

It is important to consider as early as possibly (ideally right from the start of the research project) how you would like to position yourself through your publication and which technical, linguistic and geopolitical context would be most appropriate. Would I like to make my research known nationally or internationally? Which academic discipline is the publication aimed at? To which debates do I wish to contribute? Where is the publication most visible? Which advantages do the individual publishers offer (such as reputation, dissemination, low contribution to production costs (printing cost subsidy), or negotiable contractual terms)?

If you are not yet familiar with the world of academic publishing, I would suggest talking to your colleagues. For some doctoral theses, the publication format is agreed in advance with the supervisor (for example as a book in a specific series).1

The reputation of a publishing house or a journal depends not only on the quality of the publications but also on the form of the peer review (which may sometimes go hand in hand). With the spread of open access, debates as to whether peer review is the ideal form of quality assurance are intensifying. Depending on the discipline, peer review procedures vary considerably. In addition to official review standards, numerous procedures are not officially recognised, but are no less established. For example, the peer review of publications in German-language film and media studies is often carried out by the editorial team rather than by external, independent reviewers.

After a selecting a publisher, it is important to clarify how to submit a book proposal. In some cases, publishers require the entire manuscript, sometimes including peer review, while others require a proposal in the form of an abstract and accompanied by marketing and sales propositions. When publishing a journal article, it is common to first submit an abstract based on a Call for Papers (CfP) before submitting the complete article.

Terms of contract and conditions of use

The overall conditions of publication need to be clarified, not just the content. This includes, among other things, the number of editions and the purchase price of a book as well as the number of personal author’s copies (usually about 5) and, last but not least, the legal framework. There are usually no royalties for legal reasons (for example, if the research project was financed by third-party funding), and the most one can expect is a small pay-out from international publishers.2

On average, academic publishers in Germany expect to sell between 150 and 300 copies per title in the first two years. The first edition is correspondingly high (or, as is normally the case, low). If it is not as course book or a reference work, libraries will be the main purchasers. This means that private individuals rarely pay the relatively high selling prices of around 50-100 Euros (or more, in English-speaking countries), but rather public and private institutions.3 In the discussion about open access, accessibility and dissemination this must be taken into account. Libraries, of course, also have a limited budget.

It is therefore important to take a moment to determine, as a matter of principle, what price you consider appropriate for an academic book and to what extent you are willing to be part of a (growing?) marketization of research, in which publications primarily serve to maximise profits of publishers instead of the advancement of knowledge.

Before signing the publishing contract, you should also check how the terms of use are defined. Copyright [with this I mean specifically the German Urheberrecht] cannot be sold, it remains with the authors. However, the rights of use and commercialization of a text can be transferred. Book and journal publishers often stipulate this through specific clauses in the contract.

For marketing purposes, this may be justifiable, but authors should consider what freedoms they wish to retain (such as translation rights or the permission to deposit the publication in the repository of their university or their own website) and what rights they are prepared to cede at least in part. Contracts should therefore be negotiated accordingly and may be transformed to comprise non-exclusive rights of use and commercialization.

As of 2014, thanks to the secondary usage rights, authors have been able to make their articles, which originate from publicly funded research, available to the general public after twelve months for non-commercial purposes, irrespective of the publishing contract.

Publishing contracts are generally negotiable. As more academics become aware of their negotiating position and formulate corresponding demands, it will become easier to negotiate fairer publication terms and conditions in the medium and long term. In my opinion, large publishers in particular still hold too much power in the drafting of contracts and thus the dissemination of research, and academics often underestimate their own scope for action.

Dissemination and access

However, in order to attain the widest possible dissemination, it is important to note that high-priced books from prestigious publishers can reach a wider audience when included in library catalogues than lower priced books where the author and publisher are unknown and/or the subject does not seem relevant to the responsible librarians.

Therefore, do your research on which books and journals are available via library catalogues and other search portals. However, not everyone has access to libraries or to the Internet and the question of access cannot be definitely resolved. Of course, it is in principle best to try to grant the greatest number of people access to your research. In order to attain this goal, active research communication and open access are vital.

Open Access

In film and media studies, numerous national and international publishers and journals offer an open access publication in addition to the print publication. The Directory of Open Access Journals and Directory of Open Access Books provide an overview. Most publishers charge a fee for this, a so-called Article Processing Charge (APC). The publication fee for open access can be up to 15,000 US dollars for books and about 2,500 US dollars for articles in academic journals. Many universities have set up special publication funds for OA journal articles. So far, OA books have received little or no funding (unless this has already been included in an application for third party funding). This is in contrast to the so-called printing subsidy (amounting to approx. 2,500-8,000 euros, depending on the publisher), which in Germany is usually paid to a publisher for book production, including the publication of a dissertation, but also for conference proceedings or reference books.4

It is questionable, however, whether such large sums are necessary for open access publications (and even for a regular book publication) to cover the costs of production, distribution and marketing. Publishers, in effect, earn twice from open access through so-called double dipping, that is, through the sale of journal subscriptions and print publications as well as through the fee for activating the free digital edition. Obviously, the production of free-of-charge publications also has to be financed. There are currently several initiatives such as Knowledge Unlatched or Open Library of Humanities (OLH) that are investigating what fair financing of open access could look like in practice, so that that all those involved in the publication process are appropriately remunerated, but also that the APC do not become a barrier for authors.

Repositories

Repositories allow you to publish open access without publication fees. Faculty and students can upload their publications at the repositories of their university and make them available free of charge. Additionally, there are large repositories that are not specific to disciplines or institutions (not to be confused with profit-oriented portals such as Academia.edu or ResearchGate!). These include the film and media studies repositories media/rep/ and MediArXiv, the humanities platform Humanities Commons, and Zenodo (which was created by CERN).

The content available via media/rep/ is mainly in German but also in English (including journal archives, articles, series, books and lectures), and its content is selected by representatives of the film and media studies community and processed for long-term availability. MediArXiv, on the other hand, focuses on the independent upload of pre-prints and post-prints of conventional publications, including from related disciplines and languages other than English. Humanities Commons functions primarily as a network, and Zenodo can store a wide variety of materials such as presentations and bibliographies.

Open access sceptics often justify their reservations on the grounds of poor quality assurance and lack of long-term archiving. However, open access cannot be compared to digital publishing and certainly not to the mere uploading of any document via any platform. There are many different forms of digital publishing, regardless of the academic context. Open access refers to academic publications that are located in corresponding infrastructures. Open access should also enable barrier free re-use without technical, economic or legal restrictions.

Long-term availability can take various forms, as can peer review mechanisms (see also the blog posts by Adelheid Heftberger or Maximilian Heimstädt and Leonhard Dobusch).

Based on the aspects outlined above, you can decide which path appears to be the most suitable in order to attain the objectives of your publication (qualification/doctorate, reputation/enhancing your profile, employability, contribution to an academic debate, establishment of a new topic/field of research, etc.).

One size doesn't fit all

To find out which type of publication is the most appropriate for my dissertation, I have made my work available in three versions and five different formats:

1) As a Qualifikationsschrift directly via the Repository of Freie Universität Berlin

2) A revised version with a Creative Commons licence

◦ as a responsive website that adapts to the respective user interface, laptop, smartphone or tablet

◦ as an affordable print-on-demand book (incl. referenced ISBN) and

◦ as a free PDF via media/rep and MediArXiv (incl. referenced DOI), as well as

3) In an English translation book via the publisher Palgrave Macmillan

This endeavour took about two years and cost a lot of energy, mental strain, time and money. Meanwhile, I have become aware that each format responds to different requirements, needs and research habits (see overview): One size doesn't fit all!

Above all, however, I have learnt that open access not only means the free availability of texts, but much more: publications must also be comprehensible, visible and findable, (re-)usable, eye-catching and be able to be referenced. For this reason dissemination and communication of your research is an essential part of publishing. In this sense, a single publication represents only a small aspect of the communication of knowledge.

It is difficult to say whether I can recommend such an elaborate procedure to everyone. The aim of this post was above all to encourage academics to engage more closely with the conditions of publication and, at best, to venture into similar experiments.

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank my colleagues Laura Katharina Mücke and Katja Hettich for an in-depth reading of the first version, helpful remarks and critical questions.

This blog post first appeared on the Open Media Studies Blog on 16th October 2019.

1. In the PhD regulations of your institute or faculty, you can find out which specific requirements are placed on the publication of a dissertation.

2. In Germany, authors can claim income resulting from the publication of works for private and academic use via the Verwertungsgesellschaft Wort (VG Wort). However, their parameters of calculation and distribution are controversial.

3. The calculation of selling prices and the contribution to the production costs in the form of the so-called printing cost subsidy varies considerably from publisher to publisher. The business models of the academic publication system and the question of fair and effective financing would require a whole other blog post.

4. If the printing cost subsidy has not been included in the calculation, such as when applying for a third-party funding project, various institutions offer funding. Some academics pay the amount out of their own pocket.

5. Roger Odin's Communication Spaces. Introduction to Semiopragmatics, translated by Guido Kirsten, Magali Trautmann, Philipp Blum and Laura Katharina Mücke is now available as a hybrid open access publication on the website oabooks.de. The translators and editors will soon report on this publication project on the Open-Media-Studies-Blog.

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