the asa is planning to launch an open-access journal

At the ASA Council meeting last weekend, the Council voted to launch an open-access journal with its publishing partner, SAGE. The journal, called Sociology Open, will function similarly to the new and fabulous, Sociological Science, in that it will be a quick, up or down review process and a submission fee/author pay model. SAGE assured the Council that author fees would be waived for those without funding support for at least the first 12 months of publication.

Given that this proposal generated some controversy among open-access supporters, I wonder whether sociologists in general will embrace the new journal, or how the two new journals will develop distinct personalities. I do think that seeing the ASA embrace the open-access project will help diffuse some of the big concerns around the status of articles published in this type of journal.

16 thoughts on “the asa is planning to launch an open-access journal”

  1. Tina,

    Did the Council give an indication of what the purpose of the journal was to be? Is it meant to be a high-status, generalist journal a la ASR (and Sociological Science, as far as I can tell)? In other words, apart from the different publishing model (OA, up or down review, author pays), is the journal going to have a different mission than the existing ASA journals?

    I’m excited that ASA is moving into open-access publishing, but a little worried that this sounds like a clone of Sociological Science rather than an attempt to round out the space of journals to meet unmet needs. For example, you could imagine a journal devoted to publishing papers on timely problems but that didn’t necessarily aim for long-term impact or even much novelty (a peer-reviewed place for high speed public sociology). Etc. But of course it’s hard to do more than speculate until we see more official details, editorial policies, etc.!


  2. I think it is interesting that the ASA decided to try to clone Sociological Science (at least in structure — it’s not clear what the intellectual vision for the new journal is, if there is one yet) instead of supporting Sociological Science. Most if not all of the editors of Sociological Science are dues-paying members of the ASA, and many of us have served on ASA committees, chaired sections, organizes sessions, etc. Given this, it’s not inconceivable that the ASA leadership would consider us part of the ASA, and at least worth talking to if the ASA wanted to get into the OA space.

    One explanation is that the ASA relies on revenues from Sage, and although it can extract revenues (eventually) from a Sage OA journal, it can’t extract revenue from a non-profit journal like Sociological Science. Which gets back to Ezra’s post on orgtheory (link in Tina’s post).

    Regardless, I wish the new journal well. Let 1000 flowers bloom, and all that.


  3. Dan, I am sure that the ASA considers all of its publications to be the premier, high-status journals of our discipline (but of course not the only such journals). I don’t have any reason to believe that this new journal would be any different (I forgot to mention that the journal title will be Sociology Open – will edit post).

    Kim, I can see how the timing and format of this journal makes it look like a clone of Sociological Science, but my understanding is that the impetus of Sociology Open came from SAGE, which is moving into the open-access world in a wide variety of disciplines. I’m not on the Publications Committee, so I wasn’t in on the earliest conversations, though.

    I believe that a clearer vision for the journal will emerge once the editor selection process is complete.


    1. Thanks, Tina. Regardless of whether the impetus came from Sage and Pub-com agreed to it, or it came from Pub-com or the ASA leadership and Sage agreed to it, I still think it’s a bit odd. But, I’m not losing sleep.

      I just received a message from another journal (on which I’m on the editorial board) that it is entering the Sage fold. The framing of this move was, basically, that (1) as university subsidies become less certain, it’s necessary to find a more stable source of revenue, and (2) by entering into an agreement with Sage, the journal will join a bundle of journals that institutions have to buy, thereby widening its reach and gaining more subscription revenues.

      I can see the editor’s perspective, but it’s ironic: the journal is currently subsidized by Cornell, which has been a major troublemaker in the fight against bundling by the for-profits and one of the major players in the non-profit open access movement. (E.g., ArXivX is hosted by Cornell and was developed by a Cornell professor.) Left hand, meet right hand.


  4. Questions: Does ASA give the content to Sage on the agreement that Sage will make it open access (until the contract changes), or does ASA license the content to Sage and retain future rights. I might not be using the right terms, but practically what I mean is, can ASA in the future fire Sage and distribute the content itself, and can the authors (or their institutions) archive it in repositories that Sage doesn’t control? And, can it be unbundled from the paywalled journals in the future or is it just an accessory of the pay-journal contract? Etc. (Not expecting you to answer all this here, just saying the questions I wonder about.)


    1. This is an excellent question, and I’m glad you asked it. The ASA retains ownership of all of its journals. The Sage contract was not a transfer to Sage of the journals, but just a contract regarding distribution and whatever aspects of management. The same will be true of Sociology Open.


    2. No, I didn’t mean that the copyrights would be the same across the old and new journals — just to point out that Sage doesn’t own any of the ASA journals. The plan for copyright for Sociology Open is creative commons.


  5. Posting for John Holmwood, who had technical problems with wordpress:

    Sage have been negotiating with BSA about a similar project – of course there can be only one, given the nature of Open Access.

    1. The direction of travel in open access publication is ‘cost recovery’ not revenue raising. Indeed, British funding bodies have made an explicit declaration against a revenue-raising approach to academic publishing.

    2. In this context, Sage is not perceived as a neutral player. While our association, the BSA, has benefited in terms of income generated, this has been through a close to four-fold increase in institutional subscriptions since Sage took over publication. It is this increase in publishing revenues through subscriptions that has de-legitimated the old model of publishing (or should one say the recent old model). For example, Social Science History charges $179 for an institutional subscription, International Sociology, published by Sage, charges $1071.

    3. Our fellow sociological associations are concerned about ‘intellectual colonialism’ through open access and, in particular, the UK’s neo-liberal approach. Should there be an interest in open access on the part of the ESA and the ISA, for example, we should negotiate with them directly on its terms rather than allow Sage to be its mediator, notwithstanding that Sage publishes ISA journals. ASA has gone ahead and will be the revenue-earning partner with Sage from a ‘boundary-less’ project.

    4. I am not encouraged by the fact that cheap APCs are effectively offered as ‘loss leader’ ventures to establish the venue prior to increasing charges. This is especially the case in a reviewer-lite model offered by Sage/ASA (unlike Sociological Science). In domains where open access is becoming mandated for authors (eg the UK), Sage offers professional associations £3000 APC charges, but, at the same time, undercuts this with ventures like this one.

    5. Publishers/ examboards (eg Pearson/ Edexcel) are moving towards the provision of free online content to create a curriculum for for-profit higher education; ‘enhanced content’ needs to be carefully considered in the light of copyright licences and the ability to cut and paste for commercial purposes of providing curriculum material. In order, to be open access within the UK domain, the licence is required to allow commercial re-use – this is likely to be the licence for this venture.


  6. Having author fees waived, or at least limited, for those of us without institutional support is essential. Philosophically, I am a strong supporter of OA, but publication in Sociological Science and other OA journals with similar cost structures is out of reach for those of us working without institutional support.


  7. @John Holmwood: Your point 2 is staggering. You’re saying that Sage charges 6 times as much for Int’l Soc than is charged by Duke U P for Social Science History even though SSH is the more prominent journal (my impression but backed up by the relative impact factors). Wow– that is pure profit. And the reason is purely because of Sage’s leverage. Can someone clarify to me why this is legal? I’m no antitrust lawyer, but it seems like a classic example of tying. See

    Also, re point 3, could you say more about the intellectual colonialism you are worried about? I don’t follow. Thanks.


    1. John Holmwood replies:

      @Ezra. It isn’t a trust issue. It is to do with a coalition of interest between professional associations and commercial publishers in raising subscription prices to maximise revenues. This is linked to the other point. A constraint on subscription journals was their underlying print format – this restricted the number of issues per year and articles per issue and allowed proliferation of journals with high subscription prices. For an OA journal, there is no underlying format that restricts the number of articles, which appear in a continuous stream. Because authors are paying, the revenue maximising position is to maximise the number of articles. This means that an OA publisher is interested in establishing a single format that squeezes out the competition, rather than allowing the proliferation of differentiated journals. In this context, a strongly branded OA platform – run together with the leading sociological association – can dominate in the curation of knowledge that appears on its platform. Authors will still have an interest in reputation, so they will be drawn to publish on this platform that can then make it difficult for other sites ( especially, if the platform has commercial muscle – this is where Trust issues in the conventional sense re-emerge.


      1. Thanks John. I have to say that I’m unclear why that price differential does not reflect a “trust issue” (it seems to be a straightforward application of market power– whether it is done by for-profit publishers on their own or in partnership with associations seems immaterial), but I think we’re clear on the logic regardless of what we label it (though the latter may have legal implications…). Meanwhile, thanks also for the very compelling thoughts on the strategic implications of OA.


  8. I’d be curious to know where the idea for an ASA OA journal originated from, SAGE or ASA. Ezra made an interesting point on ‘that other blog’ that suggests SAGE would want to develop their own OA journals not just to compete with emergent journals like Sociological Science, but ultimately to crowd them out of the market. SAGE is certainly savvy enough to recognize the benefit of having the society backing. So, are we, as ASA, a knowing or unwitting accomplice in SAGE’s plans?


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