Socio-economic study on Canadian scholarly journals: preliminary findings

Sibyl Frei and Louise Fleming, consultants


1 - Description of the project

Sibyl Frei and Louise Fleming, independent consultants, presented the preliminary findings from their study on the financial situation of Canadian scholarly journals, coordinated by Érudit in partnership with the Canadian Association of Learned Journals (CALJ) and the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and with financial support from the SSHRC. The consultants were undertaking a series of surveys and interviews with scholarly journals. The data began to be gathered in summer 2015, and involved a sample of 75 journals. So far, 29 interviews had been conducted, and others remained to be done. The final report of the study would be issued in early 2016. The findings presented at the seminar were thus partial and provisional.

The study was based on a corpus of 36 “French-language” and 39 “English-language” journals: the distinction was established in function of the language in which the journal completed the survey and not the language in which it publishes. Thus, it was to be noted that some of the journals are bilingual. In terms of disciplines, 62 social and human sciences, 8 science and technology, and 4 interdisciplinary journals (combining pure science, medicine and the social and human sciences) were being studied. The study focussed on both open access in accordance with the golden route (completely open access journals) and the green route (self-archiving of articles), but the findings for the green route would be available later.


2 - Description of statistics on journals’ positions, in particular their financial situations

Some key findings:

- Non-profit organizations, universities and university presses publish 80% of Canadian scholarly journals, while 10% are commercialized for profit;

- the number of articles published on paper is dropping;

- the number of articles published in French is increasing;

- 25% of journals publish in immediate open access, and slightly more English-language than French-language journals do this;

- 25% of articles published in the last 3 years are not available in open access;

- when journals use embargo time limits, they are most often for 24 months, but 25% of journals in this group say they want to begin making their articles more accessible this year, a sign that the transition is already well underway;

- the Open Journal Systems is the platform used by 37 English-language journals;

- Érudit is the platform used by 54% of French-language journals;

- Aggregators for English-language open access journals provide greater financial support than do those for French-language open access journals: 11% of their revenue vs. 0%.;

- open access journals are more than 50% funded by government grants;

- English-language journals earmark an especially large part of their budgets for the salaries of the editorial teams (ND: translation costs are not included in the study). Logically, the higher the funding, the more it is redistributed in terms of salaries;

- all English-language journals are running deficits, while French-language journals are making small profits. Open access journals (no matter which language) are making slight profits. (NB: this preliminary finding was strongly disputed by the journal representatives in the room, who regretted that volunteer work was not encompassed in the study.)


3 – Presentation of the findings from the interviews with the journals

A request made during an interview was a perfect reflection of while journals are seeking: “Here is what we need: a stable economic model, more regular, predictable funding, user-friendly software, political support.” Overall, the journals understand the government’s decision to favour open access, but they fear that government and funding bodies will abandon them, tempted to leave the transition to open access up to the journals alone. Indeed, it is important to note that the journals would not exist without volunteer work: the study estimates that each journal counts on nearly $30,000/year in volunteer work. However, this number is only an estimate – and these costs would not be considered in the findings presented in the study. Moreover, the journal representatives regret that funding bodies do not take the volunteer work done by members of the editorial team into account. They point out the major discrepancy between the criteria used by funding agencies to estimate the worth of their work (the same criteria seem to have been used in the study) and the functioning of and real costs shouldered by the journals.

The findings from the study show that English- and French-language journals have similar total revenue. Institutions provide little funding for the journals, which count mainly on grants (although each journal is a special case). Yet, institutional support is absolutely indispensable (if only for contributions in kind). 

The audience asked about the study’s distinction between English- and French-language journals. The consultants answered that the choice had been made according to differences in terms of support from universities and the FRQSC, and whether the journal worked with Érudit or other platforms. Nonetheless, in response to publishers’ requests, the findings would also be grouped according to discipline. Moreover, the publishers feared that the French-English divide would be superimposed, wrongly, on geographical considerations (Québec/Canada).

The interviews with the editorial teams revealed real concern about journals’ dependency on government grants. The survival of unfunded journals is now very complex. The concern was also related to the policies of funding agencies, which are pushing journals towards open access. So far, more English-language journals have made the transition to open access, but more French-language journals are in the process of doing so. The publishers pointed out that open access does not mean “free access,” and that funding bodies should be more aware of this.

The final report is expected at the beginning of 2016.