Monday, September 17, 2012

The OA Interviews: Ahmed Hindawi, founder of Hindawi Publishing Corporation

Founded in 1997, Hindawi Publishing Corporation was the first subscription publisher to convert its entire portfolio of journals to Open Access (OA). This has enabled the company to grow very rapidly and today it publishes over 400 OA journals. 

The speed of Hindawi’s growth, which included creating many new journals in a short space of time and mass mailing researchers, led to suspicion that it was a “predatory” organisation. Today, however, most of its detractors have been won round and — bar the occasional hiccup — Hindawi is viewed as a respectable and responsible publisher. 

Nevertheless, Hindawi’s story poses a number of questions. First, how do researchers distinguish between good and bad publishers in today’s Internet-fuelled publishing revolution, and what constitutes acceptable practice anyway? Second, does today’s Western-centric publishing culture tend to discriminate against publishers based in the developing world? Third, might the author-side payment model fast becoming the norm in OA publishing turn out to be flawed? Finally, can we expect OA publishing to prove less expensive than subscription publishing? If not, what are the implications? 

These at least were some of the questions that occurred to me during my interview with Ahmed Hindawi.
Ahmed Hindawi


After training in (and briefly teaching) High Energy Physics, Ahmed Hindawi decided he wanted to become a scholarly publisher — an ambition sparked by the advent of the Internet, his experience using the physics pre-print server arXiv, and a newly-acquired passion for typography.

Inspired by this dream, Hindawi and his wife Nagwa Abdel-Mottaleb returned from the US to their native country of Egypt and founded Hindawi Publishing Corporation. From the start they set their sights high, determined to “make a dent in the universe” by leveraging the potential of the Web to “disrupt the scholarly communications industry”.

Becoming a player in the scholarly publishing market was at that time, however, no walk in the park — not least because the subscription model traditionally used to publish scholarly journals had enabled a few large publishers to acquire near-monopoly powers.

Nevertheless, after several false starts, Hindawi and his wife did gain a foothold, taking over publication of the International Journal of Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences (IJMMS) in 1999.

Big break

Hindawi’s big break came in 2001 — when he made a daring bid to acquire the journal International Mathematics Research Notices (IMRN) from Duke University Press. Lacking the wherewithal to buy the journal outright, Hindawi proposed an instalment plan and, to his delight, Duke accepted his proposal. “This was the most significant journal acquisition that we had made up to that point, and it doubled our annual revenue,” says Hindawi.

Now established as a traditional scholarly publisher, Hindawi found himself increasingly frustrated with the limitations of the subscription system. Not only does it make it difficult for new entrants to break into the market, but it inevitably erects a paywall between reader and author, and so significantly limits the potential audience. As a result, many subscription journals have only a handful of subscribers. “[W]e were very concerned about the readership of these journals,” says Hindawi. “It just didn’t feel right to call this publishing.

So the publisher began experimenting with ways to make the research that he published available sans paywall, including inviting authors to pay a publication fee so that their papers could be made freely available on the Internet — a model that later came to be known as hybrid Open Access (OA).

By 2004, however, the pioneering OA publishers BioMed Central (BMC) and Public Library of Science (PLoS) had demonstrated that it was possible to build a viable publishing business from so-called gold OA. So Hindawi made the decision to convert his entire portfolio of journals to gold OA, a process completed by 2007 ...


If you wish to read the interview with Ahmed Hindawi, please click on the link below. 

I am publishing the interview under a Creative Commons licence, so you are free to copy and distribute it as you wish, so long as you credit me as the author, do not alter or transform the text, and do not use it for any commercial purpose. 

To read the interview (as a PDF file) click HERE.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Budapest Open Access Initiative reaffirmed and refreshed

Although the history of the Open Access (OA) movement can be traced back to at least 1994 (or even earlier), its birth is widely held to have taken place at the 2001 Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI). Certainly, it was at this point that the term “open access” was first used.

The BOAI emerged from a meeting held in Budapest that had been organised by George Soros’ then named Open Society Institute (OSI). The OSI also kick-started the movement with a grant of $3 million.

OSI’s involvement has allowed a great deal to be achieved over the last ten years. However, much remains to be done. So in February this year OSI — now known as the Open Society Foundations (OSF) — organised a second Budapest meeting (BOAI-10).

Here a “diverse coalition” of OA publishers, funders, librarians, scholarly societies, infrastructure managers, advocates and strategists reaffirmed and refreshed the BOAI, and subsequently drew up 28 recommendations “to make research freely available to all online”. These recommendations were finally published yesterday.

It is worth noting that a great deal has happened in the OA space this year. We have seen the rise and fall of the infamous Research Works Act (RWA). We have witnessed the so-called Academic Spring — which included a boycott by researchers of Elsevier, the world’s largest subscription publisher. We have seen a US petition in favour of OA attract more than 25,000 signatures. And we have seen the publication of the Finch Report in the UK, followed by the announcement of a new OA policy from Research Councils UK (RCUK). Finally, the European Commission has made a new commitment to “improve access to scientific information produced in Europe.”

However, this is not all good news. The Finch Report and the RCUK OA policy in particular have proved highly controversial, with OA critics expressing great concern that they will prove counter-productive, and could “set worldwide open access back by at least a decade”.

Intriguing questions

One intriguing question that arises from the policy errors of Finch/RCUK is whether they might have been avoided had the BOAI-10 recommendations been published earlier in the year. After all, as OA advocate Stevan Harnad points out, RCUK’s policy is in direct contradiction with these recommendations.

We might also wonder whether, in the wake of Finch/RCUK, OA advocates can any longer maintain that OA will resolve the affordability problem that led many to join the OA movement in the first place.

BOAI-10 was chaired by Alma Swan, the director of European advocacy for SPARC. Below I publish an email interview with Swan about the meeting and the recommendations — a discussion that inevitably raised the above questions in my mind.

Swan argues that OA can be cheaper, so long as it is “properly supported by sensible policy”. She adds, “[t]he cheapest transition to OA for the UK is through a primarily green route, and several studies have confirmed that.”

This, of course, goes to the heart of the concerns about Finch and the RCUK policy, since both maintain that gold OA should become the main vehicle for scholarly publishing in future, and both relegate green OA self-archiving to a bit player. 

As a result, some argue, OA can no longer be expected to lower costs, but rather to increase them. By how much will it increase them? Harnad predicts that the UK research community’s publishing costs will likely rise by 6% as a result of the RCUK policy.

We can but hope that the publication of the BOAI-10 recommendations will refocus policy-makers’ minds on the affordability issue, and that RCUK will rethink its erroneous policy as a result. 

Below is the Q&A interview I did with Swan.