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The text below appeared briefly in [AJET Editorial 26(6)], during the period 26 October to 5 November 2010. On that day the President of ascilite asked me to 'unpublish' the section reproduced below, as he and some other members of ascilite Executive felt that "it could be taken as quite offensive to the ALT community". I complied immediately and the text may be regarded as withdrawn from AJET. However, in the interests of open and frank discussion of some issues in academic journal publishing by professional societies, I have preserved the text. Readers could note that AJET's standard [Disclaimer] is applicable.

Idle Moment 42: ALT's publishing strategy and ALT-J

Roger Atkinson

The UK's Association for Learning Technology (ALT) has provided two earlier Idle Moments [14, 15] and now it deserves a third. Recently ALT notified its Committees including the Editorial Board of ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology about the issue of a Request for Proposals:
... inviting corporate organisations and/or teams of individuals to make proposals to ALT for the production, publishing and distribution of ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology (to be renamed from January 2011, Research in Learning Technology, the journal of the Association for Learning Technology) [16]
This is quite intriguing, for several reasons. Firstly, ALT's RFP [17] publishes data that is normally not available for public viewing: numbers of "Regular" subscribers, numbers of "bundled deals" subscribers, numbers of ALT member subscribers, print run numbers, etc. Real "due diligence" stuff. Not surprisingly, the numbers of regular subscribers is small (56), evenly divided between "print + online" and "online only" and including a negligible number of personal subscribers (2). The large numbers are in ALT members (900) and the relatively new and recently developed category of "bundled deals". This category reflects recent strategies by the major multinational publishers, to move away from the sale of conventional subscriptions, towards repositioning themselves as providers of "online library seats" or a "virtual library", that is selling online only subscriptions to a large aggregation or "bundle" of journals, with various additional services such as hypertext links from an article to other articles that cite it, and search facilities encompassing the whole "bundle".

Secondly, ALT does not give an explicit indication of its intentions in the business model spectrum. Does ALT want an ascilite/AJET model (expenses $0, income $0; full open access), or some other model, such as the HERDSA and ODLAA model (expenses $0, or $X as apportioned to the editorial workers; income $Y, as negotiated with the publisher - Taylor & Francis in these cases)? Put in another way, perhaps a bit crudely "ockerish", can ALT screw a bit more money out of T&F (or perhaps Blackwell, Elsevier, Sage, etc [18]), whilst also being "nearly" open access with ALT-J? There is a good number of multinational publishers seeking to sign up academic and professional society journals [18], but society executives need to be very aware that the "fund raising from our journal" niche in the journal ecosystem is fully occupied, or even quite over-populated.

Thirdly, ALT's RFP advances a number of "Headline requirements". Some scallywags may suggest that these "Headlines" are more like a "Wish list" that requires coordinated action by both the journal editorial team and the publisher, e.g. [17]:

  1. Maintain the high quality of the journal, and serve to increase the esteem in which the journal is held, the influence that it has, and its impact, including, potentially, by increasing from the current three issues per year to four;
  2. Improve the overall visibility of the journal through relevant abstracting services, ISI listings, and on Google Scholar; [17]
RFP Item 2. may require resolution of a very difficult question. To what extent does ALT-J's association with a major international publisher, Taylor & Francis, help to sustain "the esteem in which the journal is held"? That question is of some interest to AJET, because it may relate to the demotion of AJET from Tier A to Tier B in 2010, whilst ALT-J retained its Tier A status [19]. Did the name Taylor & Francis tip the unknown rater's assessment towards ALT-J instead of AJET?

The "Headline requirements" in the RFP constitute a very good action list or check list for an editorial and publishing team, although it does not explore the full range of options. The RFP [17] is ambiguous about the continuation of print, which is strange because everyone connected with scholarly journal publishing knows that printing and postage costs are budget killer items, and therefore substantial expansion of the numbers of issues per year is impossible if a printed version is continued. As the number of 'full fee' subscribers for ALT-J is relatively small (56) compared with the number of 'big discount' subscribers (the 900 ALT members), it may not be feasible to sustain a cross-subsidisation. Another option that is not explored is the use of third party services for "10. Provide a well-implemented online submission system...". Software and services are available from open source (e.g. Open Journal Systems) and commercial providers (e.g. Aries) [20]. The RFP does not canvass ideas about authors being given an option to purchase open access (see [21] for illustrative examples), or charging authors or their institutions (e.g. require at least one year's membership of ALT for the contact author or the authors' institution). Given the high rates charged by commercial publishers [21], there is an opportunity to undercut the market.

Since inception in 1985, AJET has been edited and published by small teams that have combined both editorial and publishing functions. That feature has been important or even central to AJET's development in recent years, especially in relation to enabling online access to all 'pre-Internet' back issues (completed in 1997), the change from Australian to Australasian in AJET's name (2004), successful retirement of the printed version (at end 2007), and increases in the frequency of issues (prior to 1999, two issues per year; 1999-2004, three issues; 2005-07, four issues; 2008-09, five issues; 2010, 7 issues) [22].


  1. AJET Editorial 25(4). Idle Moment 38: ALT's repository strategy. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet25/editorial25-4.html
  2. AJET Editorial 26(1). Idle Moment 39: ALT's repository strategy revisited. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/editorial26-1.html
  3. Email circulated by Seb Schmoller, Association for Learning Technology, 14 Oct 2010. We thank Associate Professor Rob Phillips for drawing our attention to the RFP.
  4. Schmoller, S. and Ryan, L. (2010) Request for Proposals to publish Research in Learning Technology, the journal of the Association for Learning Technology. Documentation. Association for Learning Technology. http://repository.alt.ac.uk/836/1/ALTJ_RFP_v8_20101014.pdf
  5. AJET Editorial 23(3). IM 20: The journal publishing industry. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet23/editorial23-3.html
  6. AJET Editorial 26(1). Journal rankings: AJET demoted. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/editorial26-1.html
  7. See one of AJET's 'watching lists' for details. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/about/ref/resources.html#software
  8. AJET Editorial 24(2). IM 25: Online preprints and open access for commercial journals. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet24/editorial24-2.html
  9. AJET. About AJET. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/about/about.html

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