What are the first open-access, digital academic publishers?

In December 2012, the Amherst College Library made headlines by announcing plans “to launch the first open-access, digital academic press.” It acknowledged a couple predecessors: Rice University Press, which switched to an all-digital, paid format before folding; and especially University of Michigan Press, for working with its Library to offer certain publications for free. Amherst College Press aimed to be the first exclusively open-access, completely digital academic press.

The announcement got a little attention at VCU, for a few reasons. British Virginia already had its first potential publication out to peer reviewers. We already had our publication mechanism in place at the library. In fact, since 2010, we had been working with VCU Libraries to design a publisher that already had all of the components that Amherst College Press was promising: British Virginia likewise publishes only open-access, digital, peer-reviewed publications in the humanities, with Creative Commons licenses. There are differences between the projects: we don’t see what use a digital publisher would have for a “press” exactly. The main difference now, though, is that British Virginia has actually started publishing.

This is not to complain that anyone at Amherst College overlooked British Virginia: we had decided to announce nothing until we had actually published something. The point, rather, is to ask what other publishers and projects we are overlooking. What other libraries are involved in publishing originally digital, open-access, peer-reviewed scholarship? Have any of the member institutions of the Library Publishing Coalition published anything that meets these criteria? Lots of libraries have digital repositories, or even a “press,” such as Ball State University Beneficence Press.  Which of them involve blind peer review? Which of them use not just Creative Commons licenses, but “free culture” licenses? Please expose and eliminate our ignorance.

3 Responses to What are the first open-access, digital academic publishers?

  1. Cheryl E. Ball May 18, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    Here’s a few answers of how writing studies has long had digital-only presses/publications:

    (1) What other libraries are involved in publishing originally digital, open-access, peer-reviewed scholarship?

    “Libraries” is unnecessarily limiting. While that’s the path most folks/presses are taking now, it’s a recent change (due to repositories, etc.) from the last 5ish years. Rhet/comp (writing studies) has a two-decade history of publishing “originally digital, open-access, peer-reviewed scholarship” with the following presses/publications, most of which are independent:

    – Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy started publishing in January 1996, and has continuously published since. It is located here: http://kairos.technorhetoric.net (I am editor of this journal)

    – RhetNet started in October 1996, and is archived here: http://wac.colostate.edu/rhetnet/

    – C&C (Computers and Composition) Online was published from 1996-1999 at UT-Austin, then took a hiatus and moved to Bowling Green SU from 2000ish-present. It is currently at http://www.bgsu.edu/cconline

    – Since 1996, the following other online-only journals began. Some still run, all took hiatuses at some point: Writing Across the Disciplines, The Writing Instructor, Enculturation, CCC Online (1st edition; now in its 3rd ed, it is no longer OA). All these started in the late 90s (if I remember correctly). A burst of activity in the mid-2000s has also produced a handful of other journals in this vein, such as Harlot of the Arts.

    The above are all journals, but there are also digital-only presses:

    – The WAC Clearinghouse has been publishing OA books and journals since 1997. http://wac.colostate.edu/index.cfm

    – Computers and Composition Digital Press (CCDP), started in 2007ish: http://ccdigitalpress.org/

    (2) Which of them involve blind peer review?

    Because most of these publications are digital-media-based, not print-liner-put-online, we’ve found that blind review isn’t possible for all sorts of reasons that I won’t go into here (for space). But ALL are peer-reviewed in ways that are MORE rigorous and useful than blind review is. If you want to know more, email me.

    (3) Which of them use not just Creative Commons licenses, but “free culture” licenses?

    Each publication has their own copyright set-up, but nearly all of them (if I recall correctly) have copyright revert to the authors upon publication, with distribution rights assigned to the publisher. Some use CC, some don’t, some aren’t explicit about it, some allow authors to assign their own, etc. But ALL of these journals/presses are the best standard of OA available.

    So, when Amherst says they are the first, I just laugh in incredulity. WAC Clearinghouse is not a university press but they are an academic publisher affiliated with Colorado State and they’ve been publishing OA since 1997! Kairos, as a journal, since 1996! CCDP, which IS affiliated with Utah State University Press, published their first OA book in 2009, but that book was in production by late 2007.

  2. Joshua Eckhardt May 18, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    Thank you, Cheryl, for such a rich, informative comment (the blog’s first)! Yes, Amherst must have been excluding journals from its definition of a “press” (even free, online, refereed journals such as Early Modern Literary Studies, which started in 1995 and looks as active as ever: http://extra.shu.ac.uk/emls/emlsjour.html). WAC Clearinghouse, however, definitely satisfies the Amherst criteria: open-access (but not necessarily copyleft), peer-reviewed (but not necessarily blind), digital, and academic.


  1. Before you claim to be the “first” at something, do your research and define your terms. | Professional Tip of the Day - May 18, 2013

    [...] a colleague’s blog post from the new(ish) digital publisher British Virginia, asking “What are the first open-access, digital academic publishers?” The British Virginia post was in response to Amherst’s recent announcement that they [...]

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