Philosophers’ Imprint, LaTeX and Typesetting Open-Source Journals

I’ve mentioned this before, but I wanted to again commend Philosophers’ Imprint for having their own LaTeX stylesheet, which rather conveniently is included these days in standard LaTeX distributions. (It’s really amazing what the standard distribution includes these days. I never knew I might want to format something in ANU exam format, but now that I have the chance…)

This has led me to wonder whether there’s an opening here for cutting some journal costs. What follows are basically musings out loud about ways in which you might run the typesetting end of an open-source journal.

One of the major costs that professional journals incur is typesetting. Some of you may be sniggering now because you’re underwhelmed by the quality of said typesetting – especially if you’ve had the misfortune to deal with a journal going through a transition to new typesetters – but it is a major cost. I believe for the average size journal, the costs of printing the physical journal are actually less than the cost of getting the page proofs ready. So moving to an online publication reduces publishing costs by considerably less than 50%.

Now if you’re going to run an open access journal, you have a few options here. One is to find some money to pay professional typesetters. That’s unlikely to happen. Another is to typeset your journal in RTF format, as Imprint did to get going. That’s not a disaster, but I suspect it doesn’t help with getting the journal accepted as a world-class publication venue. (I’m not saying it’s fair that journal quality is judged by typesetting quality, just that I suspect it happens.)

A third option is to typeset the journal in LaTeX. Now in principle that still means you incur costs, since someone has to do it. But if you have a public stylesheet, as Imprint does, then you can kick some of those costs to the authors. In particular, you can say that authors have three options. They can typeset the paper themselves in LaTeX, which a bunch of us would be geeky enough to want to do. They can hire a grad student/junior professor to typeset it for them. Or they can pay the journal some amount, say $200, to typeset it from, say, an RTF format file. The idea would be that it shouldn’t cost an editor more than that to hire a grad assistant to typeset the article while being paid a wage commensurate with the fact that typesetting is a high-skill occupation. (So it would be fair, I think, to pay $30-35/hour for this work, but it shouldn’t take more than 6 hours to typeset an article that’s in a reasonably standard format.)

Would that seem fair? It would mean going to a system where authors potentially have to pay a little to publish articles. That is, they have to pay unless they can do it themselves, or have a friend do it for them. I’m inclined to think that’s not horribly unfair, if it’s being done for a journal which is going to be freely distributed. In that case someone has to cover the costs of putting it together, and the person who is getting the greatest benefit out of the article being published, namely the author, seems like as good a place as any for the costs to fall.

One other alternative would be to drop the “pay to typeset” option, and just insist on LaTeX submissions. I believe many science journals do exactly that. It seems to me that this is just like making the fee for journal-end typesetting infinite. Reducing that fee to $200 seems fairer.

9 Replies to “Philosophers’ Imprint, LaTeX and Typesetting Open-Source Journals”

  1. This sounds like a great idea. For those of us already using LaTeX it would likely mean less hassle, since the usual time going-back-and-forth with copyeditors over the proofs would be minimized if not eliminated.

  2. Hmm. I guess I might be more into converting documents into LaTeX after they’re written (however inefficient that may seem) than writing them in plain text with codes in the first place. However nice LaTeXed papers may look, and however handy it may be to simply change formatting throughout, my big concern is the composing process, so I’m as concerned (actually, more so) with what the document looks like to me as I’m writing it as I am with what exactly the paper looks like in its final state as it’s being read.

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