Several of the major print journals in my field now offer online versions, including Victorian Studies (Indiana UP), Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge UP), and Victorian Periodicals Review (John Hopkins UP). These journals are all restricted access, the online versions being a way for the press to earn money by charging institutions to make the content available through their electronic library databases. I remember reading something in Core I about how university presses rely on this income scheme because for the most part they lack institutional funding, so the restricted access to the online versions of these journals is not surprising.
The Journal of Victorian Culture took its publication digital in a noteworthy, though not an open-access, way. Instead of offering digital editions of its print issues, the Journal of Victorian Culture launched an online supplement to the print publication. JVC Online bills itself as an “interactive site for debate and comment on topics arising from and related to the Journal of Victorian Culture.” So the site isn’t really about access to the journal’s content, you can only read snippets about articles, descriptions that are likely included for the purpose of encouraging print subscriptions (users are not really given enough access to be able to “debate and comment on topics arising from and related to” the content otherwise). The interactive intent of JVC Online, opening up the content of the journal to discussion and review by the public, presumes that users of the site would also be readers of (paying subscribers to) the print issue.
One open-access, online-only publication in my field is Victorian Network. This journal is “dedicated to publishing and promoting the best postgraduate work in Victorian Studies.” Can Victorian Network‘s support of publication opportunities for graduate students be connected to its online format? In a print journal, each article accepted means reducing the available space for other articles in the issue. However because an e-journal doesn’t share this spatial constraint, it’s editors may be more willing to accept articles that offer unconventional new takes on primary sources, the kinds of articles that print publications may deem a too risky use of space and that young scholars are perhaps most likely to write. I certainly don’t know of a print journal in my field that expressly devotes itself to publishing graduate student work. Each issue of Victorian Network is guest-edited by an established scholar in the field, while the articles accepted for publication are peer-reviewed by doctoral students (with final input from the guest editor). I wonder about the practice of peer review by doctoral students. Is it the result of established scholars being unwilling to volunteer their time as reviewers for this kind of publication (one they wouldn’t be publishing in themselves)? Although Victorian Network is an MLA-indexed publication, does a student-led review process mean a publication in this journal has less weight with hiring committees? Undoubtedly, grant funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council has everything to do with the journal’s ability to offer its content open access, so I also wonder if the use of doctoral students in the review process was helpful to getting that grant funding. . .
Another open-access, online journal is Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net (RaVoN) which has funding from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The e-journal is peer-reviewed by experts in the respective fields and 35 percent of submissions are accepted (not sure if this is high/low/average?). RaVoN’s “About” page doesn’t offer a high-minded mission statement for itself as an open-access initiative, but I am very interested in a sister publishing initiative to the e-journal started by one of its editors, Dino Felluga. BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-Century History, 1775-1925, a site “intertwined” with RaVoN, is “an experiment in a new form of publication.” BRANCH promises to offer “a compilation of over 300 articles from some of the best critics writing on the period today,” amassing a peer-reviewed, copy-edited collection of resources on Victorian history and culture that goes beyond the Wikipedia model in both academic reliability and scholarly rigor. BRANCH’s open-access philosophy is clearly outlined: “Using only free, open-source tools (WordPress and the Mellon-funded SIMILE timeline), BRANCH seeks to push the bounds of scholarly endeavor while staying true to our scholarly values, and all without investment from either a commercial provider or even a scholarly press.” It is exciting to see how open-access ideals might be put to real effect to unhinge scholarship from the commercial constraints of the publishing industry. The proof of concept for BRANCH was supported by grant money borrowed from RaVoN and institutional research funds; now, the developer plans to seek more significant grant funding. For now, BRANCH is only accepting solicited contributions for publication, however the site will be opened up to unsolicited submissions in 2015. Despite being peer-reviewed, I don’t expect that a contribution to BRANCH—because the intended audience of the site is students and a non-academic public—would be given the same consideration by hiring committees as a publication in a scholarly journal. However, the site has published 100 articles as of this February (with 300 total promised by solicited contributors), so when BRANCH starts accepting open submissions in 2015, junior scholars in the field may find that the foundation of “expert” research that has accrued paves the way for this kind of venue to be accepted by hiring and promotion committees as a legitimate form of scholarly publication. While I know this probably isn’t exciting to the rest of you since you aren’t Victorianists, I wonder if this is a new model for publication that could work for other fields and disciplines?