Academic communities and journal publishing

Karen Hellekson's picture


As a founding coeditor of the online-only media/fan studies journal, Transformative Works and Cultures, I was on the team that had to make many decisions to launch the journal. I was not initially behind the idea of creating a new academic journal; I think that journals that already exist should simply publish regularly. However, the Organization for Transformative Works, which publishes the journal, and Kristina Busse, my coeditor, convinced me otherwise. During the setup dialogue, I found myself becoming passionately engaged: we needed to create something cutting edge, something that would fill a gap, and something that the academic world would value. The things that I felt most strongly about were open access, link persistence, accessibility, and truly fair-use notions of reprint and quotation, which would permit TWC, unlike most other journals, to publish, for example, author-generated screen caps without obtaining permission from the copyright holder.

Most important to TWC's mission of building a scholarly community are its Gold Open Access status and its Creative Commons copyright [1], which work hand in hand to permit accessibility. Authors have to sign copyright over to TWC [2], but the copyright permits the document to be freely reprinted as long as no money is made. Authors can cross-post to their blogs, and teachers can duplicate the documents in course packets without asking permission or paying fees. Unlike scholarly documents hidden in library stacks or locked behind paywalls or embargo, TWC's documents are free and easy to get. TWC does not have a print or PDF component, in part because it permits color images, video, and music clips, so there's nothing to download. The text is fully searchable and available to all. In addition, TWC deposits its metadata using the CrossRef DOI scheme, thus ensuring persistent links and keyword searchability.

Related to access is TWC's software platform: we use OJS (Open Journal Systems), part of the Public Knowledge Project. This software is designed to permit open access to knowledge and research. Hundreds of academic journals in diverse fields use this software; what all have in common is the belief that academic knowledge is for everyone, not just specialists. It provides all the tools to walk the uninitiated through the production process, from submission to print. It links TWC to a community of other open access journals and symbolizes our commitment to OA.

The digital realm holds the possibility of providing open, unfettered access to information, but the academic world has a vested interest in policing it and marking its boundaries. Prestige and cultural capital leading to academic livelihood are at stake. The academy does not trust free and open access, conflating it with inferior-quality research (this is one reason TWC does blind peer review; this gold standard offsets the taint of online only). We discovered, to our dismay, that most scholarly databases, such as JSTOR, must vet you and invite you. Some presses won't send us books to review because they have a policy against providing books to online-only venues. We've had people decline to submit because essays published in TWC don't count for promotion or tenure at their particular institution; they need to submit to a better-established journal with a print component [3].

TWC is forging the way ahead in its attempt to create an online-based fan studies community centering on open access to peer-reviewed scholarly discourse, even though the infrastructure to support the digital world isn't quite there yet. We need scholars to prioritize sending work to open access venues, and we need to reward scholars with tenure and promotion for publications in venues other than print. We build digital scholarly cohorts and communities by freely exchanging information and by supporting models that permit this.


1. Gold Open Access means "that the author or author institution can pay a fee to the publisher at publication time, the publisher thereafter making the material available 'free' at the point of access" ( TWC does not charge author fees, and all the production labor is volunteer. The Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License is explained here:

2. TWC's Web site explains why the journal, not the author, holds the copyright:….

3. I discuss this in more detail in an August 20, 2010, Symposium blog post entitled "Breaking the Primacy of Print":….



Danielle Roney Roach's picture

Connecting communities

One thing that excites me about this post is its embracing of the potential to make connections. As scholars, I think it's important to continue not only to innovate within our own interest areas and projects, but to actively endeavor to engage those projects in conversation with other projects. Brilliant things happen when we articulate the connections between not only thinkers and ideas, but also between sites, journals, happenings, and places. It's exciting to see those connections mapped out in forums like this!

Kristopher Purzycki's picture

Another Peek Behind the Curtain

Your post is quite revealing Karen. As someone who tries to utilize Creative Commons materials as often as possible (with prominent citations of course!), it's disheartening to hear about yet another way in which the academy inflicts obstacles upon that scholarship which disregards confinement to the campus. I strongly believe (and hope) that journals like the TWC will continue to gain status and continue to chip away at some of the elitist tendencies you mentioned.