Overlay journals: a study of the current landscape

There’s a recent paper on the arXiv by Rousi & Laakso (both based in Finland) with the above title and the following abstract:

Overlay journals are characterised by their articles being archived on public open access repositories, often already starting in their initial preprint form as a prerequisite for submission to the journal prior to initiating the peer-review process. In this study we aimed to identify currently active overlay journals and examine their characteristics. We utilised an explorative web search and contacted key service providers for additional information. The final sample consisted of 35 active overlay journals. While the results show an increase in the number of overlay journals in recent years, the current presence of overlay journals is diminutive compared to the overall number of open access journals. The majority of overlay journals publish articles in the natural sciences, mathematics or computer sciences. Overlay journals are commonly published by groups of scientists rather than formal organisations and overlay journals may also rank highly within the traditional journal citation metrics. Nearly none of the investigated journals charge fees from authors, which is likely related to the cost-effectiveness of the overlay publishing model. Both the growth in adoption of open access preprint repositories, and researchers willingness to publish in overlay journals will determine the models wider impact on scholarly publishing.

You can find a discussion of overlay journals in general here, where I learnt that the term “overlay journal” was coined back in 1996 but it obviously took quite a long time to implement the idea in functioning platforms. The paper is well worth reading. It contains some analysis of journal citation metrics but because most of the journals are young this information is very sparse. The Open Journal of Astrophysics of course gets a mention. It doesn’t yet have a Journal Impact Factor. Some of the journals in the Rousi-Laakso paper have a JIF but this dates from a time before the journal flipped to overlay state. For your information, the JIF for year n is based on citations received in that year for papers published in years n-1 and n-2. The Open Journal of Astrophysics should qualify for a JIF for 2021 based on papers published in 2019 and 2020 but Clarivate (who control such things) doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to issue one.

I think Journal Impact Factors are a waste of time. Why use journal level metrics when there is plenty of information at the article level? On the other hand the bean-counters in charge of science funding in several countries (including Italy) insist that papers resulting from this funding should be published in papers with a high JIF so I’m aware that not having a JIF is a limiting factor for some.

Of course many fields do not use the arXiv, but there is no reason why the principle of the overlay journal could not be applied to other forms of repository. There has been a culture in physics and astronomy of circulating preprints for a very long time now, and it may take a while for this to permeate into other disciplines.

One Response to “Overlay journals: a study of the current landscape”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: