As previously announced on this blog, the Hybrid Publishing Lab organised a panel discussion at last week’s Critical Management Studies (CMS) conference held in Manchester, UK. The aim of the discussion was to devise and multiply publishing strategies for CMS scholars – and we came up with four.

A little bit of background: CMS is the umbrella for much of the critical work that goes on primarily in business schools. For those outside of the business school, that often sounds like an oxymoron (critical business!?), but especially in the UK, and mostly due to the rise of business and management education, and the squeezing of the social sciences and humanities, the business school has become a refuge for a vast number of scholars who don’t simply want to provide knowledge for managers or bankers but question business practice and intervene in its education. Its institutional setting also makes the business school particularly interesting – on the one hand since it is often a cash cow for the university, with profits from its high volume teaching cross-subsidising other faculties; on the other hand because in the business school much of the dynamics around contemporary education and pedagogy – the financialisation of education, the nakedness of labour – becomes apparent, particularly in the encounter with the business student. For some reflections and entry points into this debate, see Stefano Harney’s piece in the zero issue of the edufactory journal or a discussion of the role of the business school in ephemera as well as an issue of ephemera discussing its role in the financial crisis.

This context is important for the discussion of publishing within CMS since there have been over many years debates about the political economy of academic publishing.

Recent publications in Organization (by Harvie et al. and Beverungen et al.) and the elaboration of this debate on the pages of Times Higher Education (by Lilley and Böhm) are only the most recent and forceful arguments. The independently published open access journals Tamara and ephemera have been shaping the field for over ten years, and there have previously been fierce debates e.g. regarding the boycott of Elsevier which was also previously discussed on this blog. Yet the challenge of open access, and the research particularly into profit margins of large commercial publishers, has given debates a new intensity and also a sense that we are now at an opportune moment to explore alternative publishing strategies. In CMS this appears all the more important since it has much to say about corporate governance and business ethics, as well as alternative forms of organization, and if these lessons are applied to the publishing industry then – so the argument goes – surely we must come up with a different kind of setup.

Cover of Organization

So the panel discussion was an attempt to focus these debates and to challenge the CMS community to come up with practical strategies for open access publishing. First up was Ziyad Marar, Global Publishing Editor at Sage (see his recent piece as part of the British Academy pamphlet on Debating Open Access). Sage publishes many of the journals CMS scholars publish in, such as Organization, Organization Studies and Human Relations, so this was a chance for Sage to explain what Sage is doing for the CMS community and how it is responding to open access. There were perhaps two key messages to be taken away from this: First, there is much to be said still for subscription-based journal publishing, and the case of Organization is a case in point since it is a profitable journal which allows Sage to cross-subsidize other less commercially viable journals (which are no less reputable or academically successful, but were mostly late to the library subscription market). Second, Ziyad does not see much of a chance of open access publishing based on article processing charges (APCs) in the humanities and social sciences, since research funding in general and funding for publishing in particular is too limited. Sage is however open to explore open access publishing options with the CMS community, and already experiments also with APCs in hybrid or fully open access journals.

Janneke Adema, of Coventry University, and Open Reflections fame, consequently outlined the more general situation in the humanities and social sciences, mostly agreeing with Ziyad’s assessment when it comes to funding, but also pointing to a number of publishing initiatives which nonetheless explore alternative strategies. Janneke pointed as an example to the journals published as part of Open Humanities Press (OHP), and also brought book publishing into play, which is also largely ignored in the CMS debates. Here OHP again as well as re-press were examples of open access book publishers, which together with initiatives such as the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) are starting to develop new business models for open access book publishing and infrastructures that support independent publishing. Importantly, as Janneke pointed out, these are also initiatives that experiment with formats beyond the traditional monograph and the journal article.

Simon Lilley, head of the School of Management at the University of Leicester, contributed with an extensive mea culpa concerning what academics could already be doing to promote open access and to fight the excesses of the publishing industry. He was not only referring to things like self-archiving or the choices to be made in selecting which journals to publish in, but also raised two further important points: First, perhaps we should simply be publishing less, i.e. we need a serious debate about pressures for high volume publishing – mostly but not solely enforced by research assessment, which however is also self-administered by academics. Second, there is much more leeway also in institutional funding (especially in the business school) where much more resources may be available for experiments in and support of independent publishing – funds that the CMS community is not tapping into sufficiently. Simon also suggested that we should engage in wider initiatives, for example in setting up a university sector-wide publishing platform, which might be funded via HEFCE or JISC in the UK.

SciELO of BrazilThis was the prompt for Sueli Goulart’s presentation of Brazil’s Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO), a publicly funded platform for open access journal publishing. Sueli briefly recounted the emergence and development from a university-based platform to one that is now used by a number of journals from a few South American countries. She also emphasised that SciELO is not only providing a publishing infrastructure but also develops a methodology for electronic publishing for the academic community. The panel interventions were wrapped up by Steffen Böhm, who mostly posed a number of questions and challenges both to Sage and to the CMS community. As a member of the newly constituted CMS board, Steffen was particularly interested in what could be achieved by that board, and what shape a publishing strategy should take. He noted the urgency in developing alternative, independent publishing strategies in the light of the publishers’ hesitation with regards to open access and the stalemate of the funding situation. The floor was then opened for questions and discussion points by the audience.

A few key considerations emerged out of these debates. The first one concerned the question of labour. Mike Cushman pointed out that debates around open access often ignore the labour that goes on at publishers, and pointed to the dangers that both independent publishing strategies based on free labour and the push for open access leading to cost pressures might mean that labour suffers. A second point concerned labour again, but this time the kind of free labour that goes into independent publishing activities. David Harvie pointed out that any community strategy should probably be based on us doing less rather than more work, in light of the recent and ongoing intensification of university labour. Any strategy should therefore tap into available funding or make publishing activities part of any workload calculations.

Out of the debates a number of potential publishing strategies for the CMS community emerged. The first was the need for a more nuanced view of the existing publishing industry in terms of governance structures, profit rates and publishers’ contribution to a publishing landscape (from, say, small independents, via university presses and established medium-sized publishers to large publicly traded ones). This could and should then impact on decisions on where to publish, and also require negotiations with publishers via editorial boards. Second, an attempt could be made – perhaps via the CMS board – of exploring sustainable open access publishing options, funded either by a society or via APCs, with existing commercial and non-commercial publishers. The challenge would be here to experiment and explore out of a position where funds may be available, in order to develop sustainable options.

Third, the CMS community should equally promote and support – also via tapping into potentially available funds in the business school – independent publishing alternatives. Here in particular the discussion focused not on single journals but on initiatives such as OHP which provide a pool of resources and infrastructure so that it can replicate and multiply endeavours. Finally, some sort of strategic and political engagement in the broader landscape of academic publishing and research assessment was deemed necessary. Options here range from contributing to public debate, leveraging involvement in university governance and – perhaps most interestingly – working more closely with librarians.

While there were no immediate outcomes beyond these deliberations, these will hopefully serve as starting points for a yet to be appointed member of the CMS board charged with developing publishing strategies – so watch this space!


Armin Beverungen


Armin Beverungen is Junior Professor for Organisation in Digital Cultures at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, and has held previous research and teaching positions at the University of the West of England, Leuphana University and the University of Siegen. His research takes place at the interstices of media and organization studies, and is currently focused on the phenomenon of algorithmic management. His most recent publications include Markets (with Jens Schröter/Phil Mirowski/Edward Nik-Khak, meson press and University of Minnesota Press) and an edited issue of Organization on the theme of “the organizational powers of digital media” (with Lisa Conrad/Timon Beyes).

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