[gpgnet-oa] Open Access and its economics

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Tue Sep 28 04:31:35 EST 2004

I ask GPG readers to note how frequently in Jan Velterop's mostly
useful and informative posting below, "Open Access" keeps being used
interchangeably with "Open Access Publishing" (the "golden" road to Open
Access [OA]).

OA and OA Publishing are not the same, so no wonder that the arguments
for and against the one are not the same as the arguments for and against
the other.

There are indeed some unanswered questions about the sustainability of
the OA Publishing model -- which replaces the non-OA user-institution-end
cost-recovery model with either an author-institution-end cost-recovery
model or a subsidy model -- and these questions are in the process
of being tested by the new OA Journals that exist so far (about 1200,
or 5%). The answers are hence not yet known.

But meanwhile the "green" road to OA -- which is to provide OA to the
articles published in the remaining 22,800 non-OA journals (95%) through
author/institution self-archiving -- is already providing three times
as much OA today (about 15%) as the golden road is providing (about
5%). And, more important still, OA self-archiving has the immediate
power to scale up to 100% OA virtually overnight, without the need to
wait for the conversion of the remaining 22,800 non-OA journals to OA.

100% OA solves (completely!) the research access/impact problem; it does
not solve the journal pricing/affordability problem (but it does make
it a good deal less urgent and important!). 

Until we clearly distinguish OA from OA publishing, and until we
clearly distinguish the research access/impact problem from the journal
pricing/affordability  problem, there will be unrelenting confusion
about the nature, purpose and benefits of OA.

And until we realize that the green road of OA self-archiving is the
most direct, broadest, fastest, and surest road to immediate OA, we
will have neither 100% OA nor any prospect at all of 100% OA Publishing
(because the green road of OA self-archiving is *also* the fastest
and surest road to an eventual conversion to gold [OA Publishing] too,
if there is indeed ever to be one!).

    Harnad, S., Brody, T., Vallieres, F., Carr, L., Hitchcock, S.,
    Gingras, Y, Oppenheim, C., Stamerjohanns, H., & Hilf, E. (2004)
    The Access/Impact Problem and the Green and Gold Roads to Open
    Access. Serials Review 30.
        Shorter version:
    The green and the gold roads to Open Access. Nature Web Focus.

Now try re-reading Jan Velterop's posting, below, to see which of
the arguments and uncertainties about "OA" are in fact just arguments
and uncertainties about OA Publishing (gold), which of the benefits
of OA Publishing are in fact the benefits of OA itself -- and how OA
self-archiving (green) fits into the otherwise far from complete  picture.

The answer is not, I think, just to remind us that BioMed Central is now
offering to help with self-archiving too! 

    "BioMed Central to offer OAI repository service"

All help is of course welcome, but what is needed today is also a clear
conceptual and strategic picture of OA, and a clear sense of how the
complementary gold and green strategies actually fit into it, and what
their respective functions and probabilities actualy are. This clarity
will not come from continuing to treat "OA" as if it were identical
with OA Publishing (gold), and as if the goal of OA were to solve
the journal pricing/affordability problem rather than the research
access/impact problem. OA Self-Archiving (green) must be fully and
clearly and *explicitly* integrated into the OA strategic picture. This
is not an *economic* matter but a *policy* matter -- for the providers
and funders of the research that provides the content of the journal
articles that this is all about!


Stevan Harnad

 On Tue, 28 Sep 2004, Jan Velterop wrote:

> Jan Velterop, Director and Publisher
> BioMed Central, London, UK
> --------------------------
> Dear All,
> Most arguments in favour of open access journals seem to concentrate on the benefits 
> to science and the general public, although there is a strand of arguments that 
> makes the case that open access is cheaper than traditional publishing.
> Most arguments against open access seem to concentrate on the financial aspects, 
> such as sustainability of open access publishing models, although there is a strand 
> of (rather patronising) arguments making the case that open access can actually be 
> confusing - even dangerous - to the general public.
> This is good news for open access and its advocates. The problem of transition is 
> essentially reduced to a practical one: finding solutions to financial and economic 
> issues.
> Financial concerns are real and legitimate. It is neither easy to protect above-
> average profit levels for commercial publishers, nor to secure hitherto relatively 
> stable fund-raising channels that their journals provide to societies who publish 
> them.
> What is the purpose of science publishing? Profit or communication? The purpose 
> obviously differs depending on the viewpoint one has: as publisher, as reader, as 
> author, as librarian. Putting it simply, publishers want profits. Authors want 
> visibility and kudos to advance their careers. Readers want to keep informed of 
> whatever developments take place relevant to their field. And librarians want to 
> satisfy their constituents' wishes and the budgets, or journal prices, that make 
> that possible.
> The benefits of open access to readers are clear: easy access to whatever in the 
> literature they deem relevant. The benefits to authors are, too: increased 
> visibility improves the chance of being cited; the 'coin of the realm' in the 
> world of 'publish or perish'. (Even though the metric of actual citations is often 
> simplified by the widespread usage of the journal impact factor, a historical 
> record of citation counts averaged over a whole journal, and as such more indicative 
> than predictive of actual citations - past performance does nor predict future 
> results. Though there are as yet few open access journals with high impact factors, 
> that is mainly a function of their young age, as impact factors are by definition 
> historical records.
> It follows that impact factors will be reflecting the higher citation counts of 
> open access journals, given time to catch up with reality. Kudos for publishing in 
> those journals is likely to affect early authors in those journals retrospectively 
> as well.)
> To publishers, changing to open access may just be the cost of staying in business. 
> Just as producing keyboards was for producers of typewriters once demand for those 
> vanished (though I am not aware of any typewriter manufacturer making that change).
> Back to the question of sustainability. Is open access sustainable? Any economic 
> activity that is needed or desired can be sustainable if it can deliver the goods 
> or services at a price that the market will bear. If done well, the activity can 
> produce a profit as well. But who is the 'market'? None of the 'players' mentioned 
> before is exposed to, or can act upon, the market forces. The unique and 
> unsubstitutionable nature of research articles is responsible for that. A reader 
> cannot choose on the basis of price. He can't just take Science because it may be 
> cheaper than Nature. If he needs Science, he's likely to need Nature as well. 
> Authors have the choice, of course. They can at least choose which journal to 
> submit to first. But they won't have financial feedback. They relate to the price 
> of a journal like a cat does to the price of cat food. As a result, their choice is 
> not likely to have an economic basis; not even if the choice is secondary, i.e. 
> when the amount of kudos associated with publishing is pretty much the same, as
> in the example of Science and Nature. This pattern repeats itself all the way down 
> the journal hierarchy.
> But there is one 'player' not mentioned yet. The funder of research. Funders
> are the ultimate customers. It is mainly their money that pays for the publishing 
> process, either the traditional one or open access. Mostly indirectly, through 
> overheads or other routes, they provide the funds from which librarians pay for 
> subscriptions and authors for page charges, in the old system, or article processing 
> charges of open access journals. They also indirectly pay for institutional 
> repositories for so-called self-archiving.
> Who are those funders? With the exception of industrial research not meant for 
> publication, most research is funded by public money via government grants, by 
> donations via charities such as Cancer UK ("the largest volunteer-supported cancer 
> research organisation in the world"), or by private funding bodies with a public 
> mission such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute ("one of the world's largest 
> philanthropies") or the Wellcome Trust ("Public Engagement runs like a thread 
> through the other aims"). 
> It is their appreciation and judgement of what is in the best interest of the 
> science they fund and the driver of the process of transition to open access, now 
> that the technical possibilities for universal participation in the scientific 
> discourse finally exist.
> Jan Velterop
> Director and Publisher
> BioMed Central
> London, UK
> http://www.biomedcentral.com -- Open Access: All Use is Fair Use 

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