Journals fail. New journals rise. Journals get bought and sold. Journals move. Journals break apart because of editorial dissension. Every time this happens, thereís another opportunity for a new (or newly-) open-access publication. Itís not even necessary that a journal go gold, though Iím certainly not against that and it does seem to be happening more frequently these days. Whenever a journal changes hands, someone reviews editorial policy, which is an opportunity for journals to go green, either by allowing self-archiving when it wasnít previously permitted or by making self-archiving rights more explicit to authors.
The CMAJ/Open Medicine case looks on the surface like other editorial-board revolts, but I see a new wrinkle. Previous revolts (such as Donald Knuthís from the Journal of Algorithms) took place specifically over access policies, usually too-high subscription prices. The CMAJ revolt, however, had to do with editorial freedom; open access for the new journal is a byproduct, a side benefit.
Why did that happen, and will it happen again? Worst-case, open access was the natural outflow of this specific situation only, and we should not expect other journals to follow Open Medicineís example. Open access might simply be earning some rebel chic, in which case we can expect a few more examples like Open Medicine, but no widespread change. Or, best-case, the world has changed (or is changing) such that open access is now a natural choice for fledgling and metamorphosing journals....
[I]t seems to me a new or breakaway journal has two choices: manage itself indefinitely as a bootstrap operation, or find an ally that isnít a society or a big publisher. Both options strike me as open-access-friendly. Itís just plain easier to bootstrap an open-access journal than a subscription one; subscription journals have to build a money-handling infrastructure that an open-access journal doesnít. And I believe libraries, who have their own reasons for preferring open access, are the up-and-coming ally for new journals....
Dorothea is right. Every occasion to rethink a journal's access policy favors OA. This would be true even if the process were random, but of course it's not random. As she points out, there are systemic incentives for new start-ups, and established journals trying to remain competitive, to consider OA. Some journals will still choose subscriptions, even high-priced subscriptions, but any percentage choosing OA will produce a net gain for OA.
I mentally compare this phenomenon to the Brazil nut effect. Left undisturbed, mixed nuts in a can will not shift positions. But jiggle the can and the Brazil nuts will rise to the top. Stability protects the incumbents and flux opens windows of opportunities for new models. Flux doesn't negate the intrinsic advantages of subscriptions for publishers, but it negates some of the accidental advantages based on entrenchment, and even a small change in the balance of advantages slowly raises the position of the Brazil nuts in the mix.
For more examples of editors leaving one journal to launch another in the same niche with friendlier access policies, see my list of journal declarations of independence. I plan to add the CMAJ → OM case as soon as OM actually launches.
Peter Suber at 7/19/2006 09:23:00 AM.
The open access movement:
Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature
on the internet. Making it available free of charge and
free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
Removing the barriers to serious research.