Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

AAUP statement on open access

The American Association of University Presses (AAUP) has released a Statement on Open Access, dated today.  Excerpt:

The core mission of university presses has always been to disseminate knowledge to the widest possible audience....

In its pure form, open access calls for an entirely new funding model, in which the costs of publishing research articles in journals are paid for by authors or by a funding agency, and readers can have access to these publications for free.

However, open access need not be limited to journals and can also be achieved through other models, such as those that combine some form of market-based cost-recovery with free access for users a certain length of time after initial publication, or that offer free access to one form of publication and paid access to others. These and other models are currently being tested and refined by the members of AAUP in partnership with the academic community. Bypassing this laboratory stage of experimentation and development and plunging straight into pure open access, as attractive as it may sound in theory, runs the serious risk of destabilizing scholarly communications in ways that would disrupt the progress of scholarship and the advancement of knowledge....

The well-known Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), in promoting a solution to the high price of STM journals, defines open access as “permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the Internet itself.” In principle, this definition of open access could be applied to all types of scholarly publishing, and calls for widespread use of institutional repositories and for self-archiving by individual scholars in order to promote such open access are by no means limited to just STM journal literature. Although the debate over open access has centered almost exclusively on one sector of publishing, STM journals, there is no reason to limit the discussion to that sector and indeed, given the interconnectedness of knowledge, it is unwise not to explore the implications of open access for all fields of knowledge lest an unfortunate new “digital divide” should arise between fields and between different types of publishing....

[FRPAA would require OA and] the American Council of Learned Societies, in its 2006 report on “Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences,” has advocated such open access for all social science and humanities scholarship. However, there is a wide range of models that can be subsumed under the generic term “open access,” with both risks and benefits to the entire system of scholarly communications that are as yet not fully understood....

On average, AAUP university-based members receive about 10% of their revenue as subsidies from their parent institution, 85% from sales, and 5% from other sources. Therefore the AAUP believes it is important to keep an open mind about what constitutes open access, since some kinds of open access are compatible with a market-based model. The National Academies Press, for instance, makes all of its books available online for free full-text browsing worldwide while offering both downloadable PDFs and print copies for sale.

For the more radical approaches that abandon the market as a viable basis for the recovery of costs in scholarly publishing and instead try to implement a model that has come to be known as the “gift economy” or the “subsidy economy,” the AAUP urges that the following points be kept in mind:

  1. BOAI-type open access will require large contributions from either the authors or other sources (including foundations and libraries, which pay “member” fees instead of paying for subscriptions). Scholars at less wealthy institutions or those with no institutional affiliations may experience greater difficulty in publishing unless fees are waived or reduced (a process that will increase the burden on other authors, who will have to pay higher fees to offset the waivers). This will be especially true for monographs....While inequities among users may be resolved by open-access publishing, they may resurface as inequities among authors.
  2. Costs for scholarly communication overall will not change radically, but merely be shifted from one sector of the university to another. For university presses and scholarly societies currently, only 17% to 20% of the publishing costs of monographs are spent on manufacturing, so most of their other expenses will still need to be covered....
  3. Requirements for fully free-to-user open access publishing of journal articles, whether through the journals themselves or by way of open institutional repositories or authors’ self-archiving, will undermine existing well-regarded services like Project MUSE....BOAI-style open access is inherently incompatible with site licensing as a model for journal publishing and archiving.
  4. In 2005, university presses recovered 90% of their operating costs, roughly $500 million, from sales. Of that $500 million, sales to libraries account for 15% to 20%, or $75 to $100 million. The rest comes from sales to general and college bookstores, to online retailers, and directly to individual scholars....
  5. If commercial publishers should decide to stop publishing research under the constrained circumstances envisioned by advocates of free-to-user open access, what happens to the journals abandoned by these publishers? How many of them could universities afford to subsidize through faculty grants? How much could universities with presses increase the output of their presses to accommodate the monographs now published commercially? ...In addition, the case of scholarly societies under BOAI-style open access is particularly worrying....Whether a given society’s publishing activities underwrite other services or must be supported by other revenues, funding for essential professional and scholarly activities would be jeopardized by a mandated shift to free-to-user open access, increasing the financial burdens on individual scholars as both authors and professionals.

For university presses, unlike commercial and society publishers, open access does not necessarily pose a threat to their operation and their pursuit of the mission to “advance knowledge, and to diffuse it...far and wide.” Presses can exist in a gift economy for at least the most scholarly of their publishing functions if costs are internally reallocated (from library purchases to faculty grants and press subsidies). But presses have increasingly been required by their parent universities to operate in the market economy, and the concern that presses have for the erosion of copyright protection directly reflects this pressure....

Also see the AAUP's press release.


  1. As the statement acknowledges, the OA movement applies to journal articles much more than to books.  The reason is simply that it focuses on literature "which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment" (to quote the BOAI).  There is a case to be  made for OA to monographs; I've often made it myself; and I applaud the AAUP for its willingness to consider it.  But it's no surprise that the economics of OA to books differs from the economics of OA to journal articles.  That's why no OA mandate or policy tells book publishers to convert to OA. 
  2. Likewise, no OA policy tells non-OA journals to convert to OA.  As I put it earlier this month, FRPAA "does not mandate that subscription-based journals convert to OA.  It does not tell any kind of journals what their access policies or business models ought to be.  It regulates grantees, not publishers."
  3. In its pure form, open access calls for an entirely new funding model, in which the costs of publishing research articles in journals are paid for by authors or by a funding agency.  This statement refers to OA without qualification but only applies to OA journals.  It is untrue of OA repositories.  There are several other places where the document would benefit from a careful distinction between OA journals and OA repositories.
  4. High-volume OA archiving will either cause journal cancellations or it won't.  If it won't, then publisher fears are groundless.  (This is the case in physics where OA archiving is most extensive.)  But if it will cause cancellations, then the money freed up by those cancellations will be available to pay for the OA alternative.  It's simply not true that OA journals depend on publisher gifts (even if they depend on author, editor, and referee gifts) and it's not true that the money to pay publishers must come from authors or foundations.  The money currently spent on subscription journals (ultimately from many different sources including taxpayers) is more than enough to pay for OA equivalents or successors.
  5. When the statement refers to "market-based models", it seems to mean selling something for a price --sometimes access, sometimes something else whose sale subsidizes access.  It's true, as the AAUP points out, that "some kinds of open access are compatible with a market-based model" in this sense.  For example, there are priced books with OA editions, and journals with priced access for a certain period and OA afterwards.  But it's a mistake to assume that "pure OA" rules out these kinds of revenue streams and requires an unqualified "gift economy".  The OA edition of a book can be "pure OA" even though there's also a priced, print edition.  When a journal offers OA to articles after an embargo period, it can be "pure OA" even though there was a period when access was priced.  When articles are deposited in OA repositories, they can be "pure OA" even though the journal's editions of the same articles are not OA.  In several places, the statement assumes that OA entails the end of revenue, by definition, and then draws frightening consequences from that assumption. 
  6. If the AAUP is saying that there are many business models for providing OA and that we should explore them boldly and open-mindedly, I fully agree.  I'm only puzzled at the implication that proponents of pure OA somehow denied this.  As I put it in my Open Access Overview, "OA is a kind of access, not a kind of business model....There are many business models compatible with OA....There's a lot of room for creativity in finding ways to pay the costs of a peer-reviewed OA journal or a general-purpose OA archive, and we're far from having exhausted our cleverness and imagination."
  7. [Under BOAI-type OA for journals] scholars at less wealthy institutions or those with no institutional affiliations may experience greater difficulty in publishing unless fees are waived or reduced.  This statement assumes that all OA journals charge author-side fees.  But in fact only a minority of them charge such fees --and, by contrast, a majority of subscription journals do.  The idea that any institutions will pay more for OA journals than they pay now for subscriptions is based on this false assumption.
  8. As I said, I welcome the AAUP's willingness to consider OA to monographs and I applaud (and in this blog regularly applaud) the AAUP members already running OA experiments.  I also support the AAUP's implicit argument at the end of the statement that universities are making a mistake to pressure their presses to behave more like their commercial counterparts.