Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gold OA and two forms of payment

Jan Velterop, It's about copyright, right?  The Parachute, February 21, 2007.  Excerpt:

...[T]ransfer of exclusive rights to a publisher is a form of 'payment'. Payment for the services of a publisher. The publisher subsequently uses these exclusive rights to sell subscriptions and licences in order to recoup his costs, in a rather roundabout way. This form of payment as opposed to cash has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is seemingly for the author, who (mistakenly) has the feeling that he doesn't have to pay for the services of formal publication of his article, but who seldom realises why he is asked to transfer exclusive rights. The disadvantage is that payment in the form of exclusive rights limits access, because it needs a subscription/licence model to convert this form of 'payment' into money. And subscriptions/licences are by definition restrictive in terms of dissemination. Article fee supported open access publishing, where the transfer of exclusive rights is replaced by the transfer of money, consequently doesn't have the need for subscriptions and can therefore abolish all restrictions on dissemination....

I am a great fan of open access, but not a great fan of 'green'. 'Green' is a kind of appeasement by publishers (some of who, it must be said, themselves didn't sometimes still don't realise the 'payment' nature of exclusive rights transfer). Appeasement is often regretted with hindsight. Instead of allowing the nature of exclusive rights transfer to be compromised, publishers should much earlier have offered authors the choice of payment either transfer of exclusive rights, or cash. The appeasement, the 'green', now acts as a hurdle to structural open access, perhaps even an impediment.

Harnadian orthodoxy will dismiss this. It holds that subscription journals will survive, that they will be paid for by librarians even if the content is freely disseminated in parallel via open repositories, and that it doesn't matter anyway (the guru is tentatively beginning to admit that large scale uptake of self-archiving, for instance as the result of mandates, may indeed destroy journals) because a new order will only come about after the complete destruction of the old order....

Marginal journals do not have to suffer a lot of subscription loss before they go under....They could of course convert to open access journals with article processing fees, but setting those up is no sinecure, and requires a substantial financial commitment, as the experience of PLoS and BMC has shown. Journals that are run for the love of it, by the commendable voluntary efforts of academics, are mostly very small, and are the first to be affected, unless, of course, they do not need any income because they are crypto-subsidised by the institutions with which their editors are affiliated. Such journals have always been there and there are probably more now than ever (and some are very good indeed, or so I'm told), but to imagine scaling them up to deal with the million plus articles per year published as a result of global research efforts seems far-fetched, indeed.

Open access is the inevitable future, and it is worth working on a truly robust and sustainable way to achieve it.