Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, September 10, 2007

Universities paying twice v. publishers charging twice

Stevan Harnad, The "Double-Pay"/"Buy-Back" Argument for Open Access is Invalid, Open Access Archivangelism, September 9, 2007.

Summary:  There are many valid arguments for Open Access (OA), but the claim that researchers or their universities are currently "double-paying" to "buy back" access to their own research output -- by (1) paying for the conduct of the research, giving it to journals, and then (2) paying for subscriptions to access it -- is invalid. Researchers already have their own results, and so does their own university. What their university library subscriptions are paying for is to buy-in (not buy-back) the research output of other universities, exactly as with books written by authors from other universities. (Some research, universities and university libraries are funded by public funds, some not. Unless OA is to be limited to only that subset, that is not a sufficient rationale for OA either.)

There is a valid "double-payment" argument, though, when it is not the payer (the researcher, funder, or university) paying twice, but the payee -- the publisher -- getting paid twice (not necessarily by the same payer): This is the "Trojan Horse" of paying a "hybrid Gold OA" publisher (i.e., not a pure Gold OA publisher but a subscription-based publisher who offers the option of making individual articles OA in exchange for a fee) at a time when the potential funds for doing so are still tied up in the university subscriptions that are already paying that publisher's costs in full.

Publishers need only be paid once. If mandated Green OA should ever make cost-recovery from subscription payments unsustainable (because it makes university subscription demand disappear), then the resultant university subscription windfall savings can be redirected to pay for the peer review on the Gold OA model, with all access-provision and archiving off-loaded onto the distributed network of university OA Repositories.