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Thursday, May 22, 2008

More misunderstanding of OA journal business models

Raghavendra Gadagkar, Open-access more harm than good in developing world, Nature, May 22, 2008.  A letter to the editor (accessible only to subscribers).  Excerpt:

The traditional ‘publish for free and pay to read’ business model adopted by publishers of academic journals can lead to disparity in access to scholarly literature, exacerbated by rising journal costs and shrinking library budgets. However, although the ‘pay to publish and read for free’ business model of open-access publishing has helped to create a level playing field for readers, it does more harm than good in the developing world....

Page charges may be waived for authors who cannot afford to pay, but a model that depends on payment by authors can afford only a few such waivers. And why should anyone want to survive on charity? The argument that it is the granting agency and not the author that pays does not wash either. If anything, the playing field for grants is even more uneven. Besides, this will undermine, rather than encourage, the whole area of grant-free research....

A ‘publish for free, read for free’ model may one day prove to be viable. Meanwhile, if I have to choose between the two evils, I prefer the ‘publish for free and pay to read’ model over the ‘pay to publish and read for free’ one. Because if I must choose between publishing or reading, I would choose to publish. Who would not?


  • I blame Nature, not the author, for the misleading title on this letter.  Gadagkar's argument is not against OA as such, or even OA journals as such, but against fee-based OA journals or "the ‘pay to publish and read for free’ business model".
  • Gadagkar is aware that many fee-based OA journals waive their fees in cases of economic hardship (although we should not confuse publication fees at OA journals with "page charges").  He's also aware that many funding agencies allow grantees use grant funds to pay the fees.  He finds these two mitigations insufficient and I won't comment on his criticisms. 
  • But he is apparently unaware that most OA journals charge no publication fees at all.  To repeat the data from my previous post (coincidentally relevant here):  as of late 2007, 67% of the journals listed in the DOAJ charged no publication fees, and 83% of OA journals from society publishers charged no publication fees.  He says that "A ‘publish for free, read for free’ model may one day prove to be viable..." as if it were untried, when in fact it is the majority model around the world.  Moreover, it's the exclusive model in his own country.  To the best of my knowledge, all OA journals published in India are of the no-fee variety.
  • Finally, it's important to remember that OA archiving already follows the model of no fees for readers and no fees for authors, and it works equally well for unrefereed preprints and refereed postprints.  Just this week, the OA repository at Gadagkar's employer, the Indian Institute of Science, passed the milestone of 10,000 deposits

Update.  Also see comments by Stevan Harnad, Barbara Kirsop, Thomas Mailund, and RPM.

Update (5/26/08). Stevan Harnad has updated his reply to Gadagkar in a blog post. Excerpt:

The usual reply [to concerns about OA journal publication fees] is that (1) many Gold OA journals do not charge a publishing fee and (2) exceptions are made for authors who cannot pay. More important, there is also Green OA self-archiving, and the self-archiving mandates increasingly being adopted by universities (e.g. Harvard) and research funders (e.g. NIH).

Self-archiving costs nothing, and if it ever makes subscriptions unsustainable it will at the same time generate the windfall institutional savings out of which to pay for OA publishing instead.

Nor are the costs of publishing likely to remain the same under self-archiving....