Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More on flipping TA journals to OA

SCOAP3 and the pre-emptive "flip" model for Gold OA conversion, Open Access Archivangelism, June 23, 2008. 

Summary:  Journal articles are purchased by institutions, or consortia of institutions, in bulk (jointly aggregated in journals, multi-journal fleets, or even multi-publisher fleets of fleets), whereas individual articles are published by authors individually, in their journal of choice (and only if and when they successfully pass that journal's peer review).

Mark Rowse, former CEO of INGENTA, a journal subscription aggregator, has suggested that institutions and institutional consortia could "flip" collectively, from paying annually for subscription licenses that buy-in journals in bulk, to paying annually instead for the publishing (Gold OA) of their own institution's outgoing articles, likewise in bulk, in the same fleet of journals.

SCOAP3 is an experimental implementation of a pre-emptive Rowsean flip, but it is local, and in a unique field (particle physics) that already provides 100% Green OA by self-archiving. SCOAP3's is hence simply a consortial subsidy ("sponsorship") to replace former subscriptions.

This is unlikely to be globally scalable across disciplines, institutions, authors, articles and (competing) journals, not only because the asking price today is too high, but because successfully passing peer review is an individual author - article - journal - referee matter rather than something to be annually "bulk-subscribed" to, consortially, in advance. 

By way of an alternative, institutional Green OA self-archiving and mandates, unlike a Rowsean flip, can not only scale universally to provide 100% (Green) OA, but they can also prepare the ground for an eventual non-pre-emptive, non-Rowsean "flip" to Gold OA, by first offloading access-provision, archiving and their costs onto the network of Green OA Institutional Repositories, thereby helping to downsize publishing and its costs to just the costs of peer review.

Those remaining costs can then be covered on an individual paper basis (non-bulk, non-consortial, non-aggregated, non-subscription, non-annual, non-pre-emptive) out of individual institutional subscription cancellation savings -- if and when Green OA should ever make subscriptions globally unsustainable. (Till then, no need for any pre-emptive conversion at all.)


  • Stevan links to Mark Rowse's one-paragraph description of the flip model from a 2003 interview.  For much more detail, see the article-length elaboration I wrote with Rowse in October 2007.  The long version answers most of Stevan's objections.  For example, the model does not require high publication fees.  It's compatible with any low fees that actually cover a journal's expenses.  In fact, the model includes incentives to reduce fees over time.  (In my article I even sketch ways in which a journal could flip to a no-fee OA journal rather than a fee-based OA journal.)  The model does not say that all journals can flip successfully, and identifies the conditions that would enable them to do so.  It doesn't claim to work for all journals in all fields, although it would claim to work for journals outside physics and SCOAP3.  The model does not depend on the consortial purchasing arrangement adopted by SCOAP3.  It can be adopted by single journals or by a publisher's suite of journals, whether or not the institutions that formerly paid subscriptions are working in concert.  Or to put the final point another way, the Rowsean flip is a journal initiative, not a subscriber initiative, and does not depend on subscriber consortia.  (In my article, however, I sketch ways in which university consortia could invite or persuade publishers to flip their journals.)
  • I completely agree with Stevan on the need for green OA mandates at universities.  But those mandates are entirely compatible with the Rowsean flip model.  Green OA mandates, for example, don't require universities to cancel TA journals.  And conversely, subscription payments may be onerous, but they don't prevent universities from adopting green OA policies.  But if universities with green OA policies can continue to pay for TA journals, then they can continue to pay the same amounts to the same journals after they have flipped to OA.  The compatibility is even clearer if those amounts do in fact decline over time.