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Thursday, June 26, 2008

More on whether gold OA should wait for green OA

Stevan Harnad, Waiting for Gold, Open Access Archivangelism, June 25, 2008.  Excerpt:

Richard Poynder asks (in the American Scientist Open Access Forum):

[1] Is it true that a Gold OA article-processing-charge model will create a situation in which "publishers are operating in a genuinely competitive market to offer a service that is good value for money"?

[2] If it is true, then is not Stevan Harnad's concern that before moving to Gold OA we must first "downsize publishing and its costs to just the costs of peer review" by "offloading access-provision, archiving and their costs onto the network of Green OA Institutional Repositories" a misplaced concern?

Excellent question(s)!

i. The answer to Question [1] would be "Yes" if all or most (refereed) journals today were Gold OA. But the vast majority of journals are non-OA. Hence the competition is just among a minority of journals (about 10-15%, and mostly not the top 10-15%).

ii. Meanwhile, without universal Green OA, the functions of access-provision and archiving -- and their costs -- continue to be a part of journal publishing, both Gold OA and non-OA, with all journals also still providing the PDF (with its costs) too....I just point out that this is a long way from providing just peer review alone. Nor does there look to be a transition scenario, in the absence of Green OA and a distributed network of Green OA Institutional Repositories to take over the function of access-provision and archiving.

iii. The answer to question [1] being hence "No," conditional question [2] becomes moot.

iv. There is a known, tried, tested way of scaling to 100% OA, and it has been demonstrated to work: Green OA self-archiving and Green OA self-archiving mandates.

v. Unlike Gold OA, which not only faces substantial scaling problems but is not in the hands of the research community, Green OA is entirely in the hands of the research community and can be (and has been) mandated (and the mandates work).

vi. So what are we waiting for?

Comments.  I agree that these are excellent questions. 

  • My answer to [1] is yes.  Not all OA journals are or will be fee-based.  But for those that are, there will be some market-like competition to deliver value comparable to the fee, or to keep fees within shouting distance of value.  I say "market-like" because there will still be forces at work reducing market competition, such as journal prestige, at least when that prestige is less a function of present value than past value, longevity, and support by conservative promotion and tenure committees.  There will also be hybrid OA journals feeling no pressure to keep fees low because they don't need author uptake and can always fall back on subscriptions.  With these qualifications, we should see some competition among fee-based OA journals on the level of the fee.  At least we should see more competition of that kind than we see today among subscription-based TA journals on the price of subscriptions.  In general, TA journals compete for submissions but not for subscriptions.  They are largely insulated from price competition by fact that they publish different papers, or are not fungible.  Hence, inexpensive and even free journals don't remove pressure on libraries to subscribe to expensive journals, even when the rival journals occupy the same research niche.  Of course competition among TA journals is also reduced by bundling, which makes it difficult for libraries to cancel even unused or second-rate journals.  Hence, to say that there will be more fee competition among fee-based OA journals than there is currently price competition among TA journals is to set the bar pretty low.  But I'm predicting that there will be at least that much competition.  There could be much more.
  • My answer to [2] is probably well-known and I won't dwell on it here.  We should pursue gold and green OA (OA journals and OA repositories) in parallel.  They are compatible and complementary, and neither needs to wait for the other.