Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, March 16, 2009

PRC report confirms majority publisher support for green OA

The Publishing Research Consortium has released a new report by Sally Morris, Journal Authors’ Rights:  perception and reality (March 2009). 

From today's announcement:

Using re-analysis of the recently published ALPSP report Scholarly Publishing Practice 3 (which looks at the practice of 181 publishers, representing 75% of all articles), and a new survey of 1163 authors, the report compares what publishers actually allow authors to do with the different versions of their manuscript, and what they want to do and believe they are permitted to do.

For both the submitted and the accepted version of their manuscript, the majority of publishers’ agreements (as calculated by the number of articles they publish) allow authors to provide copies to colleagues, to incorporate into their own works, to post to a personal or departmental website or to an institutional repository, and to use in course packs;  just under 50% also permit posting to a subject repository.  However, far fewer authors think they can do any of these than are in fact allowed to do so.

The published PDF version is the version that authors would prefer to use for all the above purposes; again, publishers’ agreements exceed authors’ expectations for providing copies to colleagues, incorporating in subsequent work, and use in course packs.  However, the picture is turned on its head when it comes to self-archiving;  more than half of authors think that publishers allow them to deposit the final PDF, whereas under 10% of publishers actually permit this – probably because of serious concerns about the long-term impact on subscriptions.

Why do authors have such a poor understanding of publishers’ agreements?  The PRC concludes that publishers need to do much more to make sure that their terms are crystal clear, but also suggests that the ambiguous term ‘preprint’ may mislead authors, and should be dropped in favour of the recommended NISO terminology ["author's original" or "submitted manuscript under review" or "submitted version"].


  • This is a welcome report.  It's true that most publishers allow authors to deposit their peer-reviewed manuscripts in institutional repositories and it's true that this important fact is not widely known.  I included this fact in my short list of Six things that researchers need to know about open access (February 2006), and could support myself and half the OA journals in my field if I got a dollar for every time I've had to repeat it.  In the April issue of my newsletter I'm writing about common misunderstandings about OA, and I'll be repeating this fact once again, as the correction to an insidious error. 
  • I admit that in dark moments over past seven or eight years I've thought that publishers did not want to publicize this fact, and that publishers who'd already agreed to permit green OA were more interested in rescinding their permission than enlightening authors about the opportunity.  This report is welcome in part for the evidence that publishers want to enlighten authors.
  • One lesson from this fact:  At most publishers and most journals, the door is already open to green OA.  We are impeded more by authors who don't seize the opportunity than by publishers who don't give permission.  The primary role for funder and university OA policies is to nudge authors, who from inertia, busyness, or lack of familiarity with their options, are not already acting.  (A secondary role, at least at rights-retention or loophole-free mandates, like that at the NIH, is to secure permission at 100% of the journals where researchers publish, not just those already granting permission.)
  • If you look at figures 8 and 10 in the summary paper, you'll see that more than 70% of publishers surveyed for this study allow authors to deposit the "accepted version" of their manuscript in an institutional repository.  Unfortunately, I have to read this value off a bar chart and can't find the exact number anywhere in the text.  As of today, SHERPA reports that 51% of surveyed publishers allow authors to deposit their "postprint" ("final draft post-refereeing") in at least one kind of OA repository.  While PRC and SHERPA use slightly different terminology, these appear to be attempts to measure the same quantity.  The disparity needs some explanation.  The PRC study surveyed 400 publishers and got 203 usable responses (p. 5), and SHERPA has surveyed 545 publishers.  How much of the disparity, if any, is due to the publishers SHERPA surveyed which PRC did not?  How much, if any, is due to their use of slightly different terms? 

Update (3/16/09).  Also see Stevan Harnad's comments:

This report is welcome for strongly confirming what was already known from the Romeo directory of publisher self-archiving policies....

It is also quite correct that:

(1) Most publishers endorse only the immediate, unembargoed self-archiving of the author's refereed, revised, accepted final draft, not the publisher's proprietary PDF.
(2) Most publishers endorse immediate, unembargoed self-archiving only on the author's institutional website, not on a 3rd-party website, such as a central or subject-based repository.

Both of these limitations are just fine and in no way limit or compromise the provision of (Green, gratis) Open Access. What would-be users worldwide who do not have subscription access to the publisher's proprietary PDF urgently need today is access to the refereed research itself, and that is what depositing it into the author's Institutional repository provides.

Although the word "print" is somewhat misleading in the online era, because most eprints are not printed out at all, but consulted only in their online version, the preprint/postprint distinction is perfectly coherent: a preprint is any draft preceding the author's final, accepted, refereed version, and a postprint is any draft from the author's final, accepted refereed version onward (including the publisher's PDF). Preprint/postprint marks the essential OA distinction: There is no need to use the complicated NISO terminology instead.

The PRC Report is quite right that authors are still greatly under-informed about Open Access, Self-Archiving, and Rights. Universities need to master the essential information and then convey it to their researchers.