Re: The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2004 16:01:01 +0000

This is a reply to a journalist:

> I am writing a feature about the open access debate

It is very important to remember two things that keep being systematically
overlooked or misunderstood, both by the press and the research/publishing

(1) The open access debate is about open access *provision*: It is
*not* just about open-access (OA) publishing (and the OA publishing
cost-recovery model).

(2) The open-access debate is partly connected to the journals serials
pricing crisis, but it is *not identical* with it.

There would have been an open-access movement, and a great and urgent
need maximise research access and impact through open access, even if
all toll-access (TA) journals (subscription, license, pay-to-view) were
sold *at-cost* (i.e., zero profit). Even then it would be true that most
researchers at most institutions worldwide could not access or use most
research, because no institution could afford the access tolls to all
or most journals even at-cost.

The problem is that research articles were never written to be sold! They
were written by researchers to be read, used, applied, and cited, in
the creation of further research ("research impact"). And most of its
potential uptake and impact is blocked if there are any access-tolls at all.
The tolls arose in the paper era, to cover the true costs of generating
and distributing a paper edition. They became obsolete in the online era
(for this special author give-away literature).

So it's not just, or even primarily about Elsevier's overpricing: It's
about the counterproductivity of any access-price barriers at all,
for this author give-away literature, written purely for research impact.

But the immediate solution is not necessarily, or exclusively,
or primarily to switch from the access-blocking toll-access journal
cost-recovery model to the open-access journal cost-recovery model. The
immediate solution is to provide open access (by either of the two
immediately available means: either publishing one's article in an
open-access journal, if a suitable one already exists, or publishing
one's article in a toll-access journal, but also self-archiving it in
one's own institution's open-access eprint archives)!

The prevailing journal cost-recovery models will probably stay in
place until and unless the availability of the authors' self-archived
open-access versions of their own toll-access journal articles --
provided as a *supplement* to toll-access (like the mailing out of free
reprints for all requesters, as researchers used to do in paper days)
for those would-be users worldwide whose institutions cannot afford the TA
access-tolls -- reduce the demand for the journal's toll-access version.

That cancellation pressure from the availability of the self-archived
OA versions will only build up gradually, because author/institution
self-archiving is a gradual, anarchic process, article by article, not
journal by journal; but in the meanwhile, researchers and research will
have open access already!

It is a mistake to think of the sole hope or the best hope for open access
*today* as being to await the conversion of the TA journals (23,000 of
them) to the OA cost-recovery model! That is likely to be resisted by
TA journal publishers, and hence would take a long, long time. But OA
itself can be had already, via the "green" road of author/institution
self-archiving, rather than just the "golden" road of OA publishing!

> Obviously Reed Elsevier has had a lot to say

Reed Elsevier is worrying mainly about the pricing wars: Institutional
libraries (the consumers) are (rightly) resisting Elsevier's "Big Deal"
bundles with their high prices. That is merely a (healthy) instance of
consumer/producer supply/demand struggles (with the universities at
last mobilizing their collective bargaining power, instead of remaining
the passive victims of what seemed for decades to be an irresistible,
inelastic demand, unable to stop price-rises).

But fighting for lower tolls is not at all the same as fighting for
open access (OA)!

OA journals are sometimes mentioned in connection with this pricing
war with Elsevier, but it is not clear that the few OA journals (5%)
that exist today (under 1000, according to DOAJ
are relevant to Elsevier's journal overpricing woes! There are 23,000 more
journals (95%), all TA, and most not overpriced, like Elsevier. Separate
the Elsevier price-war (primarily a university library budget issue)
from the problem of access to research (a research community issue).

    "The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition"

> [let's] talk about how open access can be made to work

In a word, here it is:

Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.

> especially with reference to the 'funding gap' that seems to
> have emerged between what the author is being asked to pay for publication
> and how much everyone seems to think it actually costs to publish;

Again, the funding gap is the serials-budget crisis: a supply/demand
issue that can and will be brought under control by library consortial

But open access is not about this funding gap, because the access problem
would still be there even if journal prices were driven down to just cost,
zero profit!

Open access is about something else. It could be provided if all 23,000
journals converted to the "gold" cost-recovery model, but as it is highly
unlikely that they will do that right now just because of researchers'
clamour for open access, researchers need to show that they really
want open access -- by furnishing it for one another themselves,
by self-archiving their own toll-access journal articles.

(Researchers are indeed doing that: at least 3 times as many articles
are being made OA today because they have been self-archived than
because they have been published in an OA journal, and self-archiving
is growing faster than OA publishing (far fewer obstacles): Yet even
self-archiving is still not growing anywhere near fast enough, for
at least 31 reasons --
one of them being the misunderstanding that we need to wait
passively for OA journals to be created or converted, one by one! ).

It is not good press either for open access or for the research
community's expressed need and desire for open access that although
Elsevier, for example, already has a "green" policy as regards open-access
provision via author self-archiving, most Elsevier authors are still
not self-archiving! (Would you, as a TA publisher, take seriously
the research community's clamour for OA -- let alone make the
sacrifice and take the risk of converting to the OA cost-recovery model
-- if that same research community had not yet even troubled to provide
open access for their own articles even when they had an official green
light to do so -- as they already do, for at least 55% of the journal

> [there is a] fear that paying for inclusion in an OA journal will
> merely lead to vanity publishing.

This is and always has been just a canard:

The quality of (and hence the author-demand for) peer-reviewed journals is
based on the rigour and selectivity of the peer-review they provide. i.e.,
on the journal's quality standards. You can't buy your way into a
peer-reviewed journal. Acceptance depends on the peers (the qualified
experts, who review for the journals for free!). If a journal relaxes
its quality standards and lowers its rejection-rate to get buy-in
dollars, it simply loses its quality track-record and citation impact
(and peer-reviewers), and then authors no longer want to be published
in it! (Peer-review has its own "supply/demand" criteria, having nothing
to do with money.)

So the "vanity press" worry is groundless. See:

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at the American Scientist Open Access Forum:
        To join the Forum:
        Post discussion to:
        Hypermail Archive:

Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Wed Jan 21 2004 - 16:01:01 GMT

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