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

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 23 Jan 2004 17:18:28 +0000


          Stevan Harnad

David Prosser raises some important questions.

The serials-pricing (or Affordable Access, AA) problem and the
open-access (OA) problem, though connected, are not the same problem! And
misunderstanding them to be and treating them as if they were the same
is actually holding back the solution to both problems.

AA: The serials-pricing/affordable-access problem (indeed crisis) is
that many journals cost too much, their prices keep rising, and so the
number of journals an institution can afford keeps shrinking as journals
consume more and more of the institution's library acquisitions budget.

OA: The open-access problem is that no research article is accessible to
anywhere near all of its would-be users, hence research progress and
impact are being lost. This problem is only partly connected to the serials
pricing problem, because even if all 24,000 journals were sold *at-cost* it
would still be true that no research article was accessible to all of its
would-be users: It would only be the case that somewhat more of them were
accessible to somewhat more users.

AA: The solution to the library serials-pricing problem is to reduce serials
prices to where enough of them are affordable, and no longer cannibalise the
acquisitions budget.

OA: The solution to the open-access problem is for all 2,500,000 annual
articles in all 24,000 peer-reviewed journals to be openly accessible
online to each and every one if its would-be users webwide.

It is obvious that whereas the OA solution is also a solution to the AA
problem, the AA solution is not a solution to the OA problem: Affordable
Access is not Open Access; but Open Access would either reduce the pressure
on institutions to subscribe to more journals than they can afford (since
what they cannot afford is still accessible to their users), or would
drive journals from the toll-access (TA) cost-recovery model (through
user-institution access-tolls per incoming journal or article) to the OA
("gold") cost-recovery model (to author-institution peer-review/certification
charges per outgoing article).

The problem is getting there from here!

Institutional libraries have to make do from year to year, trying to make
the best of their finite budgets. OA ("gold") journals today promise
them no immediate relief at all for their AA problem; on the contrary,
they represent a further institutional expense.


OA self-archiving likewise offers no immediate relief to institutional
libraries for their AA problems, because self-archiving grows anarchically,
article by article, not journal by journal, so it is not clear whether and
when it would be safe to cancel any given TA journal.

Patience again!

Just as it would be a great strategic mistake for institutions to reject
gold OA journals now, as being merely an added expense, with no AA savings,
it would be a great strategic mistake to cancel "green" TA journals now:
These are the journals that support OA self-archiving! Both the support
of gold journals and the support of green journals by libraries are
investments in OA (which, as noted, is also an eventual solution to AA).

So institutional libraries should (and must) pursue AA from year to year
for now, but let them not do it only locally and blindly: Keep an eye on
the larger picture. If you reject gold journals, or cancel fairly-priced
green journals (because they are green!), you simply act against your
own long-term interests (and those of the research community). to support
them is to *invest* in eventual universal OA.

Now I will answer David's query directly:

On Fri, 23 Jan 2004, David Prosser wrote:

>sh> Parts of physics have been self-archiving since 1991. Some subfields of it,
>sh> like HEP, have reached 100% open-access that way some time ago. Yet no physics
>sh> journal has folded or even experienced cancellation pressure. Indeed one prominent
>sh> "born-gold" journal, JHEP, which reached a whopping impact factor of 7 within a
>sh> few years of its launching, has since reverted from the gold cost-recovery model
>sh> (OA) to the green one (TA), yet 100% of its contents were, are, and remain OA via
>sh> self-archiving!
> My question is Friday afternoon musing for the librarians reading - why
> are you subscribing to physics journals where the majority (if not all)
> of the material is available for free?

Self-archiving is anarchic: It is never quite clear at what point 100%
of a journal is openly accessible. That is no doubt one factor in the
non-cancellation of green journals. Another factor is that although there
are green journals in all price-ranges, the ones whose contents approach
100% self-archiving also happen to be the fairly-priced journals, like
the APS journals, and libraries do not wish to penalise them for being
fairly priced (and green!). In the case of supporting the reversion of
JHEP from gold to green, I think the libraries were again trying to support
a progressive journal, fairly priced, and needing to make ends meet. In
some cases libraries still wish to keep ordering the print edition.

> Is it because your readers value the formatting?

Empirical question. Might be a factor, but probably a minor one.

> Is there sufficient difference between the pre-prints and final versions?

Varies from article to article, but in physics, where there is a
substantive difference, the final postprint is self-archived too. So
again this is probably a very minor factor.

> Is it force of habit?

No doubt in part. But I hope there is some conscious reflection behind it too.

> Is it because they come as part of large bundles
> and it is easier to take them than to cancel?

Perhaps in part, but again likely to be a minor factor.

> If you now subscribe to JHEP why did you make that decision?

I have speculated about why; it's for librarians to provide the actual data.

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 Fri Jan 23 2004 - 17:18:28 GMT

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