Re: Author Publication Charge Debate

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 7 Feb 2004 18:53:51 +0000

I think A.R. Suhail continues to misunderstand a rather fundamental point
here. His suggestion is that OA journals are not a good idea because
they are unaffordable for some authors. My reply was that there is a
free alternative for any author who either cannot afford to publish in
an OA journal or for whom a suitable OA journal does not exist: Publish
in a conventional toll-access (TA) journal and make your article OA by
self-archiving it.

Suhail unfortunately continues to pass over this point in silence,
returning repeatedly to his own point that if an author spends his money
on publishing in an OA journal (as Suhail has done, once), he has less
money to purchase access to TA articles. Suhail also repeats that (because
of the OA journal affordability problem), delayed (embargoed) access a
year after publication should be the goal, not OA! (Once again, passing
over OA self-archiving in silence.)

Over 95% of journals today are TA and fewer than 5% are OA. Consequently,
the OA journal option for providing immediate OA to an author's own articles
is a 5% option even if *every* author could afford it. The only OA option
for the remaining 95% of articles is already self-archiving. Wouldn't
the rational application of Suhail's observation that not all authors
can afford to publish in an OA journal be that those authors' articles
(whatever fraction they actually represent of the 5% for which there
exists a suitable OA journal today) should simply be added to the 95%
of articles for which the author provides OA by self-archiving them --
rather than to take them as an argument against providing OA through OA
publishing if and when it is available, and affordable?

(In addition, it needs to be pointed out that the OA/TA distinction mainly
concerns institutional tolls, rather than individual-user tolls. Users
have access to the TA journals for which their own institutions can
afford to pay the tolls. They may occasionally take out an individual TA
subscription, or may pay TA for an individual article on an individual
pay-to-view basis. But the lion's share of worldwide TA expenditure -- and
of the TA access-denial/impact-denial problem -- is in the institutional
tolls; individual subscription tolls have long ceased to be a significant
means of accessing the journal literature in the online age. Moreover,
at most institutions, even the user's individual pay-to-view and
interlibrary-loan tolls are paid by the user's institution, rather than
by the user. Once again, one cannot and should not generalise from the
fraction of cases where a user may still be spending money from his own
pocket to access the journal literature to the vast majority in which
it is the user's institution that is bearing this burden. And certainly
not as a rationale for arguing against either OA journals or OA.)

Some comments. I wrote:

>sh> The user of N articles is one person, the author publishing in an
>sh> OA journal is another. (And A.R. Suhail has completely overlooked
>sh> my main point about the option of self-archiving for the author
>sh> who either does not have a suitable OA journal to publish in,
>sh> or cannot afford to.)

Suhail A. R. replied:

> Cheaper for both. The user of N articles [spends] less if he does
> not publish his subsequent work in an OA journal. That is what
> makes research, not just possible but also affordable to him.

If the user cannot afford to provide OA to his own articles by publishing
them in an OA journal, he should provide OA to them by self-archiving
them. So there is no relationship whatsoever between (1) the affordability
of individual (as opposed to institutional) TA to an individual as a
user and (2) the affordability of OA journal publication costs to an
individual as an author: If the OA journal is unaffordable for you,
publish in a TA journal and self-archive. Then use whatever money you
had intended to use for accessing TA journal articles exactly as you had
intended, not one penny less. (And know that in having made your *own*
articles OA for other users by self-archiving them, you have made an
investment toward eventually having OA to *their* articles too!)

     Harnad, S. (2003) Self-Archive Unto Others as Ye Would Have Them
     Self-Archive Unto You. University Affairs, December 2003

>sh> You are comparing apples and oranges (users/institutions accessing
>sh> the articles of others versus authors/institutions paying to publish
>sh> their own articles) and omitting the author's other (free) option:
>sh> self-archiving.
> It boils down to the same issue. I will not pay to access articles if I know
> that I will not be able to publish subsequently due to prohibitive costs.

*What* boils down to the same issue? (1) apples (users/institutions paying
TA to access the TA articles of others), (2) oranges (authors/institutions
paying OA journals to publish their own articles so as to make them OA to others)
or (3) bananas (authors/institutions paying nothing to publish in TA journals and
self-archiving their articles to make them OA to others)?

If OA journals are unaffordable for an author's own articles because of the
author's individual TA expenditures for access to TA articles by others, let the
author not publish in an OA journal but make his own TA articles OA by
self-archiving them -- and use all his available money to pay for the TA articles
of others as before.

> A major motivation to research is letting others know about it. No one does
> research simply for personal satisfaction, except those not interested in
> career development.

Correct. Which is precisely the reason all authors should provide
immediate OA to their own articles -- whether by publishing them in an OA
journal (5%) or by self-archiving them (95%). What author wants a 1-year
embargo before those would-be users who cannot afford the access-tolls
can use his work! How does that help develop their careers?

>sh> The question is not how many embargoed articles can I *buy* but how
>sh> many embargoed articles can I *use* (if access is toll-free). The
>sh> answer is: far, far more than you can even imagine. And this is
>sh> what the open-access movement is all about.
> While authors like us have to pay for open access, we do not have the luxury
> of contemplating how many we can *use*.

Then contemplate instead how many would-be users could and would use
*your* article if they (or their institutions) did not have to pay tolls
to do so. (Then imagine yourself as one of those users!)

(The point -- apparently still not clear to Suhail -- is that
toll-free usage levels are incomparably higher than toll-constrained
ones. That is why *authors* should be focusing on providing immediate
OA to their own articles by every means available, rather than merely
focusing on the minor and self-imposed side-issue of trading off their
own individual TA access budgets against their own individual OA
publishing budgets!)

> It all boils down to money either way, and I have learnt from bitter
> experience that how many you can buy determines how many you can *use*.

Back to the minor and self-imposed side-issue again!

> We must all remember that while an idea (eg OA) may be good for a
> section of the community where research is institutionalised, it may
> not necessarily be practical or beneficial to others out of those systems.

(1) "OA" does not equal "OA journal-publishing" (5%). (There is OA
self-archiving too (95%)).

(2) OA is beneficial to the author as well as to the user.

(3) OA's benefits (or feasibility) have nothing to do with whether or
not research is "institutionalised."

(4) The feasibility of providing OA does not depend on whether or not
the author can afford OA publishing charges.

> If we all made the mistake of supporting the current author charged
> OA system and all free submissions were to close down, I estimate that
> two-thirds of the researchers (not two-thirds of research output) would
> immediately find it impossible to publish.

(5) Supporting cost-recovery for OA journals is not a mistake but
a necessity, if there are to be OA journals at all; but neither
publishing in OA journals nor paying its costs is a necessity in order
to provide OA to an author's articles: There is also the 95% alternative:

(6) If all articles for which (i) there exists a suitable OA journal
today (c. 5%) and (ii) their author can afford it were to be published
in those OA journals, that would be very good for OA, and would help OA
journals grow beyond 5%, but it would come *no where close* to "closing
down" the remaining TA journals (95%)!

(7) Even if all the remaining articles (95%) were made OA by their authors
by self-archiving them, it is not at all clear that that that would close
down or convert the remaining TA journals (95%) into OA journals. That
is a possibility, but by no means a certainty; if it did, though,
it would also generate institutional windfall savings that would
be more than enough to pay for all institutional author OA journal
publishing charges without requiring a penny from the author's pocket:

(8) What is a certainty, however, is that we are nowhere near
having provided the 100% OA on which all the rest of this is
contingent. (Instead, we are at this moment treating the 5% option as
if it were the *only* OA option, and as if current individual-user TA
charges were a reason to reject that 5% option, because it would somehow
make 2/3 of authors unable to publish!)

> Finally, why should an OA journal decide who or who not to give waivers to?.
> I think one way around OA is to make waiver rules that are not in the
> individual journals control. In other words, if an OA journal is to start,
> then it has to follow an international waiver standard by law. These waivers
> would then automatically apply to non funded research regardless of where it
> originates from. The journal then makes its living from funded research
> work. Will this work....I don't really know.

I suggest that these recommendations be directed to the OA journal
publishers. They are of very little immediate relevance or interest to
those whose immediate interest is in Open Access, Now. (Why an
author for whom OA journal publishing is unaffordable today would prefer
pondering OA journal "waiver" policy rather than immediately providing
OA to his articles by self-archiving them is another of Zeno's Koans for
which I have no answer, and can only leave to future historians of the
research community's needlessly sluggish trajectory toward the optimal
and inevitable outcome for research, researchers, and the society that
funds and benefits from the research.)

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sat Feb 07 2004 - 18:53:51 GMT

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