Re: The Green and Gold Roads to Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 12 Dec 2004 14:43:40 +0000

On Sat, 11 Dec 2004, Rick Anderson wrote:

> > (1) What is the something that needs to be kept in mind?
> I repeat: it is that offering a scholarly author lots of readers may
> not tempt her to publish in an OA journal unless publishing in that
> journal will also confer upon her professional prestige. For example,
> as a tenure-seeking librarian, I would rather publish an article in,
> say, Serials Review than, say, American Libraries -- even though AL has
> many more readers than SR.

And you are quite right to publish in the peer-reviewed journal that
has the track record for the highest quality standards and prestige in
your field (if that is indeed Serials Review!).

But there is a systematic misunderstanding here (and that is why I have again
redirected the discussion to the existing AmSci topic thread that has already been
discussing this for some time): The misunderstanding is two-fold: It is either

    (1) being unaware of the green road to 100% OA (OA self-archiving
    of non-OA journal articles) altogether, and hence treating OA as
    if the only road to it were the golden road (creating/converting OA
    journals and publishing one's articles in them)


    (2) being aware of both roads, but imagining that they can be treated
    independently, as if the other possibility did not even exist.

I repeat: the *premise* of OA is peer-reviewed journal publication. If
it were not, then (research) authors could maximize their potential readership
by simply doing vanity self-publishing on their web pages:

Moreover, it is part of that same premise (and has nothing to do with OA
per se) that the (research) author wants to publish in the most suitable
journal for his findings, both in terms of its subject matter and in terms
of its established quality standards ("prestige").

So it is only on the assumption that this premise has been fulfilled -- publishing
in the most suitable, highest-quality peer-reviewed journal that will accept the
article -- that the further question of maximizing users and usage comes up: There
is no trade-off between this second question and the fulfillment of the first
premise. And here is how the second question is answered:

    (Gold): Is the most suitable, highest-quality peer-reviewed journal
    that will accept my article an OA journal? Then publish it there.

    (Green): Is the most suitable, highest-quality peer-reviewed journal
    that will accept my article a non-OA journal? Then publish it there
    and also self-archive it to make it OA.

That way users and usage are maximized either way, and no potential users, usage
or impact are needlessly lost.

You, Rick, have instead been systematically bracketing the Green option, and
treating what I had proposed based on the full spectrum of options as if it
applied only to Gold:

    "Surely authors don't just want to maximize readers at all costs:
    They want journal prestige too, perhaps even more!"

But that's like giving a person a one-sided choice between stating that
he either (1a) has or (1b) has not stopped beating his wife (without room
for the premise that (2) he has never beaten his wife -- or has no wife
at all!).

The rationale for OA is not that the author just wishes to maximize his readers
at all costs: It is that he wants to maximize his readers for articles he has
published in the most suitable, highest-quality peer-reviewed journal that
will accept them. First fulfill the (non-OA) premise, *then* ask the question
about how to maximize users, usage and impact.

And the reason Rick keeps getting stuck in this one-sided choice between (1a)
maximizing "prestige" and (1b) maximizing readership is that he thinks (1) Gold
is the only OA option, or an option that somehow can and should be weighed
independently of the other OA option, which is (2) Green.

This is logically incoherent, hence strategically counterproductive.

> > (2) What do you mean by "OA providers"? The authors who
> > self-archive? The authors who publish in OA journals? Or the
> > publishers of OA journals?
> Mainly, I'm talking about publishers of OA journals, since they're
> the ones who need to figure out how they're going to attract authors.
> You're right that self-archiving is a separate issue. I keep trying
> to talk about OA publishing. (That would probably be clearer to all if
> you didn't keep changing my subject headers for me.)

I said self-archiving is *another option*, not a "separate issue"!

Yes, OA journals (like all new journals) have to figure out how to
attract authors. The fact that they can offer higher readership is a plus,
but that does not offset the handicap of being a new journal, without
a track-record and often with no impact factor yet. Moreover (and this
is a subtle point, but an *extremely* pertinent one): Even the prospect
of a maximized online readership with an OA journal -- the only reason,
after all, that an *author* should consider preferring an OA journal
over a non-OA journal at all! -- must be weighed against the alternative
of publishing in a more suitable non-OA journal and self-archiving! For
that too provides the maximized online readership!

So Gold and Green cannot be treated as if they were two independent options: They
interact, and the whole OA picture has to be kept in view and in focus, not just
the local region one might prefer (usually because of tunnel vision!).

And yes, I continue to re-direct postings to their proper topic-threads. A lot of
ground has already been covered in this Forum since 1998. This has never been
an unmoderated chat-group in which discussion could flow willy-nilly, posters
changing subject-headers at will ["Walt's a Wanker: (Was: The Rise
and Fall of the British Empire)". As moderator I have always actively
kept the subject-headers focussed, with an eye not only to keeping the
discussion on-topic, but also to making the discussion archive navigable
and useful to current workers and future historians alike:

    "Please Try to Use Current Subject Headers" (1998)

(And the reason I explicitly pointed out that there are *three* kinds of
OA "providers" -- (1) authors who choose to publish in gold (OA)
journals, (2) authors who choose to publish in green (non-OA) journals
and self-archive, and (3) publishers who choose to publish gold (OA)
journals that make their contents free online -- was to remind everyone
that both the *choice* to make their articles OA, and the benefits of
doing so, are mostly in the hands of their authors, not someone else!)

> > (3) The "option of publishing in a non-OA forum"? Why not
> > call a spade a spade and say "non-OA *journal*"?
> Um... because not all non-OA fora are journals?

If you mean peer-reviewed conference proceedings, you're right (and I use
"journal" as a shorthand for them too, more or less as Ulrich's does).

But if you mean anything else -- e.g., books or unrefereed magazines -- those
are *not* what OA is about. (Esoteric monographs may eventually come under
the OA umbrella too, but for now, the only clearcut targets are the 2.5
million articles appearing in the world's 24,000 refereed journals [and
conference proceedings], and 80% of them have yet to be made OA!)

> > That means 95% of authors, because only 5% of journals are OA journals
> > today. That means that 95% of authors today have no option *but* to
> > publish in a non-OA journal.
> You need to stop and reconsider the mathematical logic of that
> statement, Stevan. (In fact, every author has the option of
> contributing to an OA journal, even if OA journals are a small minority
> in the journal marketplace.)

I am always chuffed to have my logic challenged, as it gives some relief
to the unjust stereotype that it is always I who am, curmudgeonly, chipping
away at others' logic!

Just to see where your mathematical logic leads, Rick, and then work backwards:
are you suggesting that all 2.5 million articles currently published in the
planet's 24,000 peer-reviewed journals could be rechanneled to just 1 of those
24,000 journals? No? Then let's do some mathematical induction: 2? 2%? 5%?

No, 95% of the annual peer-reviewed literature cannot be squeezed
through the keyhole of the 1383 OA journals known to exist today: Moreover, there is a *function* being performed by
that large and diverse array of existing journals, not only in covering
all fields, but in covering, hierarchically, each level of each
field. That's what "choosing a suitable journal" means (above): choosing
the journal that covers the subject matter, and at the highest quality
level (peer-review standard) that the paper can manage to successfully
meet. This means (among other things) that journals must be selective --
in some cases (the top) *very* selective. It is not just a matter of
squeezing all candidates into the tiny arbitrary subset of them that
happen to share a certain cost-recovery model today!

> > (4) At least 87% of those non-OA journals, however, are already
> > green: i.e., they have given their authors the green light to make
> > their articles OA by self-archiving them (not "later," but
> > immediately).
> Right. You're back to self-archiving. I'm talking about OA journal
> publishers, and the question of how they're going to attract authors.
> What started this whole conversation was your assertion that scholarly
> authors just want readers.

But my question was asked in the *full* context of OA options, and not
artificially restricted to the gold option (OA journals) alone! In other
words, we have never *left* self-archiving: You simply kept leaving it
out of your own reckoning.

> > (5) What is the "big issue" for publishers?
> There are several big issues for OA publishers, of course, but the one I
> keep hoping we can discuss is the issue of how OA journals are going to
> be able to get better traction in the marketplace, given that they have
> to compete for authors with other venues that don't charge their authors
> for the privilege and that confer greater prestige.

The way OA journals are going to get better traction is by earning it
(as all other new journals must). First, note that the definition of an OA
(gold) journal is that it makes its full-text contents accessible online
for free (not necessarily that it adopts the author-institution-end
cost-recovery model). JHEP, the leading journal in the field of High
Energy Physics, was such a gold journal. It launched in 1997 as a free,
online-only journal (supported by subsidy) and by 2001 it had an ISI
impact factor of over 8 -- the highest in its field:

So that should lay to rest the idea that being new and gold prevents a journal
from out-competing its rivals for prestige, sometimes surprisingly quickly.

On the other hand, the author-institution charge is definitely a handicap,
and when in 2002 JHEP became unable to make ends meet through subsidy, it
migrated to a green publisher, Institute of Physics (IOP) and IOP made the
strategic decision to convert JHEP from gold to green -- even though IOP
already publishes one gold journal of the same age as JHEP -- the New Journal of
Physics (NJP) -- which uses the author-institution-end cost-recovery model.

JHEP's backwards transition from gold to green was successful, despite the
fact that do all the prior issues remain OA, and that virtually 100%
of JHEP's past, current and forthcoming articles continue to be
self-archived by their authors:

    "JHEP will convert from toll-free-access to toll-based access" (2002)

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here: This area of physics
(HEP) is one of the most advanced in self-archiving and has been
doing it the longest. If there is peaceful co-existence between green
user-institution-end cost-recovery and 100% OA via green self-archiving
here, perhaps that -- rather than an immediate direct transition to gold
author-institution-end cost recovery -- is the evolutionary path
we should all be promoting.

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

> An OA journal may be able to offer more readers, but what most scholarly
> authors are really after is impact and advancement.

A bit of the usual conflation here (between OA and OA-journals): for
(1) getting more impact (citations) depends on getting more readers and (2)
OA journals (5%) are not the only way nor the best way to increase both readers
and impact: there is the OA self-archiving option (95%) too!

> As you've acknowledged, Stevan, lots of the former [readers] doesn't
> necessarily lead to much of the latter [impact].

All I said was that, logically, access is a necessary but not a sufficient
condition for impact! But I did also cite strong empirical evidence that
(a) across all disciplines, OA articles have a consistent, significant
impact advantage over non-OA articles and also that (b) usage impact
(downloads) correlates with citation impact.

    Harnad, S. & Brody, T. (2004) Comparing the Impact of Open Access
    (OA) vs. Non-OA Articles in the Same Journals, D-Lib Magazine 10
    (6) June

These findings are mostly in connection with OA via green rather than gold, but
you, Rick, keep reverting to questions that are exclusive to gold: Widen your
color spectrum and you will see the answers to your own questions. The two
options are *interdependent.*

> For new OA journals (especially those that depend on funding from authors)
> to survive in the short term, they'll need to figure out a way quickly
> to increase their ability to confer prestige on those they publish. How
> can they do that -- and how can we help them do that? This seems to me
> to be a pretty big issue, and one that I would have thought is worthy of
> discussion here.

Efforts to help the 5% of journals that are gold survive and thrive
and grow are all commendable and welcome, but they are extremely
*minoritarian* efforts. To not waste another decade or more to reach
100% OA, at least 95% of our efforts now need to be focussed on the 95%
road -- the green road of OA self-archiving.

The only way that OA journals can increase prestige is the usual way: to
earn it (as JHEP did) by adopting high-quality peer-reviewing standards
in a niche where there is a need. To increase submissions despite the
deterrent of author-institution publication charges, they will either
need to seek subsidies (as JHEP did) -- subsidies either to publishers
or to authors -- so as to remove this deterrent, or they will have to
wait patiently for progress via green self-archiving to at last usher in
the 100% OA era (and *perhaps* eventually generate the user-institution
windfall cancellation savings out of which to pay the author-institution
publication charges).

Stevan Harnad

A complete Hypermail archive of the ongoing discussion of providing
open access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at:
        To join or leave the Forum or change your subscription address:
        Post discussion to:

UNIVERSITIES: If you have adopted or plan to adopt an institutional
policy of providing Open Access to your own research article output,
please describe your policy at:

    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 Sun Dec 12 2004 - 14:43:40 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:47:43 GMT