Challenge to "OA" Publishers Who Oppose Mandating OA via Self-Archiving

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2007 02:46:25 +0000

The online age has given birth to a very profound conflict of interest
between what is best for (1) the research journal publishing industry,
on the one hand, and, on the other hand, what is best for (2) research,
researchers, universities, research institutions, research funders, the
vast research and development (R&D) industry, and the tax-paying public
that funds the research.

It is no one's fault that this conflict of interest has emerged. It was
a consequence of the revolutionary new power and potential for research
that was opened up by the Web era. What is at stake can also be put in
very concrete terms:

    (1) hypothetical risk of future losses in publisher revenue
    (2) actual daily losses in research usage and impact

The way in which this conflict of interest will need to be resolved is
also quite evident: The research publishing industry is a service
industry. It will have to adapt to what is best for research, and not
vice versa. And what is best for research, researchers, universities,
research institutions, research funders, the R&D industry and the
tax-paying public in the online age is: Open Access (free online

The research publishing industry lobby of course does not quite see it
this way. It is understandable that their first commitment is to their
own business interests, hence to what is best for their bottom lines,
rather than to something else, such as Open Access, and what is best for
research and researchers.

But what is especially disappointing, if not deplorable, is when
so-called "Open Access" publishers take exactly the same stance against
Open Access (OA) itself (sic) that conventional publishers do.
Conventional publisher opposition to OA will be viewed, historically, as
having been a regrettable, counterproductive (and eventually
countermanded) but comprehensible strategy, from a purely business
standpoint. OA publisher opposition to OA, however, will be seen as
having been self-deluded if not hypocritical.

Let me be very specific: There are two ways to provide OA: Either
individual authors make their own (conventionally) published journal
article's final draft ("postprint") freely accessible on the Web, or
their journals make their published drafts freely accessible on the Web.
The first is called "Green OA" (OA self-archiving) and the second is
called "Gold OA" (OA publishing).

In other words, one of the forms of OA (OA publishing, Gold OA) is a new
form of publishing, whereas the other (Green OA) is not: it is just
conventional subscription-based publishing plus author self-help, a
supplement. Both forms of OA are equivalent; both maximize research
usage and impact. But one depends on the author and the other depends on
the publisher.

Now both forms of OA represent some possible risk to publishers' revenue

    With Green OA, there is the risk that the authors' free online
    versions will make subscription revenue decline, possibly

    With Gold OA, there is the risk that either subscription revenue will
    decline unsustainably or author/institution publication charges will
    not generate enough revenue to cover expenses (or make a profit).

So let us not deny the possibility that OA in either form may represent
some risk to publishers' revenues and to their current way of doing
business. The real question is whether or not that risk, and the
possibility of having to adapt to it by changing the way publishers do
business, outweighs the vast and certain benefits of OA to research,
researchers, universities, research institutions, research funders, the
R&D industry and the tax-paying public.

This question has been addressed by the various interested parties for
several years now. And after much (too much) delay and debate with
publishers, research funders as well as research institutions have begun
to take OA matters into their own hands by mandating Green OA:

    As a condition for receiving grants, fundees must self-archive in
    their Institutional OA Repositories (or Central OA Repositories) the
    final drafts of all resulting articles accepted for publication: The
    European Research Council (ERC), five of eight UK Research Councils,
    the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the Wellcome Trust have
    already mandated Green OA self-archiving. In the US both the Federal
    Public Research Access Act (FRPAA) and a mandated upgrade of the
    NIH Public Access Policy are likewise proposing a self-archiving
    mandate. Similar proposals are under consideration in Canada,
    individual European countries, and Asia.

    In parallel, Green OA mandates have been adopted by a number of
    universities and research institutions worldwide, requiring all of
    their institutional research output to be self-archived in their
    Institutional OA Repositories.

These Green OA mandates by research funders and institutions have been
vigorously opposed by some (not all) portions of the publishing
industry: these opponents have already succeeded in delaying the
adoption of Green OA mandates on a number of occasions.

Nevertheless, the benefits of OA to research are so great that these
attempts to delay or derail the Green OA mandates are proving

The issue I wish to address here is the stance of (some) Gold OA
publishers on the Green OA mandates: Most Gold OA publishers support
Green OA mandates. After all, a Gold OA journal is also, a fortiori, a
Green journal (as are about 65% of conventional journals), in that it
explicitly endorses OA self-archiving by its authors.

But endorsing individual author self-archiving is not the same as
endorsing self-archiving mandates by funders and universities. So it is
not surprising that although most conventional journal publishers
endorse individual author self-archiving, many of them oppose
self-archiving mandates.

So what about those Gold OA journals that oppose Green OA mandates?
This is an extremely telling question, as it goes straight to the heart
of OA, and the rationale and justification for insisting on OA.

Gold OA journals rightly represent themselves as differing from
conventional journals in that they provide OA. To put it crudely, what
they propose to authors is: "Publish in my journal instead of a
conventional journal if you want your article to be Openly Accessible to
all users." (And, for those Gold OA journals that charge publication
fees: "Publish in my journal instead of a conventional journal and pay
my publication fee if you want your article to be Openly Accessible to
all users.")

Apart from that, there is the usual competition between journals: OA
journals competing with non-OA journals, and journals of all kinds
within the same field, competing among themselves. For conventional
journals and for OA Gold journals supported by subscriptions, there is
competition for subscription fees. For all journals there is competition
for authors. And for Gold OA journals that charge publication fees, the
competition for authors is compounded by the competition for publication

What about OA itself? In order to be successful over its competition, a
product-provider or service-provider has to provide and promote the
advantages of his product/service over the competition. In the
competition between OA and non-OA journals, the cardinal advantage of
the OA journal is OA itself: OA journals provide OA, maximizing research
usage and impact, conventional journals do not. For subscription-based
Gold OA journals, OA is a drawing point. For publication-fee-based Gold
OA journals, OA is a selling point.

So what about Green OA mandates? For the 35% of conventional journals
that have not endorsed OA self-archiving by their authors, their
opposition to Green OA mandates is just an extension of their opposition
to OA: We know where they stand. "What matters is what is best for our
bottom line, not what is best for research."

For the 65% of conventional journals that are "Green" in that they have
endorsed OA self-archiving by their authors, those of them (their
percentage is not yet clear) that oppose Green OA mandates are in a
sense in conflict with themselves: "It's ok if individual authors
self-archive to enjoy the advantages of OA, but it's not ok if their
institutions or funders mandate that they do so." (This is an awkward
stance, rather hard to justify, and will probably succumb to the
underlying premise that OA is indeed an undeniable benefit to research.)

But then what about opposition to Green OA mandates from Gold OA
publishers -- publishers that are presumably 100% committed to the
benefits of OA for research? This is the stance that is the hardest of
all to justify. For the fact is that Green OA is in a sense a
"competitor" to Gold OA: It offers OA without constraints on the
author's choice of journal, and without having to pay publication fees.

The only resolution open to a Gold OA publisher who wishes to justify
opposing Green OA mandates is to adopt *precisely the same argument* as
the one being used by the non-OA publishers that oppose Green OA
mandates: that it poses a potential risk to subscription revenues -- in
other words, again putting what is best for publishers' bottom lines
above what is best for research, researchers, universities, research
institutions, research funders, the R&D industry and the tax-paying

Perhaps this was bound to come to pass in any joint venture between a
producer who is not seeking any revenue for his product (i.e., the
researcher-authors, their institutions and their funders) and a vendor
who is seeking revenue for the value he adds to the (joint) product.

I happen to think that this will conflict-of-interest will only sort
itself out if and when what used to be a product -- a peer-reviewed,
published journal article, online or on paper -- ceases to be a product
at all (or at least a publisher's product), sold to the
user-institution, and becomes instead a service (the 3rd-party
management of peer review, and the certification of its outcome),
provided by the publisher to the author's institution and funder.

I also happen to think that only Green OA mandates can drive this
transition from the current subscription-based cost-recovery model to
the publication service-fee-based model, with the distributed network of
institutional OA repositories making it possible for journals to offload
all their current access-provision and archiving burden and its costs
onto the repositories, distributed worldwide, thereby allowing journals
to cut publication costs and downsize to become providers of the
peer-review service alone, with its reduced cost recovered via
institutional publication fees paid out of the institutional
subscription-cancellation savings.

    Berners-Lee, T., De Roure, D., Harnad, S. and Shadbolt, N. (2005)
    Journal publishing and author self-archiving: Peaceful Co-Existence
    and Fruitful Collaboration.

But this is all hypothetical: We are not there now. Right now, the cost
of publication is being amply paid by subscriptions. Publishers are
hypothesizing that OA self-archiving mandates will make that revenue
source unsustainable -- but no actual evidence at all is being provided
to show either that the hypothesis is true, or when and how quickly
subscriptions will become unsustainable, if the hypothesis is true. Most
important, publishers are giving no indications whatsoever as to why the
transition scenario described above will not be the (equally
hypothetical, but quite natural) sequel to unsustainable subscriptions.

Instead, the only thing publishers are offering is hypothetical doomsday
scenarios: the destruction of peer review, of journals, and of a viable
industry. Then, on the pretext of the need to protect their current
revenue streams and their current ways of doing business from this
hypothetical doomsday scenario, publishers try to block OA
self-archiving mandates, despite OA's substantial demonstrated benefits
to all the other parties involved, viz, researchers, research
institutions and funders, R&D industries, and the tax-paying public that
funds the research.

This is indeed a conflict of interest, although the future revenue
losses to the publishing industry are completely hypothetical, whereas
the current access/impact losses to research are real and already
demonstrated (to the satisfaction of all except the publishing

I close with a reply to Jan Velterop, of Springer's "Open Choice":
Springer is a subscription-based, hybrid Green/Gold publisher: It sells
journals by subscription, it endorses author self-archiving, it offers
authors fee-based Gold OA as an option, and Jan opposes Green OA

This exchange begins with an attempt to justify (some) publishers'
(unjustifiable) insistence on the transfer of *exclusive* rights (rather
than just publishing rights) to the publisher; Jan suggests that
transferring exclusive rights is a form of "payment" by the author to
the publisher. Jan never says why the rights need to be exclusive. Then
Jan goes on to oppose mandating Green OA self-archiving, as providing OA
without paying for it. (No mention is made of the fact that that all
publishing costs are currently being paid for already -- via

> On Wed, 21 Feb 2007, Velterop, Jan, Springer UK wrote:
> transfer of exclusive rights to a publisher is a form of
> 'payment'. Payment for the services of a publisher.

Is that so? And then what are subscription revenues? A fringe benefit?

(I would have thought that assigning a publisher the right to publish
and the exclusive right to collect revenues for selling an author's
work, without even paying any royalties to the author, was "payment"
enough for the value added by the publisher...)

> The publisher subsequently uses these exclusive rights to sell
> subscriptions
> and licences in order to recoup his costs

Why exclusive rights?

> The advantage is seemingly for the author, who
> (mistakenly) has the feeling that he doesn't have to pay for the
> services of formal publication of his article, but who seldom realizes
> why he is asked to transfer exclusive rights.

Authors are naive, but not quite as foolish as that. They know the
publisher needs to sell subscriptions to make ends meet. But what you
haven't explained is why the publisher needs *exclusive* rights in order
to do that.

> The disadvantage is that payment in the form of exclusive rights
> limits access, because it needs a subscription/licence model to
> convert this form of 'payment' into money.

Disadvantage or no disadvantage, subscriptions are currently making ends
meet quite successfully.

And you still haven't said why the rights transferred need to be

> And subscriptions/licences are by definition restrictive in
> terms of dissemination.

No problem, once the author supplements the access provided
by subscriptions with free online access to his own self-archived draft
(Green OA), providing eprints to would-be users who cannot afford the
published version, exactly as authors had provided reprints in paper

> Article-fee supported open access publishing,
> where the transfer of exclusive rights is replaced by the transfer of
> money, consequently doesn't have the need for subscriptions and can
> therefore abolish all restrictions on dissemination.

Yes. But where is the need for "article-fee supported open access
publishing" (Gold OA) at a time when (a) most journals are
subscription-based, (b) subscriptions are paying the costs of
publishing, and (c) all the author need do is self-archive (Green OA)
(and all the author's funder or institution need do is mandate it)?

> Stevan Harnad c.s. will argue that none of this matters, because
> there is 'green', meaning that whatever 'exclusive' rights have
> been transferred, authors can still disseminate their articles via
> self-archiving in open repositories. In that model, having transferred
> 'exclusive' rights is meaningless, and that implies that the 'payment'
> that exclusive rights transfer actually is, has become worthless.

(1) You have not yet replied about why the transferred rights need to be

(2) Nor about what the problem is, as long as subscriptions are paying
for publication costs, as they are.

(3) If you choose to invoke the hypothetical "doomsday" scenario -- that
mandated self-archiving will cause cancellations and drive subscriptions
down to unsustainable levels -- by way of response, kindly first cite
(3a) the evidence that self-archiving causes subscription cancellations
and (3b) the arguments and evidence as to why publishing will not quite
naturally make the adaptive transition to the Gold OA cost-recovery
model that you favor, if and when self-archiving mandates ever *do*
cause subscriptions to become unsustainable.

> In mandates with embargos, the 'payment' may not be completely
> worthless (depending on the length of the embargo) but is at least
> severely
> devalued.

You seem to be singularly fixated (for an OA advocate) on payment rather
than access (at a time when all payments are being made, but much access
and impact is being lost).

You also seem to be more concerned about payments than access delays,
and you seem to be expressing some sympathy for embargoed access over
immediate access in your (unsupported) defense of exclusive rights as a
form of "payment."

> I am a great fan of open access, but not a great fan of 'green'.

Translation: I am a great fan of OA as long as it is paid Gold OA. (The
accent seems to be on the "paid" rather than on the "OA".)

But what is missing today is not publisher payment, but OA...

> 'Green' is a kind of appeasement by publishers (some of who, it must
> be said,
> themselves didn't [and sometimes still don't] realise the 'payment'
> nature
> of exclusive rights transfer).

Perhaps my interpretation is more charitable: 92% of journals did not
endorse Green OA (65% for immediate postprint OA) merely to "appease" or
"placate," but because they recognized that OA is indeed a great benefit
to research and researchers, and that trying to oppose OA would be
neither creditable nor successful.

Jan seems to prefer the less charitable idea that endorsing Green
self-archiving was merely a cynical sop, granted on the assumption that
it would not be used, and perhaps even to be taken back, "Indian-Giver"
Style, if too many researchers actually went ahead and self-archived:

(But let us not forget that Jan is not speaking here of Springer, but of
the competition...)

> Appeasement is often regretted with
> hindsight. Instead of allowing the nature of exclusive rights transfer
> to be compromised, publishers should much earlier have offered authors
> the choice of payment either transfer of exclusive rights, or cash.
> The
> appeasement, the 'green', now acts as a hurdle to structural open
> access,
> perhaps even an impediment.

In other words, publishers should have refused to endorse Green OA
self-archiving unless they were paid extra for it. Never mind that all
publication costs were and still are being fully paid via subscriptions.
No OA without extra pay (Gold).

Because of this impetuous Green appeasement, Springer (a Green
publisher) is now stuck with only being able to ask payment for Gold,
not for Green too...

> Harnadian orthodoxy will dismiss this. It holds that subscription
> journals will survive, that they will be paid for by librarians even
> if the content is freely disseminated in parallel via open repositories,
> and that it doesn't matter anyway

Shorn of the above rhetoric, my position is much simpler:

Mandate self-archiving now, for immediate Green OA. If and when 100%
Green OA ever does cause universal subscription cancellation, then use
the self-same windfall subscription savings to pay for Gold OA. But not
now, when there is next to no OA and no Green-induced subscription

> (the guru is tentatively beginning to admit that large scale
> uptake of self-archiving, for instance as the
> result of mandates, may indeed destroy journals)

Nothing of the sort. There is no guru, but all I say is what I have been
saying all along: if and when OA self-archiving makes subscriptions
unsustainable, journals can and will adapt by converting to Gold OA, and
institutions will pay the Gold OA fees out of (a portion of) their
windfall subscription cancellation savings. (Only a part, because
journals will have down-sized to peer-review service-provision alone.)

> because a new order will only come about after the complete
> destruction of the old order.

No destruction: merely a natural adaptation to the optimal and
inevitable, made possible by the online medium.

> After all, morphing the old order into the new, without complete
> destruction,
> entails a cost in terms of money, which "isn't there", and anyway, the
> cost that comes with complete destruction of the old order is
> preferred
> to spending money on any transition, in that school of thought.

Translation, shorn of Jan's rhetoric:

        Harnad (and many others) are objecting to needlessly (and
        wastefully) redirecting scarce research funds toward paying for
        Gold OA *now*, when (1) 100% Green OA is reachable without it,
        when (2) subscriptions are still covering publishing costs, and
        when (3) it is still a speculative matter whether and when Green
        OA will ever cause subscriptions to become unsustainable. The
        time to redirect funds toward paying for Gold OA is when
        the hypothesized subscription cancellations have actually
        materialized, so the new savings can be redirected to pay for
        the new Gold OA publishing costs.

And the objection isn't primarily to the redirection of scarce research
funds to pay for needless Gold OA costs. If the research community is
foolish enough to want to do that, it is welcome to do so. The objection
is to any further delay in mandating Green OA, wasting still more time
instead on continued bickering about paying pre-emptive Gold publishing
fees. Let research funders and institutions mandate OA Green
self-archiving, now, thereby guaranteeing 100% OA, now, and *then* let
them spend their spare time and money in any way they see fit.

> I doubt that a complete wipe-out will come. But there are quite a
> large number of vulnerable journals and a partial wipe-out as a result
> of mandated self-archiving is entirely plausible.

If what Jan is saying here is that journals will continue to be born and
die, as they do now, I agree. Green self-archiving mandates don't affect
journals individually, they affect them all, jointly, and the effects
are gradual. No one funder or institution generates the contents of an
individual journal. So as the percentage of self-archiving rises, there
will be a (possibly long) uncertain period when it is unclear how much
of the contents of any given journal are accessible online for free.

If and when a point is reached where journal subscriptions do become
unsustainable, there will be a natural mass transition to Gold OA.
Before that time, it is a matter of the sheerest of sheer speculation
whether Green OA will or will not alter either the rate or the direction
of spontaneous journal births and deaths.

> Although there seems
> to be a myth that journals are very, even extremely, profitable, the
> fact is that a great many journals are not profitable or 'surplus-able'
> (in not-for-profit parlance). In my estimate it is the majority. Within
> the portfolio of larger publishers these journals are often absorbed
> and cross-subsidised by the journals that are profitable. Smaller
> (e.g. society-) publishers cannot do that. Marginal journals do not
> have to suffer a lot of subscription loss before they go under. Some
> of these, especially society ones, will be 'salvaged' by being given the
> opportunity to shelter under the umbrella of the portfolio of one of
> the larger independent publishers. Others will just perish if they
> lose subscriptions. They could of course convert to open access journals
> with article processing fees, but setting those up is no sinecure,
> and requires a substantial financial commitment, as the experience of
> PLoS and BMC has shown. Journals that are run for the love of it, by
> the commendable voluntary efforts of academics, are mostly very small,
> and are the first to be affected, unless, of course, they do not need
> any income because they are crypto-subsidised by the institutions with
> which their editors are affiliated. Such journals have always been
> there and there are probably more now than ever (and some are very good
> indeed, or so I'm told), but to imagine scaling them up to deal with the
> million plus articles per year published as a result of global research
> efforts seems far-fetched, indeed.

Part of this speculative account had some plausibility: Yes, journals
are born and die. Yes some struggle to make ends meet (irrespective of
OA). Yes some are subsidised. None of this has anything at all to do
with OA.

The causal influence of OA on this already ongoing birth/death/survival
process, however, is pure speculation: Some titles will die; some will
migrate (possibly to OA Gold publishers like Jan's former employer,
BioMed Central -- which, I note in passing, has signed the EC petition
in support of the EC OA Self-Archiving Mandate, whereas Jan's current
employer, Springer, did not); some will survive, with or without
subsidy, just as before. Nothing to do with Green OA, either in terms of
rate or direction.

But where on earth did Jan get to the non-sequitur of "scaling... up the
[border-line and subsidised journals] to deal with the million plus
articles per year"?

Journals will continue to make ends meet as they did before, on
subscriptions or subsidies; some will die, as they always did; others
will migrate. Then, if and when subscriptions become unsustainable,
there will be a transition (and downsizing) to OA Gold, paid for out of
(a portion of) the very same subscription cancellation savings that
drove the transition, redirected toward paying for Gold OA fees.

Jan's own speculation only sounds like an Escher impossible-figure
because he chooses to portray it that way. Without the imposition of
that arbitrary distortion, the transitional landscape looks perfectly

> Open access is the inevitable future, and it is worth working on a
> truly robust and sustainable way to achieve it.

OA means free online access, and that is indeed worth reaching for right
now, via Green OA self-archiving mandates, which are reachable right
now. Jan instead recommends continuing to sit and wait for a
hypothetical outcome, while meanwhile refraining from reaching for a
sure outcome: 100% OA via Green mandates. Jan urges the research
community instead to "work on" finding a way to pay pre-emptively for
Gold OA now, when Gold OA is neither needed, nor are the funds available
for paying for it (without poaching them from research) because the
funds to pay for publishing are still paying for subscriptions.

Caveat pre-emptor.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Wed Feb 28 2007 - 03:51:54 GMT

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