Re: Exchange Regarding Open Access Journals

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 5 May 2007 15:21:30 +0100

Let me preface this continuing exchange with a very important detail:
Professor Osborne reports below that in Economics author submission
charges comparable to those for the Open Access (Gold OA) journal he
edits, Theoretical Economics (TE), are common:

> "most current good existing economics journals [whether OA or not]
> have submission fees that are paid by author-institutions"

This special circumstance sets Economics apart (1), and the reader should
bear this in mind in considering the more general points under discussion,
as they apply to the other disciplines, where author submission charges
are not common. It should also be kept in mind that (2) the going rate for
publication fees (charged by those OA journals that charge a publication
fee) is an order of magnitude higher than those charged by TE and that (3)
it is not yet clear what the relation is among the three factors under
discussion (whether a journal is OA, how much, if anything, it charges,
and the quality and impact of the journal).

On Fri, 4 May 2007, Martin J. Osborne wrote:

> > SH:
> > (1) Most journals (90%) are still subscription-based journals today.
> MJO: I have a hard time understanding the logic here. Why is the fact
> that most journals charge subscriptions relevant to an author's choice
> to publish in an OA journal? You seem to be saying that there is
> no point in my buying a hybrid because most people drive SUVs.

What is relevant to the choice of publishing in an OA journal is (a) the
cost and (b) the alternatives.

A cost of $75 (as in your journal, TE) is very different from a cost of
$1000 or more (the "going rate" for the BMC and PLoS journals).

In point of fact, if one's *only* objective is to provide OA for one's
article then there is no point in paying to publish in an OA journal at
all: One can simply self-archive.

But if the cost of publishing in a suitable Gold OA journal is low,
(as with your journal), or one has a lot of spare cash, then one may
decide to publish in an OA journal for a second reason: in order to help Gold
OA publishing grow.

That makes sense as long as one also helps OA itself grow by also
self-archiving (all of) one's articles. (With 90% of journals non-OA,
there's a lot more scope for Green OA self-archiving, particularly as
it can be mandated.)

The fact that most journals charge for subscriptions is relevant to an
author's choice to publish in an OA journal because authors should not
have to be paying for publishing charges at all: Their institutions
should be paying for them. (Indeed, for subscription journals, that
is exactly what they are doing.) But as long as their institutions'
budgets are still tied up in paying for publication via subscriptions,
those funds are not available to pay for Gold OA publishing charges;
hence the author must pay. (Much the same is true if the money to pay
for Gold OA publishing is diverted from scarce research funds that could
otherwise be used to pay for more research.)

But, to repeat, this only applies to the going rate for Gold OA charges
today, not to your journal, TE, whose charges are an order of magnitude

> SH:
> > (2) Institutions' potential publication funds are still tied up in paying
> > for ongoing journal subscriptions today.
> MJO: I'm puzzled by this one also. The submission fee of TE is no
> higher than the submission fees of most other journals. Thus submitting
> a paper to TE, which is OA, has no short-term negative implications for
> anyone's budget. And in the long term, if it drives other journals to
> reduce costs and prices and open up access, it will have big benefits.

First, most other journals (outside Economics) don't have "submission

But what you say is all true -- for OA journals with publication fees
of the same order as TE's. The discussion, however, was about the OA
journals with fees an order of magnitude higher than TE's, such as the
PLoS and BMC journals. (They are even higher for the Hybrid-Gold "Open
Choice" journals such as Springer's.)

Yes, anything that helps reduce journal prices and increase access is
beneficial. But both the marginal gain from self-archiving, and its
scalability and accelerability through self-archiving mandates, vastly
outweigh, I think, the marginal gain from paying for Gold OA today.

So yes, paying a $75 submission fee for OA makes sense if you can afford
it; paying 10 times that much makes 10 times less sense, especially when
there is a free alternative, self-archiving, with the immediate scope,
once mandated, to provide a lot more OA (and perhaps eventually to
reduce costs and induce a transition to Gold OA publishing too),

> > SH:
> > (3) OA publishing charges are still far too high today;
> MJO: *Some* OA publishing charges may be too high. But not all.

Agreed. Now we need the data on (1) what proportion of Gold OA journals
that charge have high charges and what proportion have low charges (like
TE) or no charges at all; *and* we need the data on (2) what the OA journal
quality and impact distribution is, in relation to whether they charge
high or low (or not at all).

> > SH:
> > *(6) 100% OA is needed today, indeed it is already greatly overdue;
> MJO: Self-archiving and OA journals can coexist. You promote
> self-archiving, I run an OA journal. There's no need to choose between
> the two activities---we can do both.

In the case of your low-fee OA journal, TE, I agree completely. Even
in the case of high-fee OA journals, I agree -- as long as they
are not giving authors the impression that the only way to make their
articles OA is by paying for Gold OA (or that Green OA is somehow not
"true" OA, as some Gold journals have argued, in promoting their

  "Free Access vs. Open Access" (started Aug 2003)

But where the real conflict between Gold and Green arises is when Gold
or hybrid-Gold publishers oppose Green OA self-archiving mandates, or
try to substitute Gold OA for them. That is a Trojan Horse (for OA) and
needs to be very openly and firmly opposed.

  "Open Choice is a Trojan Horse for Open Access Mandates" (Jun 2006)

  Double-Paying for Optional Gold OA Instead of Mandating Green OA
  While Subscriptions Are Still Paying for Publication: Trojan Folly

> > SH:
> > (a) Subscriptions are paid by user-institutions; publication fees are
> > paid by author-institutions.
> MJO: But most current good existing economics journals have submission
> fees that are paid by author-institutions. So the only effect of an OA
> journal, which is perfectly financially feasible if it charges the same
> submission fees as existing subscription-based journals, is to eliminate
> the subscriptions. There is no change in the fees paid by
> author-institutions.

I agree completely. But most fields don't have submission or
publications fees.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sat May 05 2007 - 15:58:07 BST

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