Re: On Paying Publishers Extra For Extra Usage Rights

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2008 14:09:25 +0100

On Fri, 11 Apr 2008, Armbruster, Chris wrote:

> It is often said that the main virtue of Green OA is that it can
> be mandated to give 100 OA%. Because research funders and research
> institutions are initially upstream of publishers, they can bind
> researchers with a prior contract that guarantees OA at least to Version
> 2. Researchers can also take this step themselves, as the FAS at Harvard
> has done.

No, it is not contracts that need to be mandated but deposits. Green
OA. The rest will take care of itself.

> These are important steps in the direction of OA and may
> sometimes be all that is possible. However, research institutions and
> funders now have the opportunity to make Gold OA the default in a way
> that provides universal access to the final, authoritative version from
> the publisher while simultaneously obtaining an identical copy for the
> repositories: 100% OA with no technical, financial or legal barriers.

No, there is no scaleable way to convert directly to Gold OA. (And there
is no pressing need for the "final, authoritative version." It's enough
if paying subscribers get that. The author's accepted, peer-reviewed
final draft [the postprint] in the Institutional Repository will do just
fine -- until and unless it ever becomes the authoritative version [which it
eventually will: read on].)

> Recent deals between Springer (on the one side) and SUB
> Göttingen (research library) and the Max Planck Society (research
> funder-cum-institution) show that institutional output can be made 100% OA
> immediately with transition costs under control and simultaneous security
> for the publisher. To be sure, the 100% OA is only for one publisher,
> but the model may be extended to other publishers and could even be
> scaled to a national or European licensing deal. This would provide 100%
> OA very rapidly.

These one-publisher, one-institution deals will not scale. See below.

> Yet another variant is SCOAP3, which provides 100% OA to the published
> output of a research field. Not many research fields are as well organised
> as High Energy Physics, but it is notable that research libraries and
> funders are here learning to pool resources for collective action. SCOAP3
> will provide 100% OA immediately. It should also be noted that other
> fields are at least as well organised when it comes to OA pre-print
> servers (e.g. economics, computer science) and that Science Commons is
> running an OA law programme with an increasing number of journals. There
> is potential in this model for emulation and adaptation across research
> communities.

Just so we don't keep playing Blind Men and the Elephant, let's put all
assumptions, hypotheses, contingencies, and evidence on the table -- not
omitting also the status quo:

(1) If there were enough extra spare cash available to "buy" Open Access
for all 2.5 million articles published annually in all the planet's
25,000 peer-reviewed journals, I am certain that all journal publishers
would be more than happy to name their price and sell their respective
products to a global prepaid market, and this tired archivangelist could
happily retire to his tent.

(2) By the same token, if there were enough extra spare cash available
to buy Open Access to hamburgers for all the inhabitants of the planet,
I'm sure McDonalds would be more than happy to name their price and sell
their "free" hamburgers to a global prepaid market (and we could also
forget about our brief post-soviet fetish for supply/demand economics
and rally instead to the new McNopoly globalism).

(3) To repeat: If this outcome were within reach for OA, I would have
absolutely no objections.

(4) But it is not within reach, because there isn't the extra spare cash
to prepay publishers for OA: Subscription-based publication is based on
user-pays, and the users are individual universities and research
institutions worldwide. That is where the cash is currently tied up.
Moreover, the products consist of 2.5 million articles in 25,000
journals published independently by several thousand publishers, and
purchased independently by several thousand institutions.

(5) One tentative SCOAP3 arrangement among a few institutions and
institutional consortia for a few journals in physics does not square
this circle, and does not represent a tested, scaleable, global

(6) In contrast, Green OA self-archiving, mandated by universities and
funders, does represent a tested, scaleable, global solution.

(7) And once Green OA is universal, it is eventually likely to induce
institutional cancellations and journal cost-cutting, downsizing and
conversion to Gold OA -- by releasing the institutional cash to pay for
it, per outgoing article instead of per incoming journal, at a
reasonable price, with institutional cash that is currently tied up in
paying subscriptions. (Hypothesis)

(8) To argue for a direct transition to the hypothetical McNopoly at
this time is not only pure fantasy, but it is in direct contradiction to
what is actually happening today, which is independent
subscription-based journals, independent institutional subscriptions,
and independent institutional self-archiving mandates.

> The institutional players in the publishing system, namely
> publishers, repositories and libraries, must be ready to accept a
> redistribution of the key functions of registration, certification,
> dissemination, archiving and navigation in a manner that plays to the
> strength of each.

A priori "redistribution of the functions" is as realistic as the
redistribution of wealth, given the human factors of conflict of
interest and competition -- not to mention the Escher impossible-figure
we have in this special case: We are talking about converting, (1)
individual and consortial institutional subscription fees, that pay for
*incoming* articles, co-bundled in journals, and journals co-bundled
in publisher and consortial "big deals," into (2) individual *outgoing*
institutional publication fees, paid for by the individual institution,
per article published in an individual journal.

Green OA mandates, followed by supply and demand, can sort this out,
but a priori McNopoly "big deals" cannot, for the simple reason that
the subscription/licensing model, buying-in a product, is defunct in
an OA world, replaced by per-article payment for a service (peer review).

Chris is still so immersed in the idea that there will still be a
product to be sold, bought, and preserved, has mistaken the tail for the

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

Chaire de recherche du Canada Professor of Cognitive Science
Institut des sciences cognitives Electronics & Computer Science
Universite du Quebec a Montreal University of Southampton Montreal,
Quebec Highfield, Southampton
Canada H3C 3P8 SO17 1BJ United Kingdom
Received on Fri Apr 11 2008 - 14:11:38 BST

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