Re: some thoughts on a brave new world

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 22 May 2008 21:51:47 +0100

> On Thu, 22 May 2008, Talat Chaudhri [tac] wrote:
> How am I to follow this logic?! Stevan, you yourself indicate your
> belief that Green OA will lead to the "downsizing" of publishing
> operations to providing merely peer review. This indicates loss of
> business revenue for them.

Correct. But I think you are making a logical error on causality: It is
Green OA that will eventually cause the downsizing and conversion to
Gold OA and peer review alone, not vice versa. Hence you are mistaken
both about practicality, probability and priority: Green OA must come
first, and the only way to get universal Green OA before the heat death
of the universe is for universities and funders to mandate it.

You, instead, Talat, are imagining a direct conversion to peer-review
only, administered by inter-university consortia; there is no plausible
direct path from here to there. But there *is* a plausible direct path
from here to universal Green OA.

(The Board of Celtic Studies is one case. There are 25,000 peer reviewed
journals, of which only about 3500 are even Gold OA. And time is
passing, and research impact is being needlessly lost, daily, and

> Following conversations with academics who in fact themselves provide
> these services for journals together with the publishers, I have reason
> to suggest that some of the costs are in fact covered by universities
> (although this may vary according to the case) rather than publishers.

Yes, universities pay their authors salaries to write journal articles,
and funder fund them to do so, and universities pay authors salaries,
allowing them to referee (free) for journals; and universities sometimes
provide office, phone and internet facilities for academics who edit

But none of that is the slightest bit relevant to what we are discussing
here, which is what the true costs of peer review are *to journals*

> So we may be talking mostly about copy editing and dissemination costs,
> which you do not appear to distinguish adequately from the costs of
> peer review.

If you mean disseminating the submissions to the referees, that is part
of peer review costs; so is the (little) copy editing that is done and

If you mean disseminating the published article to users, then that most
definitely is *not* part of the cost of peer review. (It is one of the
main costs of publishing of which IRs will *relieve* journals in the OA

> Repositories also disseminate, of course, so in future
> they could be in direct competition in that particular function, which
> is the moot point.

Again, I think you may not be sorting out either the causality or the
logic here:

Yes, when articles are self-archived in their authors' IRs, that will
relieve journals of the costs of dissemination. And that in turn means
that they will no longer be part of the essential services provided by
journal publishing; nor will their cost.

Yes, Green OA will "compete" with subscription access. If subscription
access loses, and becomes unsustainable, there will be a conversion to
the Gold OA model, which will include the need to recover the true costs
of peer review, but not the costs of dissemination, which will be borne
by the distributed network of IRs.

> Currently Green OA does not undermine large academic publishers such
> as Springer or Elsevier to the point where it competes with them: I
> gather this from the very fact that they do not currently object to it -
> though other publishers clearly do object.

I think you are referring to the fact that 62% of journals (including
Springer and Elsevier) have given their Green light to author
self-archiving of the refereed postprint immediately upon acceptance for
publication, 29% only after an embargo delay period, or only for the
preprint, and 9% don't endorse self-archiving at all?

Well, we'll have to wait and see what happens. Mandates are growing.
Publishers might change their minds and comply, or authors might change
their journals. I don't think there's any way publishers can stop Green
OA (and I think they know it). All that's left is delaying tactics, and
there are remedies against those too...

> But the downsizing argument
> that you give implicitly accepts that this will indeed happen.

I happen to personally think it is probable that universal mandated OA
will eventually generate cancellations, cost-cutting, downsizing to peer
review only, and a conversion to Gold OA.

But what I think is probable does not matter. I invoke this conversion
scenario only as a reply to the hypothetical conjecture that Green OA
would destroy journals. No. If it made subscriptions unsustainable that
would not destroy journals, it would merely induce downsizing and

> Neither Springer not Elsevier want to lose revenue income from journals.

No one wants to lose revenue from anything. I don't think it is of any
use at all to continue speculating (as many have for a decade) about
what publishers want, or what publishers will or would do. Journal
publishing is a service industry, in the service of scientific and
scholarly research. They will adapt to whatever is best for scholars and
scientists, not vice versa. And what is best for scholars and scientists
in the online age is OA. And Green OA mandates can and will generate OA,
in all fields, and in all countries.

> At this
> point, it seems hard indeed to see how many more publishers losing their
> business will not at some point come into conflict with open access in a
> way that only some of them do at present, foreseeing the "downsizing" (=
> loss of business) you describe. It is no defence to say that publishers
> are required for peer review, when this evidently isn't where they make
> their profits. If they make no profit, they close. (Then somebody else
> would self-evidently need to provide peer review instead for academia
> to continue.)

There is no need for a defence of anything or anyone from anything or
anyone. The online medium made it possible for researchers, their
institutions and their funders to make their research output freely
accessible online for all potential users. That is what is optimal for
science and scholarship. The Green OA mandates will assure that that
happens. And publishers will adapt.

No need for (or benefit from) playing guessing games about what publishers
will/would/might/should do. What is needed is OA, and the Green OA
mandates will provide it.

> At what point comes the tipping point when publishers, losing their
> business because of more university mandates, might start to consider
> class actions against university mandates as their only course of
> action?

Class action suits against universities for mandating OA for their own
research output? Propping up publishers' current revenue streams at the
cost of research access and impact?

With all due respect, I think it is counterproductive to devote time
to such counterfactual conjecturing. Maybe tobacco companies thought of
suing businesses for adopting anti-smoking mandates as injurious to
their commercial interests, but then thought the better of it...

> Such mandates could well be seen to undermine the commercial
> interests in copyright that the publishers hold, if subscriptions
> are cancelled and yet the publisher is still expected to copy edit the
> articles and provide (partial?) administration for peer review.

If subscriptions are cancelled, that is a sign of declining demand for
the products and services offered for the subscription fees. The natural
thing to do in the face of declining demand for a co-bundled package of
products and services is to see whether costs can be cut by dropping the
components that are no longer in demand. That is downsizing. Then, if
the demand becomes unsustainable via subscriptions, the obvious next step
is to convert to Gold OA publishing. By that time, institutions will have
the windfall subscription cancellations savings out of which to pay the
much lower costs of peer review alone. And the demand for that will

> We would
> be over a barrel because we currently hold so much OA material on licence
> from these very same publishers. Perhaps that is indeed their tactic,
> to develop a lever that they can use against us later to assure revenue
> levels in some way.

Who is "we"? Do you mean libraries? And the legacy literature? I'd say
that by the time universal Green OA has taken over the access load, the
problem of providing access to the legacy literature will have shrunk
to tractable size. (It would certainly be a case of throwing good money
after bad to let *that* hold us back from providing universal Green OA
for the forward-going literature!)

> My view is that publishers and universities alike need to find different
> funding models now, ahead of time, in order to see off the potential
> for conflict that I hypothesise above.

Ahead of time before what? Before mandating Green OA? I think that would
be an exceedingly myopic and dysfunctional thing to do.

In parallel with mandating Green OA? Go ahead and do it, but it takes
two to tango. And beware of locking yourself into journals' current
asking prices in some new kind of "really big deal," carrying over to
Gold OA, with "memberships" replacing subscriptions at current asking
prices. That's a Trojan Horse.

But it doesn't much matter what interim arrangements libraries make with
journals today. That's not where the action is. The action is with
researchers, their institutions and their funders, mandating and
providing Green OA. The libraries are sometimes (not always) the IR
managers. But this is a different ball game, a new one for librarians;
it will need some new ways of thinking, more from the providers' than
the users' viewpoint.

> Clearly, this conflict is very
> much avoidable, and it is in everybody's interests to avoid it, both
> publishers and universities, within a sensible agreed framework. At
> present we simply hope that mandates will help us win the battle,
> forgetting the consequences until they are upon us.

The consequences will be the OA that is already over a decade
overdue, and at the cost of a decade's worth of needlessly lost
research access, usage, impact and progress. That will be remedied by
mandated Green OA. The rest will be a perfectly natural adaptation of
journal publishing to the new OA reality. It won't be sudden (because
nothing in OA has happened very fast, alas!), but the adaptation will take
place successfully, and meanwhile research, far from missing a beat, will
be progressing at a much enhanced OA clip.

> Finally, the type of consortia that you think unlikely have already
> been tried and were successful, albeit on a smaller scale as a subset of
> publishing. I mention the Board of Celtic Studies as a concrete example
> that still exists successfully in my (albeit very small) field. There
> is no reason to suggest that it could not switch its currently print
> journals to Green OA or that other consortia could not work. Many such
> boards already exist without journals.

There are, I don't doubt, many motivated, streamlined publishers and
consortia, willing and able to take over the existing journal titles and
and to continue to provide peer review only on the Gold OA cost recovery
model. But those titles are still in the hands of publishers who are not
yet inclined to do that downsizing and conversion, because they are
still making ends meet handily with subscriptions; and there is still a
demand for the print edition.

Instead of using our time and energy on counterfactual conjecturing
we should focus on doing what is doable and needs to be done, namely
mandating and providing Green OA. The rest will take care of itself.

> I am fully anticipating being shot down for spreading alarming
> hypothetical problems, but I feel to fail to imagine that such things
> might happen where commercial interests are concerned would be foolishly
> burying one's head in the sand.

Since every single one of the contingencies you've raised has been raised
countless times before over the past decade, the right descriptor is
hardly an ostrich buying its head win the sand, but something more like
Little worrying that they sky will fall down.

And the result has been Zeno's Paralysis for over a decade. I would
urge turning away not only for any counsel of doom and inaction, but
also from long shots, and moving vigorously instead toward the greener
pastures that are fully within sight and reach.

> I would instead hope to hear direct
> answers to the points raised, as well as a reasoned argument against
> "consortia" journals rather than merely waving them aside as a foolish
> repository manager's fancy.

The answer is: Go for it. No one is stopping you. But on no account slow
or stop the real movement toward the Green OA mandates that are already
demonstrably delivering the goods at long last. Nor is it particularly
helpful to opine they are "coercive" and hence somehow distasteful: Green
OA self-archiving mandates are no more nor less distasteful than the
universal publish or perish mandates we already have; they are natural
extensions of them, and potentially just as beneficial to research,
researchers, their institutions, their funders, the R&D industry, and
the tax-paying public that funds research: OA mandates are "coercive"
in the same sense taxes are, except that they don't cost us anything
but a few keystrokes).

> If we suggest them and people see them work, I
> assert that they could indeed be adopted as a future solution. E-journals
> were once a mere idea, after all, which are now successful. It's entirely
> possible for my proposal or some other to be a future successful solution.

You are making plans for new publishers to take over or compete with
existing journal titles on an OA basis: Go ahead. But be aware that you
are betting on a long shot strategy, and the winning strategy is already
in sight.

For a critique of a similar proposal, see:

    Harnad, S. (2005) Fast-Forward on the Green Road to Open Access:
    The Case Against Mixing Up Green and Gold. Ariadne 42.

Stevan Harnad

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Scientist Open Access Forum
> Behalf Of Stevan Harnad
> Sent: 22 May 2008 15:29
> Subject: some thoughts on a brave new world (fwd)
> Talat Chaudhri has asked me to post the essay below, written by him.
> There is much to agree with in this essay. I would add only that it is not
> at all evident that the direct "take-over" of peer review by university
> consortia that Talat envisions would be more practical or realistic than
> the Green OA mandates by universities and funders that are now gaining
> momentum worldwide.
> I would add that self-archiving mandates are no more (or less) "coercive"
> than the publish-or-perish mandates of which they are merely a natural
> online-age extension: Indeed, two international, interdisciplinary
> surveys by Alma Swan have found that over 95% of researchers themselves,
> in all disciplines and all countries, report that they would comply
> with self-archiving mandates by their universities and funders (81%
> *willingly*, 14% "reluctantly" and only 5% not at all). And Arthur Sale's
> studies of implemented mandates confirm these compliance rates.
> (See the references Swan and Sale references that have been posted in
> this Forum so many times now that I don't think there's any need for me
> to post them yet again!)
> Stevan Harnad
Received on Thu May 22 2008 - 22:00:52 BST

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