Re: More OA Somnambulism: Conflating the Journal Affordability and Research Accessibility Problems, Again

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Sun, 8 Mar 2009 12:30:58 -0500

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On Sat, Mar 7, 2009 at 5:03 PM, Ivy Anderson, California Digital
Library, UCOP, wrote:


      I wanted to post this comment to your OA blog , but the
      blog?s comment function doesn?t display properly in my
      browser (whether Firefox or IE).

Ivy, Apologies. Now fixed, and comments enabled. 

      Here is a response via email which you?re welcome to post
      to your blog if you wish.  I?m also responding on the
      SPARC OA Forum list.

      You appear to have inferred from reading an article
      published on The Scientist blog that UC has bundled extra
      payment into its licensing deal with Springer in order to
      procure open access for UC authors.  Nowhere in that
      article, or elsewhere, has a statement been published to
      that effect. 

My inference was based on this passage from the Scientist article :

      "University of California Libraries... minted an
      agreement with the publishing giant Springer so that all
      articles written by UC-affiliated authors would be
      published with full and immediate open access in any of
      Springer's 2,000-odd journals, even if the rest of the
      articles in the journals are subscription-only.Under the
      arrangement, UC authors retain the copyright to their
      work and don't have to pay additional fees on a
      per-article basis. In exchange, the publisher receives an
      undisclosed sum of money that is 'part and parcel of our
      standard licensing arrangement with Springer'..."

I hope you'll agree that the description is ambiguous, to say the
least, and not least because "Big Deal" negotiations with publishers
are always a quid-pro-quo bargaining matter, so that whether or not
it was monetized in the form of an explicit surcharge, the upshot is
the same: UC subscribes to the Springer fleet as a package, and part
of the package deal is that OA fees for UC authors publishing in
those journals are waived.

I call that a good deal for the publisher and a very bad deal for UC
-- until and unless UC mandates Green OA self-archiving for all of
its research article output (as 67 other institutions and funders
have already done). Having thereby ensured OA for all UC research
output, it becomes a far less important matter what UC journals UC
elects to subscribe to, how much it elects to pay, what deals it
makes, and whatever else it does with any spare cash.

      UC does not at all conflate journal affordability and
      research accessibility;  rather, we have an institutional
      responsibility to address both issues, and believe we can
      do so in a principled and sustainable manner, by
      redirecting our support for research publication from the
      ?readership? side of the transaction to the publication

I will try to translate this into more explicit and transparent terms
in order to clarify the underlying dynamics and to show that it all
leads in an unscalable and unsustainable direction:

      (1) Yes, UC needs both to (1a) to provide access to the
      research output of other institutions for UC researchers
      and to (1b) provide access to UC research output for
      researchers at other institutions.

      (2) Responsibility 1a is fulfilled by negotiating the
      best possible deal with publishers for journal
      subscriptions/licenses and responsibility 1b is fulfilled
      by adopting a Green OA self-archiving mandate for all UC
      research output, as Harvard, Stanford, and over 60 other
      universities and funders worldwide have done.

      (3)  UC's journal affordability problem is addressed
      directly by 1a, and 1b is UC's local contribution to
      solving the global research accessibility problem.

      (4) It should already be transparent that if other
      universities follow Harvard's, Stanford's and UC's
      example with 1b, then the research accessibility problem
      is solved: 1b is a solution that scales.

      (5) It does not require much more analysis to see that
      once universal Green OA mandates by institutions and
      funders have solved the research accessibility problem,
      (5a) the journal affordability problem becomes a far less
      pressing one and that (5b) universal Green OA is likely
      to lead eventually to subscription cancellations and a
      transition to Gold OA publishing , redirecting each
      institution's subscription cancellation savings to pay
      for its own authors' Gold OA publishing fees.

      (6) What requires a bit more reflection is to see that
      for all this to happen, Green OA (1b) must come first:
      Until all research is OA, UC researchers do not have
      access to whatever journals UC cannot afford to subscribe
      to. And until all research is OA, UC cannot cancel
      journals to which its researchers need access.

      (7) Now it is true that if, mirabile dictu, the publisher
      of every journal that UC can afford offered UC the same
      sort of "Big Deal" Springer has offered -- "subscribe to
      our journal(s) at our asking price and your institution's
      authors can have Gold OA for free" -- and if every
      research-active institution bought into that deal for
      every journal it could afford, then that too would
      (probably) be enough to provide universal OA: But
      consider the probability -- and the price!

      (8) Universal "Big Deal" Gold would buy universal OA at
      the price of locking in current journal prices and their
      co-bundled products and services (print edition, online
      edition, peer review); and what institutions would be
      negotiating with each publisher annually thereafter would
      no longer be journal subscriptions and journal
      subscription prices, but the institution's own
      researchers' continuing right to publish in each of those

      (9) This is of course an absurd and dysfunctional
      outcome, because journal-level subscriptions and
      article-level publication charges have fundamentally
      different units (one is an entire, annual, incoming
      journal or fleet of journals from a single publisher, the
      other is single, one-at-a-time, outgoing articles,
      destined for different journals and publishers, and
      depending in each individual case on the outcome of peer
      review for their acceptance, rather than on just the
      annual payment for the service of peer review).

      (10) Negotiating Gold OA on the "Big Deal" license model
      is incoherent and is neither scaleable nor sustainable:
      It means locking in everything that is co-bundled with a
      subscription today, at today's prices, and treating that
      as the unit of the transaction even when the unit of
      transaction must clearly cease to be the journal or
      publisher, as the practice spreads among journals,
      publishers and institutions.

That is why I have called such short-sighted reckonings
"sleep-walking." But if they are coupled with Green OA Mandates, the
incoherence of "memberships" no longer matters, because the real
solution -- universal (mandated) Green OA -- is on the way.

      Our Springer arrangement is one such initiative; our
      support for SCOAP3, the Sponsoring Consortium for Open
      Access Publishing in Particle Physics, is another. 

SCOAP3 is likewise a co-bundled, price-lock-in "membership" scheme,
but it matters much less, because it is being pushed through in the
only field that already has near 100% Green OA self-archiving without
its having to be mandated. Ensure 100% Green OA in all other fields
and the silliness of lock-in Gold OA schemes will likewise matter far
less. They matter now precisely because they are distracting sleepy
institutions from the urgent need to mandate Green OA (or giving them
the golden illusion that it will not be necessary).

      In these and other efforts, UC seeks to redirect library
      funds toward open access publishing in order to both
      foster more unfettered access to research and provide
      financial support to the scholarly publishing system at
      the point in the publication chain where a truer market
      relationship exists ? between authors and the journals in
      which they publish ? in the hope that the cost of
      research publication can be brought down thereby over the
      long term. 

This may sound as if it makes sense in these abstract terms, but once
it is looked at more closely, as I have done in (1) - (10) above, it
proves to be incoherent.

(a) Redirecting library funds from subscriptions to OA publication
charges before all research is OA is paying for what other
subscribing institutions are already paying for (the publication of
your institution's outgoing articles) and for what can already be had
without having to pay even more (the mandated self-archiving of your
institution's outgoing articles).

(b) Redirecting library funds from subscriptions to OA publication
charges before all research is OA is locking in publishers' current
asking-prices and co-bundled products and services.

(c)  As to "provid[ing] financial support to the scholarly publishing
system at the point in the publication chain where a truer market
relationship exists ? between authors and the journals in which they
publish" -- that's precisely what this sort of "membership Big Deal"
is not doing, as you will quickly see if you just try to scale it up
in your mind, across journals, publishers and time: The "market
relationship" is at the level of an individual article, on a
particular occasion, and is dependent on the outcome of peer review;
it is not an annual journal quota, the way subscriptions are.

(d) As to the hope of bringing journal costs down: again, this is
conflating the journal affordability problem with the research
accessibility problem. -- Indeed, unless UC mandates Green OA, it is
letting affordability get in the way of accessibility, even though
the latter is fully within reach.

(e) And if you have any doubts about my contention that this local
solution is incoherent and is neither scalable nor sustainable,
please spell out for me how you envision a university -- formerly a
subscriber, now a "member" of countless Gold OA journals -- will
negotiate its annual "membership" payments from year to year with
each journal, while its researchers need to go on publishing? Will
there be annual acquisitions and cancellations of the right to
publish in each journal? (This is yet another symptom of conflating
the journal affordability problem with the research accessibility

      Articles will be deposited into UC?s eScholarship
      Repository through our Springer arrangement, also
      supporting the institutional deposit that you favor. 

It is not the deposit of articles whose Gold OA status has been paid
for with hard cash that I favor! Those articles are already OA (and
at quite a price). What I favor is the mandatory deposit of all
institutional research output, irrespective of whether it is
published in an OA or a non-OA journal. 

If UC mandates Green OA, all my objections are immediately mooted,
because although these additional publisher deals are still
incoherent, premature, unscalable and unsustainable, they no
longer matter. However, if these subscription/membership deals are
being pursued instead of mandating Green OA, then they matter very
much, and they are needlessly and thoughtlessly retarding the
universal OA that is already within reach. (And that is why I call
them "somnambulism.)

      The deposited articles will be the final published
      versions, avoiding the concerns about version control
      that can arise through deposit of final author
      manuscripts.  We think this is a very good arrangement
      indeed, and we negotiated it while wide awake. 

I wish I could agree, but in fact everything you have said by way of
reply unfortunately confirms the opposite: "version control" is not
the OA problem: version absence is. The ones who are fussing about
the importance of having the publisher's PDF are not the would-be
users worldwide who cannot access 85% of annual published articles at
all, in any version. The latter is the problem that Green OA mandates
are designed to solve. The "version control" problem is trivial, and
will be taken care of by the institutional repository software :
Please take care of the version provision problem first.

I write this all in the fervent hope that UC -- the biggest single
player in the US OA arena -- will take the long-awaited step that
will help awaken the slumbering giant, and make the dominoes fall
worldwide at long last: Mandate Green OA.

Best wishes,

Received on Sun Mar 08 2009 - 17:33:44 GMT

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