Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Michelle Willmers on the state of Open Access: Where are we, what still needs to be done?

One of a series exploring the current state of Open Access (OA), the Q&A below is with Michelle Willmers, Project Manager of the OpenUCT Initiative at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa.
Michelle Willmers

A former journal publishing manager, Michelle Willmers was drawn to the Open Access movement after witnessing international publishers sweep into South Africa and acquire local journals. They then locked these journals behind paywalls and sought to sell them to local academic institutions at prices most simply could not afford.

For the South African academic community this was a case of bad to worse: Historically South African research has not been published over much in international journals. As such, it has tended to be invisible to the global research community. Now it was in danger of becoming invisible to local researchers as well.

Explaining her journey to OA Willmers says, “It was perhaps less of a case of becoming an OA advocate than having a deep realisation that the local scholarly communication paradigm was broken. The conversation around how to first acknowledge and then address this led in the open access direction.”

It was this same broken local context that led to the creation (in 1997) of the South Africa-based service African Journals Online (AJOL) — which Dominique Babini referred to in an earlier Q&A in this series. A local web portal that enables African journals to make their content available online (and so visible on a global basis without the need to cede ownership to international publishers), AJOL currently hosts content from 462 African journals, 150 of which are OA.

And it is this local context that saw the recent launch of SciELO-SA, a South African version of SciELO (Scientific Electronic Library Online), the online open-access publishing platform pioneered in Brazil. SciELO-SA was launched with the content of 26 “free to access and free to publish” South African journals, and it is expected that the service will eventually include around 180 of the country’s 300 journals.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Let’s be open about Open Access

To what extent should we expect publishers who profess a commitment to Open Access (OA) to be open in other ways too? This is a question often raised in discussions about OA. Some, for instance, argue (e.g. here and here) that OA ought to go hand-in-hand with open peer review (particularly in light of the recent “sting” of OA journals by Science). Others have argued that OA publishers have a duty to be more open in the management of their business. And it has been suggested that OA publishers should be more transparent about their finances. But what about when publishers make use of social media like blogs? How transparent should they be about who is behind the site, and what their objective is? This thought occurred to me recently when I was trying to find out who runs the Open Science blog.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Like companies everywhere, scholarly publishers have in recent years taken an increasing interest in the social web. Most, if not all, now have their own Twitter accounts, some have Google+ accounts, and most now run their own blogs (see for instance those run by PLOS, BioMed Central, Wiley and Elsevier).

In doing so, they invariably view the new platforms as useful new marketing tools for promoting their products and services — or in some cases as a space where their authors can promote their own books or journals (see, for instance, the blog run by Springer). Given these objectives, it is apparent to anyone reading or subscribing to these blogs exactly who runs them, what their purpose is, and the nature of the relationship they are asking readers to enter into with the site. If nothing else, the URL will invariably flag ownership.

But what if a publisher were to run a blog without indicating that it owned and/or controlled it? Suppose, for instance, that the intention was simply to provide a platform for discussing and reporting on a particular topic (e.g. Open Access). In such circumstances, could anonymity (or at least some degree of non-transparency) engender more productive discussions? In other words, might it be possible to provide a more effective communication platform if ownership of the site was cloaked in some way? Or would the interests of the site owner make it impossible to provide an independent platform?

These questions presented themselves to me in August, after I linked via Google+ to an article on the Open Science blog. Entitled Green vs. Gold OA. Which one to choose, the stated aim of the article was to outline the pros and cons of the two main forms of OA.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Elsevier’s Philippe Terheggen on the state of Open Access: Where are we, what still needs to be done?

One of a series exploring the current state of Open Access (OA), the Q&A below is with Philippe Terheggen, Managing Director, STM Journals. Terheggen, who is responsible for all 2,500 of Elsevier’s journals, is the second representative of a traditional commercial publisher to take part in this series.
Philippe Terheggen
As the largest legacy journal publisher, Elsevier tends to attract more criticism from the OA movement than other publishers. One could argue, however, that it has conspired in this by doing more than other publishers to try to derail OA — not least by aggressively supporting the infamous Research Works Act (RWA) in 2011.

Today, however, Elsevier accepts that OA has become mainstream, that it needs to embrace it, and that it may not turn out to be the monster that the publisher assumed it to be. As Philippe Terheggen  says below, “In my opinion, we’re past the notion of OA as a threat to publishers as there are many examples of OA publishers who run a perfectly healthy business.”

Please scroll through if you wish to go direct to the Q&A
At the end of the Q&A is a timeline

But where is Elsevier with OA right now? Currently, it publishes some 2,500 journals, all of which are available on its electronic platform ScienceDirect, which now hosts nearly 12 million articles. The vast majority of these journals, however, are still subscription-based, and Elsevier currently publishes just 56 pure Gold OA journals. It does however offer a Hybrid OA option for 1,600 of its subscription journals.

How quickly is Elsevier moving to embrace OA? At the beginning of 2013 the publisher had 31 OA titles. This year 25 new ones will be added, and the expectation is that a further 25 OA journals will be launched in 2014.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Media research analyst at Exane BNP Paribas Sami Kassab on the state of Open Access: Where are we, what still needs to be done?

Sami Kassab
Sami Kassab is an Executive Director at the investment company Exane BNP Paribas, where he runs the Media Research team covering professional publishing. Amongst the companies Kassab monitors are Reed Elsevier, Thomson Reuters, Informa, John Wiley, Wolters Kluwer, and Pearson. Currently, Kassab is positive about the sector, arguing that scientific publishing offers “best in class defensive growth in a very resilient industry”. Kassab believes that Open Access (OA) is still a marginal activity and in any case poses neither a short-term nor a long-term threat to large scholarly publishers. In fact, he says, it will enable them to monetise more articles than they have been able to monetise historically.

Kassab’s views will undoubtedly challenge OA advocates, who have long maintained that Open Access will mean that publishers will play a much smaller role in disseminating research in the future. This, they add, will force them to downsize, and so reduce the financial burden on the research community. Indeed, it was in the expectation that OA will lower the costs of scholarly communication that many people joined the OA movement in the first place — especially librarians, who have long sought relief from the so-called serials crisis (Whereby the cost of serials has consistently outstripped libraries’ ability to pay for all the journals they need).

Concomitantly, OA advocates argued that Open Access will inevitably reduce the profits of scholarly publishers, a belief that gained credence from the way in which publishers have persistently lobbied against OA over the past decade or so.

Until a few years ago Sami Kassab and his colleagues at BNP Paribas viewed OA as a threat to publishers too. In 2003, for instance, the website reported that BNP Paribas had downgraded Reed Elsevier to “underperform” — on the grounds that the investment firm had concerns “regarding the company's current subscription based access, as compared to the newer and more successful article-fee based open access system.”

But this is no longer the view of Exane BNP Paribas, or of Kassab. Today the investment company is upbeat about the future of large scholarly publishers like Elsevier.