Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Open Access: Whom would you back?

Open Access (OA) advocates will tell you that there are two roads to OA.

Green OA consists of researchers continuing to publish in traditional subscription journals, and then self-archiving their final peer-reviewed papers on the Web, either in an institutional repository or in a central or subject-based repository like arXiv or PubMed Central. In this way they can ensure that any other researcher in the world is able to access their papers, regardless of whether the other researcher's institution has a subscription to the journals in which the papers are published.

Gold OA, by contrast, consists of researchers publishing in specialist OA journals (e.g. the journals of OA publishers like BioMed Central or Public Library of Science) rather than in a subscription journal. Instead of limiting access by imposing a subscription, OA publishers levy on authors (or more usually their funders or institutions) an article processing charge (APC). This is intended to cover the costs of organising peer review, and any costs incurred in making papers available online.

There are two variations on Gold OA: Hybrid OA, where a subscription journal agrees to make single papers freely available on the Web on payment of an APC (while the rest of the papers remain available to subscribers only); and institutional "membership" OA, where a research institution forward-buys in bulk the right for all of its researchers to publish with a specific OA publisher, thereby avoiding the need to pay an APC every time an article is published.

Whether Green or Gold, OA implies providing immediate, permanent, toll-free online access to the full-texts of peer-reviewed research journal articles.

The logic of OA is that the global network allows the scholarly community to dispense with the traditional paywalls characteristic of the print publishing world, thereby maximising the number of researchers able to view published papers. The assumption is that this will enable research to develop more quickly, and more effectively.

But as the OA movement has developed an interesting question has arisen: should Green and Gold OA be viewed as concurrent or consecutive activities?

This is not an issue of intellectual curiosity alone: it has important strategic implications for the OA movement. It requires, for instance, that the movement decides whether to treat Green and Gold OA as complementary or competitive activities; and if they are competitive, then where the OA movement should focus its main efforts ...


If you wish to read the rest of this article please click on the link below. I am publishing it under a Creative Commons licence, so you are free to copy and distribute it as you wish, so long as you credit me as the author, do not alter or transform the text, and do not use it for any commercial purpose.

If after reading it you feel it is well done you might like to consider making a small contribution to my PayPal account. I have in mind a figure of $8, but whatever anyone felt inspired to contribute would be fine by me.

Payment can be made quite simply by quoting the e-mail account: richard.poynder@btinternet.com. It is not necessary to have a PayPal account to make a payment.

What I would ask is that if you point anyone else to the article then you consider directing them to this post, rather than directly to the PDF file itself.

If you would like to republish the article on a commercial basis, or have any comments on it, please email me at richard.poynder@btinternet.com.

To read the article (as a PDF file) click


UPDATE (17/03/09).

Peter Suber comments on this article here.

Ivy Anderson, Director, Collections, California Digital Library comments here.

Former Commercial Director of publisher Wiley-Blackwell Steven Hall comments here

Stevan Harnad responds to Ivy Anderson's comments here.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, I could not agree more. Why don't scholarly community ask where the heck this 2000-3000$ the Gold OA journals goes, mean you need to have valid expenses, when every one is doing voluntarily then who is eating the money. Gold OA is spending to much money of advertisements, distributing free T-Shirts, hiring online discussion experts and bla bla. I wish Green OA win in this rat race.

Stevan Harnad said...

I don't know how he does it. His article is full of points with which I profoundly disagree. But he has written it so fairly and so insightfully and so stimulatingly that all one can do is admire it and him, yet again.

I may be writing a critical commentary shortly, but in the meantime, all I can do is highly recommend it to everyone with any interest in the exciting current developments in Open Access (OA). It will bring you up to speed with the OA movement and also give you a shrewd and penetrating peek at OA's possible future.

Agree or disagree, you cannot fail to be informed, and impressed. The OA movement is fortunate indeed to have Richard Poynder as its chronicler, conscience, and gadfly laureate.

Chris Sugnet said...

My only issue with the article is the use of the term "open access" to refer to "free to view" content. This has implications for the future. Free to view material is still protected by conventional copyright restrictions. Open access follows the Creative Commons model in some form, at its best allowing derivitive works with attribution and public display. Objects with these licenses can be more efficiently used, especially the multi-media objects, and will be the primary building blocks of open educational projects.

Andria McGrath said...

I would much prefer the Green OA to win the race, but I fear that it will be Gold, for the reason that, at least in the UK all the major medical funders have mandated deposit in UK PubMed Central within 6 months. My reading of the publishers policies summarised in Sherpa Romeo is that all but four of the major publishers do not allow archiving in UK PMC within 6 months (although most do allow self archiving in an institutional repository). Thus, these funders are driving gold OA as the only way that researchers can comply with their mandate.
In non-health fields the major UK funders do not impose the requirment of deposit in a subject based repository and therefore are driving the green agenda, but I fear that the preponderance of health publishing will drive the agenda the other way. I would love to be contradicted with alterantive evidence.

Anonymous said...

1. Green mandates are a by-product of Toll Gate journals. So, how can Green mandates solve the affordability problem?
2. The agreement between the Max Planck Society and Springer was not the first one of this kind. Actually, it was the deal with the Dutch consortium UKB which stood model for the others. Some interesting business information about this deal may be found in a hidden corner of the web: http://library.wur.nl/WebQuery/nieuws?nieuws/@isn=712&wq_sfx=full
3. Derek Haank has always stated that the publication fee of $3000 per article was based the need to maintain their current revenue in case all articles would be published in Open Access. However, I know on good authority that two years ago Springer's journal revenue was $300 million for about 150.000 articles. This would lead to an article price of $2000. (This does not take into account that the distribution costs in an Open Access world will be much lower than in the Toll Gate world. These distribution costs account for 20% to 30% of the total process costs. So in an Open Access world Springer's price per article can be lowered to $1500, still generating a comfortable profit for them.)

Nathan Georgette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Just for historical accuracy - hybrid OA was not created by Springer in 2004. When I wrote about it as a transitional model in 2003 (http://eprints.rclis.org/1179/1/From_here_to_there.htm) variations of the model were already being used by some society publishers.

Anonymous said...

Richard, this is indeed a wonderful analysis. I do feel that you paint all publishers as profit-maximizing entities and do not see the fundamental difference in missions between commercial publishers and non-profit society publishers. The latter have demonstrated that they can responsibly maximize the dissemination of research while minimizing costs to libraries.

The ultimate goal then should not be about wrestling control away from publishers and giving it back to the academy (there is little evidence that the academy/library can do it cheaper and more effectively than professional publishers).

The real goal should be to wrestle control away from those publishers who cannot maximize dissemination and minimize costs and privilege those publishers who can.

Institutional and library policies should be based upon these two factors alone.

--Phil Davis

Anonymous said...

Richard, your article is indeed interesting and reads like a suspense novel. One correction however: it would be a mistake for anyone to think that UC threw money at Springer to secure its OA arrangement. Echoing Phil Davis's comments (who always has something useful and insightful to say), UC's goal is to promote the most open use of content as possible in as sustainable a manner as possible, ideally in a way that is least disruptive to our scientists and scholars. Much experimentation is still needed to find the right balance between openness and sustainability. We hope we can contribute to that exploration in our Springer pilot.

- Ivy Anderson, California Digital Library

Stevan Harnad said...


(1) On "Throwing Money at Gold OA Without Mandating Green OA"

(2) On "Phil Davis's... always... useful and insightful... comments"

(3) On providing OA "in a way that is least disruptive to our scientists and scholars"

(4) On one or two or three or four other useful things librarians could do to help provide OA whilst trying "to find the right balance between openness and sustainability"

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

Laurent Romary said...

Since Peter Suber actually asked about this in his answer to this very good and in-depth analysis by Richard Poynder, let me add a few elements about the Max Planck Society (MPS) deal with Springer. The final agreement, which followed an initial break in the negociation between the two parties, took into account the fact that the MPS considered its own subscription to be by far to expensive to be renewed unchanged. The agreement thus comprised three aspects: a) a slight reduction in budget, b) an extension of the subscription portfolio and c) the full open access scheme for any Max Planck author. To my view such transitional (and experimental for sure) agreements are one of the possible ways to contribute to the evolution of the scientific publishing landscape.