Monday, June 25, 2012

The Finch Report in a global Open Access landscape

Last week I published an interview with David Price, Vice-Provost (Research) at University College London (UCL).  

Commenting on the interview on the Liblicense mailing list Anthony Watkinson said, “My impression is those pressing for OA, at least among the library sector and even within UCL, have moved on. A roadmap has been produced by the information officers of the League of European Research Universities (LERU). This organisation is chaired by none other than Paul Ayris of UCL, an Open Access advocate.”

Watkinson is a former Wiley-Blackwell publisher, a consultant to the Publishers Association, and now a part-time senior lecturer in the Department of Information Studies at UCL.
Paul Ayris, Direct of UCL Library Services
My curiosity piqued I contacted Paul Ayris, Director of UCL Library Services, and asked him if he thought the LERU Roadmap was at variance with what Price had said to me in the interview?

Ayris replied, “UCL’s position, as outlined in your interview with Professor Price, is to my mind in line with the LERU Roadmap, whose composition I co-ordinated. True, the Roadmap does not mention National Licensing approaches, but it does show the benefits and challenges of the Gold and Green routes to Open Access and the requirements that both lay on Universities.”

Ayris offered to write a guest post aligning the Finch Report with the LERU Roadmap. I agreed, and publish it below. 


The Finch Report in a global Open Access landscape
By Paul Ayris 

The Finch Report, which was  recently published in the UK, has caused a storm of comment, even controversy. Responses have been lined up behind the barricades of either Green or Gold Open Access (OA), and predictions have been made about the destruction of the UK publishing industry. 

Universities and research funders rightly worry about the implications of the funding burden that full implementation of the Finch recommendations would lay on them. There is much heat, but where is the light?

The Finch Report is, in many ways, an academic study of what the authors feel is the future trajectory of scholarly publishing to support research, teaching and learning, public engagement and enterprise. It’s a laudable and important attempt to establish a leadership role for the UK in Open Access a country that produces around 6% of the global research output. 

The Finch vision is for a fully Gold OA world, where Green OA repositories take on a role as a supporting player for grey literature and to support University marketing. National licences to commercial content are suggested as a short term win, to bring about equality of access across UK HE, and to embrace new sectors such as the NHS and SMEs.

Where does the Finch view sit in a global OA world? A new report by John Houghton and Alma Swan, financed by the JISC and to be published imminently, takes a different look at the OA debate. 

Houghton and Swan have undertaken detailed economic modelling, something missing from Finch, to compare the costs of Green and Gold Open Access if a university unilaterally opted for either of these routes, or if the whole world changed to either Green or Gold. 

Their analysis tells us a lot about the difficulties of transition to a fully OA environment. Their conclusion is that, for universities, at the present time the most cost effective route is for a University to opt for Green OA. Should the whole world turn OA, then their modelling supports Finch, in that the biggest saving for a University would come from Gold (Chart 23 in the forthcoming Report).

This is an important recognition of the difficulties of transition. One of the weaknesses in Finch is that it does not adequately model the transition to OA or the time it might take to achieve. 

Another recent publication, which also acknowledges the difficulties of transition, is the LERU Roadmap Towards Open Access. This document was published in June 2011 by the League of European Research Universities as an Advice paper for its members, and indeed for all European Universities. 

The Roadmap was well received in Germany, with a glowing tribute in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The document identifies signs and pathways for both the Green and Gold routes to OA, and the benefits and challenges of all approaches. 

A survey of European research universities found that Green approaches were more deeply embedded there than Gold. The Roadmap therefore paints a realistic picture of what faces a European research university in their attempts to embrace OA.

In this context, what is the significance of the Finch Report? It is visionary, bold and well-intentioned. But there are gaps. It fails to appreciate the difficulties of transition to OA here and now. 

Taken with the Houghton and Swan, and the LERU work, a different trajectory for the future of OA can be said to emerge. This is more nuanced than Finch suggests. 

In the short term, a scaled up version of Green OA, linked to extended national licencing, would help solve the problems of access to content that Finch quite rightly is trying to address. 

In the longer term, the Gold OA vision of Finch (the Goldfinch) may well become the predominant model. But for this to work, the whole of the world needs to turn OA, and that is not going to happen tomorrow, nor any time soon.

The Finch Report is therefore an important marker on the road to OA, but in itself it is not the whole story.

1 comment:

Stevan Harnad said...


The trouble is that the ecumenical squaring of the LERU Roadmap with the Finch Report misses the very essence of the crucial contradiction between Finch and LERU:

Finch disparages Green OA self-archiving (and ignores Green OA self-archiving mandates altogether), downgrading Green OA to merely a means of archiving data and grey literature, and helping in digital preservation. In place of Green OA, today, Finch recommends paying for Gold OA, today.

In contrast, LERU recommends mandating Green OA, today, and funding Gold only when Green OA has been mandated.

This is the difference between night and day, because it generates OA itself, in the fastest and surest way possible, and free of any extra cost: by mandating Green OA, today.

OA (Open Access) itself, now, is the primary goal of the OA movement.

Most of us (including myself) agree that universal Gold OA publishing will be cheaper than today's subscription publishing model -- but certainly not if today's prices are locked into the mechanism of transition to Gold OA, as long proposed by publishers, a proposal now seconded wholesale by Finch: extra funding for Gold OA today, plus a UK national license for all of UK's non-OA subscription content, with a phased transition to Gold OA alone (subscription costs being reduced as Gold OA revenues grow), effectively locking in publishers' total revenue at the level of their subscription revenues.

Hence, one can agree that the cost of post-global-Green-OA global Gold OA will be much less than today's global subscription/license cost, yet this does not at all imply that there is any agreement that paying for Gold OA pre-emptively now, at current prices, and on the publisher/Finch transition scenario, will cost less, nor that the publisher/Finch transition scenario is stable or scaleable from country to country, let alone that it will produce global OA in the foreseeable future, as mandating Green OA, today, will do.

So let us not, in our haste to praise Finch for having recommended "OA" at all, omit that it has recommended OA on publishers' terms, at a high cost and a very slow and uncertain pace, and at the expense of the UK's lead in mandated Green OA, which is the tried-and-tested means of generating OA at a fast and proven pace (if mandate adoption is increased and mandate implementation is optimized), and at no extra cost, just an just an optimized policy.

Finch should have recommended strengthening and extending the UK's lead and model, by increasing Green OA mandate adoption and optimizing Green OA mandate implementation.

Instead Finch recommended relegating Green OA to data and grey archiving and preservation, and instead spending more money on Gold OA.

That's the gist of it. The rest is just an exchange of trending buzz-words and pious slogans.

Stevan Harnad