Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Q&A with FinELib, the consortium of Finnish Universities, Research Institutes and Public Libraries

On 17th January FinELib, a consortium of Finnish Universities, Research Institutes and Public Libraries, announced that it has signed an agreement with Elsevier to provide access to around 1,850 journals on Elsevier’s ScienceDirect platform.

Valued at 27 M euros, the three-year contract applies to 13 Finnish universities, 11 research institutions and 11 universities of applied sciences.

In addition, to support Finland’s goal of transitioning to open access publishing, Elsevier and FinELib have initiated an open access pilot program intended to encourage Finnish researchers to publish their articles open access.

The open access pilot, which offers researchers a 50% discount if they publish OA in Elsevier journals, will be available for all corresponding authors in organisations that are parties to the agreement and covers 1,500 subscription journals and over 100 fully open access journals.

Observers were quick to point out that the agreement is far from comprehensive. As Ulrich Herb put it on his blog, since Elsevier publishes a great many more journals (2,967) than are included in the deal, “Finnish researchers can neither read all Elsevier journals nor publish open access in all of them at reduced prices.”

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the news was greeted with little enthusiasm by Finnish researchers, who also expressed irritation at the shortage of detail about pricing (despite the fact that no NDA has been signed). 

And they were quick to point out that, instead of facilitating a transition to OA, the deal will likely embed hybrid OA into the Finnish publishing landscape, helping perpetuate rather than replace the subscription system. After all, most of the journals to which the discount can be applied are hybrid (subscription) journals. 

Publishing at no cost?

Concern increased when researchers discovered that the University of Helsinki is already paying 50% of the APC when faculty publish OA in Elsevier journals. Combined with the FinELib deal this would seem to allow researchers at the university to publish in Elsevier’s hybrid OA journals at no cost, giving the legacy publisher a big advantage over pure OA journals. As Leo Lahti tweeted, “On top of 50% Elsevier OA (hybrid & full) discount @helsinkiuni pays remaining 50%: Elsevier is now free (and cheaper than full OA) for a researcher.”

When I emailed the University to check that its researchers would indeed be able to publish in Elsevier hybrid journals at no cost the response I received did not address the question directly but pointed out that researchers rarely pay APCs themselves.

In the meantime, the University had posted a long explanation on its blog that does seem to confirm (amongst other things) that faculty will be able to publish in the designated Elsevier journals at no cost: “Open publishing at the University of Helsinki in the Elsevier publications is free of charge for researchers as the university pays for the second half of the APC.” (Google Translate).

Explaining the rationale for this, the post added that it is “a pragmatic solution aimed at getting centralised information on take-up as a result of the Elsevier agreement and how much it is increasing the University’s costs.”

Strangely, the post goes on to re-affirm the University’s position that hybrid publishing is not recommended.

Disappointment is all the greater in light of the fact that during the negotiations Finish researchers created a #nodealnoreview website where people could commit to boycotting the publisher if it failed to offer a satisfactory deal. More than 2,700 researchers signed up, although a boycott never went ahead (more details here), and it seems unlikely it will go ahead now despite unhappiness over the deal. [Please see the correction to this in the comments below].

Like other national licensing consortia, FinELib has been negotiating with a number of legacy publishers, but it is Elsevier that has proved most obdurate in all cases. This has seen the publisher in a standoff with national consortia on a number of occasions, both over access to ScienceDirect and over agreement on a satisfactory formula for transitioning to OA. 

In the process, the publisher has on occasion cut off access to its journals (or threatened to), and consortia have on occasions threatened not to renew their licensing contract and/or researchers have threatened to boycott the publisher and/or resign from editorial boards – e.g. in Germany, the Netherlands, Taiwan and South Korea.

Invariably, however, these countries have eventually capitulated and signed an agreement with the publisher, always it seems on terms they are unhappy with. As Kim Eun Sung, a librarian at Sogang University in Seoul explained to Science recently, “Even though we are not entirely happy with the proposed rate increase, we must still consider the importance of ScienceDirect journals for our professors’ research”.

Finland is, therefore, just the latest to capitulate, agreeing to a deal that Cambridge mathematician Timothy Gowers has characterised as a disappointing Dutch-style deal. “It looks to me as though it’s probably roughly what they had before but with some discounts on APCs thrown in.”

The one country that continues to hold out is Germany, which turned down an offer from Elsevier last March, and subsequently outfaced the publisher when Elsevier cut off access to its service (access that was later renewed without a deal being agreed). 

And the negotiators of Project DEAL (as it is called) continue to insist that they will not back away from their demands for a nationwide Publish & Read contract with Elsevier, one they expect to include fair pricing, open access for all the Elsevier papers authored by researchers at German institutions (“publish”), and perpetual full-text access to Elsevier’s complete e‑journal portfolio (“read”). 

Real sticking point

Pricing aside, the real sticking point in Europe is the extent and degree of the open access element in the deals being negotiated, and the way in which this will facilitate a transition to OA.

In other parts of the world, the focus appears to be exclusively on the cost of access to ScienceDirect, with less (or no) attention given to open access. One Taiwanese researcher I contacted was intrigued when I told him that in Europe open access is now viewed as integral to Big Deal negotiations with legacy publishers. He added he did not think this was an issue in the Taiwan negotiations, with the entire focus on licensing content.

How the German negotiations will end remains unclear, but some researchers in the Netherlands have come to conclude that their national negotiators should have been firmer with Elsevier. It would seem Finnish researchers feel the same way. After all, as FinELib concedes below, the aim of its negotiation with Elsevier was to achieve “100% OA without additional costs”. This has clearly not been achieved

Meanwhile, the UK – which has been paying for gold OA for some five years now – is having serious doubts about its approach. Research Councils UK (RCUK) agreed to fund gold OA (including hybrid OA) for researchers on a temporary basis. For its pains, it has seen APC costs repeatedly increase, little sign of a meaningful transition to OA, and a continuing need to pay ever-rising subscription costs. (See also here).

The problem negotiators (invariably librarians) face is twofold. First, large legacy publishers have acquired so much content and so much power that they are able to call all the shots during the renewal process. Second, most researchers are still not committed to open access, continuing to prefer to publish in traditional subscriptions journals. They also have little exposure to the costs of scholarly publishing.

In short, the research community is conflicted, divided and in a weak position vis-à-vis publishers and open access, whereas publishers are unanimous in their determination to see the money tree that scholarly publishing has become continue to flourish and grow in ways that enrich them.

And while OA advocates consistently berate libraries for not simply cancelling subscriptions and putting the money towards open access, librarians point out that they simply do not have the power to do this – as is well explained in this blog post.

The upshot: the research community continues to dangle helplessly on publishers’ hooks and finds itself having to fork out more and more money each time a contract comes up for renewal. Unless the Germans can demonstrate that it is possible to wriggle off the hook it is hard to see how things will change in the near future.

Doubtless, we will eventually see near universal open access, but as things stand it seems that this will be almost entirely on terms dictated by publishers, and at considerable cost to the research community (and thus to the taxpayer).

For further discussion of the FinELib deal with Elsevier please read the Q&A below. 

The interview begins …

RP: Can you say what FinELib is and who it represents?

FL: FinELib is a consortium of Finnish universities, research institutions and public libraries. Its mission is to secure and improve the availability of electronic resources.

RP: FinELib recently announced that it has signed a 3-year agreement with Elsevier for its Science Direct Freedom Collection. How long did these negotiations take, and in what ways did FinELib have to adjust its aspirations in the process of negotiation (as inevitably happens)? That is, what did it not achieve that it had initially hoped to achieve?

FL: FinELib started negotiations for access to the SD Freedom collection in 2016 with the goal of achieving reasonable pricing and advancing open access. At the end of 2016, an agreement was made for one year to give more time for the negotiations.

This year we reached a deal which includes an open access element (50% discount on APCs). We see this as a positive step. But, evidently, we have yet to reach the ultimate goal, which is 100% OA without additional costs. Ultimate goals cannot always be reached in as short a time as one would want to.

RP: I understand there was no NDA. Why then have so few details been released? Do you plan to release more detail in terms of what exactly has been bought for how much? If not, why not?

FL: We have published the core details of the agreement: The agreement period is 3 years, at a total cost of about 27 million euros. This gives 35 organisations access to the SD Freedom collection, and a 50% discount on APCs in Elsevier-owned hybrid and OA journals. We are looking into if and which details in addition to these can be published.

RP: If there is no NDA why do you need to establish what other details can be published? FinELib is surely free to publish whatever details it wants if there is no NDA?

FL: It is not that simple. The confidentiality of an agreement is not based on whether or not there is an NDA. At least in Finland the principle of loyalty between contracting parties needs also to be taken into account. For that reason, we prefer to make public information that according to the administrative court is public information. Public information is public regardless of an NDA.

RP: You say the cost of the deal is 27 million euros, but it is not clear what exactly this buys and how it relates to previous contracts. We know it covers access to 1,850 Elsevier journals and discounted APCs for 1,600 journals, 1,500 hybrid OA and 100 fully OA. But what researchers are asking is whether this figure represents an increase in the amount of money paid to Elsevier. If it does, how much is the increase compared to past deals, and is that increase the kind of percentage increase that renewal of Big Deals usually incurs, or is there an additional charge for the OA element? If the latter, how much of the extra is accounted for by the OA element? In other words, does the deal mean that Finland has agreed to pay APCs on top of subscriptions, and thus is paying more than for subscription access alone?

FL: With 27 million euros consortium members will have access to 1,850 journals in the SD Freedom collection for three years.

In addition, corresponding authors affiliated to the organisations that are party to this agreement have the possibility of publishing their articles with a 50% discount on the APCs. The discount is available in 1,564 hybrid journals and 104 full OA journals owned by Elsevier (please note that the SD Freedom collection and the latter list of over 1,600 journals are two different things). At the moment the discount is not available for the society owned journals published by Elsevier.

Each corresponding author who wants their article published open access needs to take care over the discounted APC payment. The FinELib consortium does not do this centrally.

RP: Does that open up the possibility that some authors might end up paying Elsevier the full APC because they are not aware of the deal?

FL: No. We have agreed on a process to check and correct any possible cases where an eligible author has not received the discount.

Two different lists

RP: I am not sure what you mean when you say that the Freedom Collection is not the same thing as the list of 1,600 journals for which an APC discount is available. Perhaps you could clarify?

FL: We are talking about two different journal lists: 1) those in the SD Freedom collection that are available for access (1,850 journals) 2) those for which a discounted APC is available (1,670 journals). These two journal lists are not the same. There are links to both lists on the FinELib website.

RP: Ulrich Herb has said the following: “It should also be noted that Elsevier publishes almost twice as many journals, 2,969: Therefore, Finnish researchers can neither read all Elsevier journals nor publish open access in all of them at reduced prices.” Is his statement correct?

FL: It is true that the FinELib consortium agreement does not include access to all Elsevier titles, only to SD Freedom titles. This has been the case in previous agreements. Elsevier is surely able to provide you the exact number of journals it publishes.

The open access discount agreed between FinELib and Elsevier is applicable in journals owned by Elsevier, not those owned by societies. Societies are welcome to join the agreement if they so wish.

RP: I note Elsevier’s web site says that in order to qualify for access to the Freedom Collection a university must first have a Complete agreement. As it says, “The Freedom Collection Journals is available to academic institutions only who have a current ScienceDirect Complete agreement. Qualifying customers will have access to all non-subscribed Elsevier journal content at a significantly reduced rate.”

This would seem to imply that all the universities/institutions in the FinELib agreement must already have a basic licensing contract with Elsevier (which would I think be more expensive than a Freedom contract). As such, perhaps, the 27 million euros cited in the FinELib press release is just a small part of what Finnish universities will be paying to Elsevier for access to its journals? Is that correct?

FL: We are not familiar with the information that you are referring to. FinELib members who are party to the FinELib agreement have no obligation to subscribe to anything else.

RP: It would seem that over 80% of the journals in the agreement are hybrid OA. I am told that many funders, including the Academy of Finland, do not recommend the use of hybrid OA. Is the deal therefore out of sync with the national consensus on OA?

FL: The Academy of Finland accepts for the moment hybrid open access, as long as it is on a temporary basis. I quote “The Academy is keen to emphasise that hybrid open access is only a temporary solution and part of the transition towards full open access publishing.”

We need all kinds of open access. We need as many publications as possible to be open in every kind of way – in green, in hybrid, in gold – to have more articles open to everybody. 

The reason we need to negotiate with publishers is that our researchers still publish in these journals, that hasn’t changed so far. That’s why it’s important we increase the amount of OA articles in hybrid journals and eventually they need to flip to fully open journals. 

Transition or stasis?

RP: Some Finnish researchers have expressed concern about the passage in the press release that says: “To support Finland’s goal of transitioning to open access publishing, Elsevier and FinELib have initiated an Open Access pilot program that stimulates Finnish researchers to publish their articles open access in Elsevier journals.” Given that the overwhelming number of journals in the deal are hybrid they assume this will only further encourage the use of hybrid OA rather than facilitate a transition to OA. Would you agree? What exactly is the transition strategy?

FL: The ultimate goal of the consortium is to have 100% OA without additional costs. This agreement adds to the number of open access articles. When the amount of open access articles is big enough in these journals, the journals need to flip.

The aim of open access agreements is also to improve and evaluate the open access publishing processes. They need to make it as easy as possible for researchers. During the negotiations with publishers, we have learned that this is not the case yet.

RP: How does the agreement conform to the plan outlined in the Finnish Open science and research roadmap 2014–2017?

FL: Open access in FinELib agreements supports many of the open science and research roadmap’s open access goals. Open access articles increase the societal impact of research, consortium deals create best practices for open access processes and improve the clarity of user rights (cc licences).

RP: How does the agreement meet the H2020 goal of 100% OA by 2020? Some Finnish researchers feel that in light of the deal the EU plan may now be unrealistic in the context of Finland? Would you agree?

FL: We fully support the 100% OA goal and want to see it happen as soon as possible. Negotiations with publishers are one way to move towards this goal, step by step.

RP: Researchers organised a collection of signatures to support the negotiations FinELib has been having with publishers, and also threatened to boycott Elsevier if a satisfactory deal was not reached. Did either of these initiatives help the negotiations? Or were they detrimental (or simply irrelevant) to FinELib’s discussions with Elsevier?

FL: It is extremely important that the open access goal is a common one for the whole research community. As negotiators, we attach great value to the support expressed by researchers.

The statements and the boycott threat have shown that open access cannot be kept separate from licensing negotiations. Many publishers are still reluctant to discuss open access without strong demands from different actors in the scientific community.

We do acknowledge that there are researchers who would have liked to see the licensing agreement being replaced by open access alone, and so are now disappointed. On the other hand, concern was expressed about potential loss of access to a large collection of scholarly journals.

Publish & Read?

RP: You said, “When the amount of open access articles is big enough in these journals, the journals need to flip.” How can you be sure that Elsevier will flip them, and at what point should they flip? You also said, “open access cannot be kept separate from licensing negotiations”. This reminds me that even if it flipped all its journals tomorrow Elsevier would continue to have a huge backfile of papers that it would expect to continue to sell subscriptions to. Would it not have made more sense for FinELib to have insisted on the Publish & Read model that DEAL are holding out for?

FL: We cannot make business decisions on behalf of Elsevier or other publishers. What we can do is to make every effort to ensure that the publishing landscape changes so that 100 % OA becomes the standard way of publishing. FinELib and DEAL share the same goals to make all publications open.

RP: For the moment, however, Finland has not achieved the kind of agreement that the DEAL negotiators in Germany are insisting on. What would you say to those who feel FinELib should have been as firm as the German negotiators?

FL: We wish DEAL every success in their open access negotiations. FinELib and DEAL share the same ultimate goals. Open access is a global issue and all efforts to increase it make a difference.

RP: What do you feel has been learned as a result of the negotiation with Elsevier, and what are the lessons for the future?

FL: Open access still needs a lot of work on all levels to make it the standard way of working. We need to improve processes, communication and data gathering.

In the research community we need to continue the discussions about how to move towards 100% open access. We need to be persistent in making open access the default in scholarly publishing.

RP: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Preface: Open Divide?

Last year I was asked to write a preface for a new book called Open Divide? Critical Studies on Open Access, edited by Ulrich Herb and Joachim Schöpfel

The book was sent off to the publisher at the end of last year. Below is a copy of the preface I wrote.

Photo from Wikimedia CC BY-SA
When the internet emerged open access to publicly-funded research appeared to be a no-brainer. The network, it was argued, could dispense with scholarly journals’ print and postage costs and allow papers to be shared more quickly, more cost-effectively, and in a way that would level the playing field for those in the developing world – since it would be possible to make articles freely available on a global basis. As a result, the 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) declared, the research community would be able to “share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich … and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.”

As proof of concept, OA advocates pointed to arXiv, the online preprint server that physicists have been using to share their papers since 1991.

But while the potential benefits of open access are undeniable, making it a reality has turned out to be a slow and difficult process, and it remains far from clear that it will lead to an inexpensive or levelling way of sharing research.

It turns out, for instance, that researchers are a surprisingly conservative bunch, a characteristic reinforced by the promotion and tenure (P&T) systems that operate in academia. Consequently, most authors have continued to share their work in the traditional manner using traditional publishers, and in ways that reinforce the traditional hierarchical and elitist culture that has prevailed in the research community since time immemorial.

Publishers were also initially cautious about open access – amply demonstrated in 1999, when the then director of the US National Institutes of Health, Harold Varmus, proposed the creation of E-Biomed. Intended to replicate and extend the arXiv model in the biomedical field, Varmus’ plan envisaged a biomedical preprint server and new electronic journals managed by an E-Biomed governing body. It also assumed that authors would retain copyright in their works, a proposal that, in itself, was enough to give publishers the jitters.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, publishers responded to the E-Biomed proposal with doomsday predictions about the imminent collapse of the scholarly communication system and intense political lobbying. This saw Varmus’ proposal significantly watered down and launched as PubMed Central in 2000. Gone was the preprint server, gone were the new journals, and gone was the expectation that authors would retain copyright. Gone also was what had, in essence, been an attempt by the research community to wrest control of scholarly communication from legacy publishers. For the OA movement, this was a significant defeat.

But advocates persisted in their calls for open access, and publishers had eventually to conclude that they could not hold the tide back indefinitely. Fortuitously for them, new-style open-access publishers like Public Library of Science (co-founded by Varmus) and BioMed Central (subsequently acquired by legacy publisher Springer Nature) had by then demonstrated that it is possible to fund OA by levying publication fees in place of subscriptions (i.e. offer pay-to-play gold OA). 

Incumbent publishers realised that if those fees were set high enough they could embrace OA without any diminution of their substantial profits. So, they began to launch their own OA journals, and to introduce hybrid OA, which allows researchers to continue publishing in traditional journals and make their papers OA – so long as they pay a premium (c. $3,000 per paper).

However, some OA advocates pointed out that gold OA would unnecessarily enrich publishers at the expense of the research community, not least because hybrid OA provides publishers with an additional, rather than a replacement, revenue stream – i.e. subscriptions and publishing fees. As such, they suggested, researchers should continue publishing in subscription journals without paying a fee, and then self-archive copies of their papers in their institutional repositories, and in this way make them freely available to all – aka green OA. Attracted by this more cost-effective approach, funders and institutions began to introduce open-access policies requiring researchers to self-archive – with, it has to be said, limited success since most researchers simply ignored the policies. 

Seeing green OA as a direct threat to their revenues, publishers began imposing ever more lengthy embargoes and ever more complex and onerous rules over when, where, and what version of a paper can be made OA. They could do this because – as a condition of publication – authors are required to assign copyright in their work to the publisher. The consequent complexity of green OA served to strengthen researchers’ resistance to self-archiving, and today green OA looks like a failed strategy. Gold OA, by contrast, has gained considerable traction.

A key moment came in 2012, with the publication of the Finch Report. Produced by a UK government-appointed committee overrepresented by publishers, Finch concluded that pay-to-play gold OA was the best approach, not least because it protected publishers’ existing revenues. It was at this point that publishers began to co-opt open access – a development amply aided by the fact that OA advocates were by now thoroughly divided over how to achieve open access, or even exactly what it is. As a result, funders and governments began to turn to publishers for direction more often than to the OA movement.

Thus, in the wake of Finch, other national and international initiatives have emerged that also prioritise gold OA. In 2016, for instance, a number of European funders launched the OA2020 initiative “to convert the majority of today’s scholarly journals from subscription to Open Access (OA) publishing”. The same year the EU called for ‘immediate’ open access to all scientific papers by 2020 (which inevitably implies gold OA).

The appeal of gold OA is that it is far simpler, and allows the final version of a paper (rather than a preprint) to be made freely available. Moreover, since it means that no embargoes need be imposed papers become immediately available online. Importantly, publishers far prefer gold to green OA. The problem is that gold OA increases rather than reduces the cost of scholarly communication, and so confounds BOAI’s expectation that open access will be more cost-effective.

For researchers based in the global South, the emergence of pay-to-publish OA is especially troubling. Increasingly incentivised to publish in prestigious international journals (which are invariably based in the global North) researchers in the developing world face the prospect of having to pay publishing fees of hundreds or thousands of dollars every time they need to publish a paper, something few can afford to do.

As such, OA’s promise that it would level the playing field has also been confounded. Indeed, OA now looks set to widen rather than narrow the North/South knowledge divide. Consider, for instance, that BOAI assumed that if a paper was made open access it would be free for anyone to access. 

Elsevier’s response to European calls for subscription journals to be converted to gold OA, however, has been to propose what it calls “region-specific OA”. This envisages that access to papers would be granted or denied depending on a researcher’s geographical location, with access limited to residents of the country/region that has paid the cost of publication. This, of course, cannot fairly be described as open access. Rather it is (counter-intuitively) an OA version of the toll access national licensing schemes that organisations like the UK’s Jisc regularly negotiate.

Elsevier’s idea may come to nothing, but that such a thing as regional OA could be proposed draws our attention to the fact that – far from being inclusive – OA may further disenfranchise those in the global South. After all, Elsevier estimates that 80% of papers are still published toll access. This means that researchers in the global South now face a double barrier. 

To provide faculty with access to the 80% of research behind paywalls institutions in the developing world would need to pay subscription fees, but few can afford to subscribe to more than a handful of journals. This is the historic toll access barrier.

In addition, as journals start to flip to gold OA researchers in the developing world will discover that they cannot afford to publish their own research. This is a new barrier and a direct consequence of the demands for open access; a barrier, moreover, that will exclude researchers in the global South from the “common intellectual conversation” promised by BOAI.

To cap it all, gold OA has unleashed on the world a plague of predatory journals, with those in the South said to be disproportionately impacted.

Meanwhile, anyone whose first language is not English faces a language barrier too, since English has become the lingua franca of scholarly communication. In addition, those without adequate internet access face a bandwidth barrier. These are not barriers that were addressed at BOAI, but they need to be taken into account when discussing open access.

Of course, researchers in the global South have the option of spurning international journals and making their work freely available in their own language, in a local repository. But this cannot provide the visibility that publishing in an international journal can, and it will not satisfy their employers’ P&T requirement that they publish in prestigious journals.

In short, while OA promised to create a cheaper, faster, and more inclusive system of scholarly communication, it now seems likely to be more expensive and to widen the North/South knowledge divide. Indeed, some believe that OA could prove a new source of colonialism, with scientists in the North able to freely plunder knowledge produced in the South while continuing to define and control what counts as scientific knowledge, and who can contribute to it. Those in the developing world will still be locked out of the conversation.

Clearly, if the BOAI promises are to be met the current trajectory of open access would need some adjustment. Two developments might appear to hold out some hope.

First, there is growing interest in so-called diamond open access, in which journals charge neither publication fees nor access charges. Costs are covered by other means – through sponsorship by a learned society, for instance, through endowments, or by means of government grants. OA advocates frequently cite as a model here SciELO – the publicly-funded Latin American co-operative publishing platform. SciELO, they point out, offers a cheaper alternative to the model emerging in the North (SciELO costs are estimated at $90 per article). Given the traction that pay-to-publish has now acquired, however, diamond OA could struggle to gain mindshare.

The second development to note is the reinvigorated preprint movement. As I write this, new services like bioRxiv, SocArXiv, EarthArXiv, and PsyArXiv are emerging on an almost weekly basis. (It is worth noting that bioRxiv is essentially the preprint server Varmus wanted to introduce 18 years ago.

Potentially, preprint servers could deliver on all three OA promises – i.e. provide a faster, cheaper, and fairer system for sharing research. Indeed, in theory, they could make the traditional journal redundant, and so deliver very significant cost savings (it is estimated that it costs just $7 per paper to post and host on arXiv).

On the other hand, papers deposited in preprint servers are invariably later submitted to legacy journals, if only in order to meet the demands of P&T committees. In a gold OA world, this would mean authors were still confronted with high publishing fees. So, it is not obvious that preprint servers will deliver the cost reductions that are essential if the developing world is to become an equal partner in the OA world.

We need also to view OA against the backdrop of a larger drive for openness. Not only does open access now encompass monographs as well as research papers (which presents a new set of problems), but we have also seen the emergence of the open data and OER movements, along with the broader open science movement. Looking further out, there are also the commons/commoning movements. All these movements are products of the internet, and they were all initially infused with a belief that some areas of human endeavour should be based on public rather than private goods.

The challenge all these movements face, however, is that we live at a time when neoliberalism – and a belief in the primacy of the market – dominates both public discourse and public policy. What the experience of the OA movement has taught us is that while alternative solutions intended to operate outside the straightjacket of the market are highly desirable (and highly desired), they are difficult to sustain. Public goods are constantly vulnerable to subversion, marginalisation and/or privatisation by commercial interests. It does not help that some open advocates have sought to promote their cause by promising it will provide commercial benefits as much as non-monetary social value. And when it comes to competing in markets the North continues to enjoy inherited advantages.

Further complicating the picture, powerful global companies like Facebook and Google now manage and control much of the information flow on the Web. Amongst other things, this means that making content freely available on the internet does not necessarily make it visible. We should not doubt that more and more OA content will become available online, but it will increasingly be swamped by the tide of non-research information flooding the network. Locating relevant material, therefore, will become ever more difficult, and will create a growing need for specialist pay-to-find discovery services. Those wishing to participate in the common intellectual conversation who cannot afford such services will be at a disadvantage.

Finally, we could note that the Web has created the so-called “platform economy”, exemplified by for-profit services like Uber and Airbnb. This is the direction that scholarly communication is now taking, with commercial repository services like SSRN, and paper sharing platforms like Mendeley, ResearchGate and leading the charge. Amongst other things, these platforms will aim to capture usage data and sell it back to the research community, with researchers themselves (rather than their research) becoming the product. The implications of this are not entirely clear today, but such services are unlikely to narrow the North/South knowledge divide, not least because the paywalls that the OA movement has spent the last fifteen years trying to pull down look set to be replaced by new ones.

Our conclusion has therefore to be that while most research looks set to become freely available, it is far from clear that OA will level the playing field, or lead to a more cost-effective scholarly communication system. This is unwelcome news for researchers in the global South.