Heading for the open road: costs and benefits of transitions in scholarly communications

I have a new report (jointly produced with CEPA for RIN) out today: Heading for the open road: costs and benefits of transitions in scholarly communications.

We investigate the drivers, costs and benefits of potential ways to increase access to scholarly journals. The report identifies five different routes for achieving that end over the next five years, and compares and evaluates the benefits as well as the costs and risks for the UK. The conclusions are interesting … [read more]


1 Response to “Heading for the open road: costs and benefits of transitions in scholarly communications”

  1. 1 Stevan Harnad 8 April 2011 at 9:11 pm


    The Research Information Network (RIN) report (Cook et al 2011)
    basically confirms the immediate practical implication of the Houghton report (Houghton et al 2009): Provide green open access (OA) now (through researchers self-archiving the final refereed drafts of their journal articles in their institutional repositories). That is the solution that is entirely within the hands of the research community, and also the one that confers by far the greatest cost/benefit ratio.

    Having reaffirmed this immediate practical course of action, that should have been the end of it. But the RIN report goes on to dip into three secondary issues that are, respectively, short-sighted, premature, and mistaken — with respect to OA itself, as opposed to whether and when publishing converts from subscription-based to Gold OA:

    1. SHORT-SIGHTED: It is short-sighted to estimate OA benefits from a national point of view, particularly for the Green OA option, which is already fully within the research community’s reach, and is also the option that the RIN report, like the Houghton report, is recommending.

    Green OA self-archiving is not a subscription-cost-saving matter. It is a research-access matter. Journal contents have no national boundaries. The immediate benefit to the UK from providing Green OA to UK research output will be the enhanced uptake and impact of UK research globally. This will no doubt encourage the rest of the world to provide Green OA to their research output too. (It is not just the UK that is reading the Houghton and RIN reports.)

    As the rest of the world reciprocates with Green OA, the UK also gains in access to research from the rest of the world. Journal subscription cancelations — if and when they are eventually induced by Green OA — will not begin happening while only the UK contents of journals have been made Green OA. You can’t cancel a journal because its UK-authored articles happen to be available free. Cancelations can only happen once the practice of Green OA self-archiving has become universal.

    In fact, the countries that are early adopters of Green OA self-archiving will derive an extra competitive advantage in the uptake and impact of their research output, until the playing field is levelled as other countries catch up by making their own research output Green too.

    2. PREMATURE: The RIN report dwells needlessly on how high article processing charges (APCs) for Gold OA could and should be.

    Not only are neither conversion to Gold OA publishing nor the APC asking price for Gold OA in the research community’s hands, but it is particularly premature to focus on APC asking prices at a time when it is the Green OA option that is the optimal one, and entirely within the research community’s reach, whereas only a minority of journals are as yet Gold OA.

    The market will take care of APCs if and when their time comes. Right now, OA itself is the priority, and the way to provide immediate OA is for universities and funders to provide Green OA, today, rather than to keep focusing instead on what the APCs for Gold OA might turn out to be if and when Green OA ever induces a transition to Gold OA.

    What is certain is that the money currently being paid out by institutions for publication — in the form of institutional subscription fees — is enough to cover the current costs of refereed research publication. That same money could pay for publication via Gold APCs, but if Gold OA comes into its own after universal Green OA has prevailed, Green OA itself, with its distributed network of institutional repositories, will have taken over the full burden of text-generation, archiving and access-provision that is currently being borne by publishers: The print and online edition of the journal will no longer need to be produced, the author’s refereed final draft will become the version-of-record, and hence the APCs will shrink to just the cost of peer review.

    Today’s Gold APC costs and estimates are certainly not based on such a post-Green scenario; hence calculations based on scaling those costs up to all journal articles are premature and irrelevant.

    3. MISTAKEN: Coupled with the needless preoccupation with current and future Gold APCs — at a time when what is really needed is full speed ahead with Green OA — the RIN report curiously characterizes Green OA as “unsustainable.”

    But what is it that’s unsustainable? Certainly not OA self-archiving by authors: That can be done for every refereed paper published on the planet for as long as research continues to be conducted. Obviously what RIN means here is that Green OA might eventually make *subscription publishing* unsustainable. But if and when universal Green OA ever makes subscription publishing unsustainable that means subscriptions will be cancelled by institutions, journals will cut costs, downsize to providing peer review alone and convert to Gold OA APCs; and institutions will pay those much-reduced APCs out of a fraction of their annual windfall subscription cancelation savings.

    The RIN report’s recommendations on the length of the delay (embargo) before publishers make their own versions of record OA — like its premature preoccupation with the price of Gold APCs and its needless preoccupation with publishers’ current revenue streams — are irrelevant to Green OA.

    Green OA is based on the author’s refereed final draft, not the publisher’s version of record. Publisher embargoes on OA to the version of record are more a matter of the sustainability of subscription publishing, hence whether it continues to co-exist in parallel with Green OA or converts to Gold OA.

    Cook J, Hulls D, Jones D & Ware M (2011) Heading for the Open Road: costs and benefits of transitions in scholarly communications. Research Information Network (RIN)

    Harnad, S. (2010a) The Immediate Practical Implication of the Houghton Report: Provide Green Open Access Now. Prometheus, 28 (1). pp. 55-59.

    Harnad, S. (2010b) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8). http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/21348/

    Houghton, J.W., Rasmussen, B., Sheehan, P.J., Oppenheim, C., Morris, A., Creaser, C., Greenwood, H., Summers, M. and Gourlay, A. (2009). Economic Implications of Alternative Scholarly Publishing Models: Exploring the Costs and Benefits, London and Bristol: The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)

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