Royal Society Meeting on Open Access in the UK: What Willetts Wants

After all the excitement of open access (OA) developments last Friday, there was a chance to take stock this Monday at the Royal Society’s conference on “Open access in the UK and what it means for scientific research”.

The meeting, which aimed to examine “the background to the new policy announced by David Willetts in July 2012, including the recommendations of the Finch working group, and (to) address the practical challenges of implementation”, attracted a large audience of research administrators, librarians, publishers, scientists and representatives of research funders to hear a good mix of speakers (PDF). I gather it had been arranged as a sister to a similar meeting organised by the Academy of Social Scientists last December.

I don’t have time to give a full synopsis of the proceedings (slides should be available of the RS website soon) but wanted to touch on the points that resonated most strongly with me.

First off, David Sweeney announced that HEFCE had launched a consultation on the role of open access for REF assessments after 2014. Though consultative, this document is by no means a blank slate. Rather, it sets out clear proposals, re-enforcing earlier statements, that the only submissions eligible for the post-2014 REF should be open access. In an interesting contrast to RCUK, HEFCE is agnostic about whether papers are published by the green or gold OA routes; Sweeney said it would be inappropriate for the organisation to give a steer to researchers on that particular point. The consultation is primarily asking for advice on various aspects of the implementation of HEFCE’s policy. As such it might seem a rather technical process but is nevertheless a further important signal that the momentum for open access keeps rolling on.

David Willetts speaking at the Royal Society OA in the UK Conference, Feb2013

In the afternoon the meeting was visited briefly by science minister David Willetts; he made a short speech, explaining again the value he sees in a gold OA policy — immediate access and re-use rights via the CC-BY licence under a system that is transparent about the real costs of publishing — and declaring that green OA is “not a policy”. His argument is that pursuance of green OA leads to an unstable situation in which the cancellation of subscriptions (because readers have free access) drains the system of the funds needed to manage peer review and other publishing costs.

However, Willetts conceded that he had made little progress in persuading Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, to get the EU to adopt a gold-favouring OA policy. In the light of the US decision on Friday to ask federal agencies with R&D budget of more than $100m to prepare green OA policies, it seemed to me that the UK was looking isolated and I wrote as much on Monday. In the Q&A I therefore asked Willetts, if its advantages were so evident, why others were not jumping on the gold OA bandwagon set in motion by the UK and what he could do to promote the international coordination that will be needed to bring about global open access.

He didn’t really give an answer to the second part of my query but it was clear that he will be sticking to his gold OA guns for now, whatever may have happened in the US. What I found particularly interesting is that Willetts could not really articulate a convincing local economic case for the UK forging ahead with its gold-favouring OA policy in a world that looks increasingly green. There was some mention that the fact of having to deal with article processing charges (APCs) needed to cover the cost of gold OA might give the UK-based publishing industry a useful lead in a world that should eventually see a shift from a subscription-based scholarly publishing to one that is funded by APCs; but this argument didn’t have the feel of a primary policy driver.

So it looks as if the UK is taking an altruistic stance on this issue, which an unusual thing to find in a government policy. If I have understood him correctly, as Willetts sees things, going for gold OA now in spite of the additional costs in the transition is the right thing to do because it recognises that we will all have to make the shift to paying for publishing for APCs at some point. By running the experiment first, I think he is arguing, the UK aims to address and resolve the technical issues that will inevitably arise and hopes to learn lessons that can be shared with the rest of the world and so facilitate the transition to gold OA.

If these are his motives, the plan is indeed a bold one – and I have a sneaking admiration for its idealism. It is also risky and has already raised protests from various quarters — first, that the costs are too high for a science budget that is already extremely constrained and second, that green OA is the cheapest route through the transitional period. The former are real concerns, particularly in these austere times — but Willetts is evidently a gambling man. The latter argument also has some economic teeth but I would like to hear more from advocates of a transition based only on green OA mandates on exactly how the ultimate switch to gold OA can be made from the melee of subscription cancellations that they reckon will be the inevitable consequence of the success of their approach, particularly since green OA depends on compliance from the companies and learned societies that will suffer short-term financial losses.

The transition problem, whatever the route plotted through it, remains a tough nut to crack. No-one I spoke to at Monday’s meeting had a clear idea of how it would occur. We are on an experimental journey feeling our way more or less blindly — a source of occasional but considerable frustration. On the up side — or did I imagine it? — there was at least some sense that we’re all in this together.

Or there was until Tom Welton, Head of the Chemistry Department at Imperial College, got up to speak. His talk was full of charm and wit and light relief at the end of a long day, but nonetheless gave a insightful and wholly sobering account of the resistance towards OA among the majority of academics.

He told a rather shocking tale a student who, having been hired to do all the donkey-work of helping Imperial’s chemists to put their manuscripts in the College OA repository, met with widespread non-cooperation, resistance and even some outright hostility. The reasons for this are difficult to fathom — I didn’t quite buy Tom’s suggestion that his chemists were overly concerned about minor textual differences between their peer-reviewed manuscript and the journal version — but they are an important reminder that if we want researchers to adopt OA, we need to provide the right incentives. We need to make it feel worthwhile.

I believe that is an argument that can be won but it’s an argument for another day (or the comment thread) — this post has gone on long enough.

 

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26 Responses to Royal Society Meeting on Open Access in the UK: What Willetts Wants

  1. Yes, the strength and conviction of support for gold OA from Willetts was encouraging & admirable. I was very pleased with that. Time will tell if the policy is a success – I hope everyone will now stop the “friendly-fire” going on as David Sweeney (HEFCE) put it and try and make this policy work.

    If the preference is gold then I do believe there are significant advantages to being a ‘first-mover’ in the market. There are many excellent new gold OA journals in 2013, some of whom e.g. eLife are offering fee waivers for everyone (APC=£0) only for a limitied initial period – which RCUK policy will hopefully maximize the use of.

    By being first to seriously dabble in gold (and please, anyone reading this remember gold is not ‘required’ it’s just a preferred option) I think we’ll get gold and all it’s better-than-green benefits at a cheaper rate than the rest of the market because we’re the ones seriously testing it out. That SAGE Open dropped its price to just $99 for a trial period is a good example. This does rather assume that we can persuade academics away from the horridly expensive ‘hybrid’ gold options in their traditional subscription access journals. I wish this hybrid-gold option was NOT supported. So let’s now give the policy some time to operate and wait for some non-speculative data to come in now…

    Tom Welton’s excellent talk was both enjoyable but also horrifying from the POV of an open access supporter. Much work needs to be done to persuade chemists that open access journals and their peer review can operate in *exactly* the same way and to *exactly* the same standard as traditional subscription access journals. Its entirely a problem of *perception*, not ‘reality’ as Tom did emphasise. His comments are re-inforced by the recent publication of a report entitled ‘Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Chemists’
    http://www.sr.ithaka.org/research-publications/supporting-changing-research-practices-chemists

    some quotes from that:

    “they question the need for highly technical scientific publications to be broadly accessible by the public” (lamentable!)

    “Some researchers are also biased against open access journals because of what they perceive to be those publications’ lower impact”

    “Posting copies of pre-prints or published articles in institutional repositories
    or subject-based repositories has not caught on widely in chemistry, though
    in some cases chemists have deposited their research outputs as part of the
    Research Excellence Framework evaluation process.”
    (Some hope here then if self-archiving is *mandated* for the REF process)

    further (but unrelated fun quotes):

    [on bibliographic data management]
    “A few interviewees said they use a tool such as Mendeley to maintain these col-
    lections and make them searchable, but for the most part chemistry researchers
    have very simple and remarkably uniform practices for saving articles.”

    [on data sharing]
    “Current data management practices in chemistry are sub-optimal, and while chemists frequently share data, they do not always do so publicly”

    So forgive me chemists, but it rather seems they’re a bit behind the curve to me (and as a biologist, we aren’t exactly leading either).

    I look forward to the new policy coming into force this April :)

  2. A small point about Tom Welton’s presentation and the rough response to the undergraduate tasked with a push for the deposit of author manuscripts. Spiral – Imperial’s Institutional Repository, is a mature service in operation since 2006 [ http://roar.eprints.org/658/ ]. Imperial do not appear to have a stated publications policy / Open Access mandate that underpins author self-deposit into Spiral [ http://roarmap.eprints.org/ ]. I presume that the undergraduate was sent forth to encourage deposit by informing faculty that they were required to do so under existing funder policies on Open Access. With no institutional policy at Imperial and with UK funder policy in flux, it’s little wonder he met with such hostility.

    • Stephen says:

      Thanks for the comment Garret but there is, in fact, an open access mandate at Imperial, which has been in operation since January 2012. However, it’s probably fair to say that most staff are unaware of it, probably because the mandate does not feature prominently on the library’s landing page for open access stuff.

      As Tom said, the trick will be to provide the right incentives. HEFCE’s plans for the post-2014 REF will provide some useful stimulus.

      • Happy to stand corrected Stephen. Did note that the policy is not retroactive and applies from January 2012. A tough service advocacy task for a professional librarian never mind an undergraduate.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        Occasionally I read something that just makes we want to throw my hands up in the air and go whwhwhwhwhwhw. How can it be possible that a university has an OA mandate but its staff don’t know about it? Honestly.

        • Stephen says:

          All things are possible at Imperial…

          As Garret says above, OA policies are a tough sell, even for librarian but we could certainly do better to make the mandate known and enforced.

        • Hans Pfeiffenberger says:

          A “real academic” doesn’t know about new administrative (!) rules. (S)he probably acts according to some of the rules in force when s(he) started and/or makes the rules up him/herself so that they fit best their own interpretation of scientific practise.

          Exhibit #1: Copyright. As a matter of course, they use graphics etc. from articles by members of their peer group (and in particular: members of their own institution) in presentations. They will of course say or even write in small print whose graphics it is, satisfying good scientific practise. But they would never even think whether they need to ask the copyright owner.

          What do we learn from this? In the best of all worlds, copyright would be changed to fit the needs of scholarship. (Do I hear ROFLs?) In all others, we need to adapt mandates, systems approaches, you name it … to meet expectations, working habits of scholars, as close as we can, with bureaucratic overhead as close to Zero as possible.

          In the particular case discussed here, this would mean to let chemists keep publishing in “their” journals but convert those to OA. (This would probably be the most costly solution imaginable.)

          Or wait ca. 30 years until even chemists get it … No, that is unfair: Until they begin to *trust* this newish OA journal idea …

    • Imperial does have a Green OA mandate (as of 2012). They just hadn’t registered in ROARMAP. So I registered it, yesterday: http://roarmap.eprints.org/801/

  3. Mike Taylor says:

    More generally, Stephen, thanks for an excellent and encouraging account of an important meeting.

  4. Jon Tennant says:

    I think you pretty much nailed why there’s a preference for gold OA atm in the UK, without explicitly saying.

    “His argument is that pursuance of green OA leads to an unstable situation in which the cancellation of subscriptions (because readers have free access) drains the system of the funds needed to manage peer review and other publishing costs”

    The only reason why subscriptions would be cancelled is because publishers will totally be unable to justify the value they add between manuscript submission, externally done work (peer review etc.), and what they actually personally input for the prices they charge. Who on Earth would pay for a journal subscription when 100% of what a scientist want lies in repository-versions post-peer-review article for free. There are issues with compliance and licensing, but rejection of the sole green route is because no-one wants to harm the publishing industry, which are ironically resorting to have to embargo material via this route as they embarrassingly can’t justify their insane costs with respect to what they putatively add.

    I think. Cheers for blogging this Stephen, good summary of a good event.

  5. Mike Taylor says:

    “… an unstable situation in which the cancellation of subscriptions (because readers have free access) drains the system of the funds needed to manage peer review and other publishing costs.”

    I think we should make an effort to wean ourselves off the habit of talking about “managing peer review and other publishing costs”. We all recognise that publishers do not provide peer-review — we do. But it’s also true that publishers don’t manage peer-review, either. Once again, we do that, by acting as unpaid academic editors.

    I know we all know this. But a habit of speech is affording publishers a degree of credit that their efforts don’t merit, and that clouds the debate. Let’s apportion credit where it belongs.

    Of course there are still “other publishing costs”. These are real and not negligible (even though PeerJ’s financial model suggests they are much less than we have sometimes assumed). It’s right that we should acknowledge that there really are publishing costs, and that whatever financial model we end up will need to pay them somehow. But let’s make an effort to be more precise about what those costs are. Managing peer-review is not one of them.

  6. Pingback: Publishers do not manage peer-review, either. We do. | Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week #AcademicSpring

  7. Pingback: Royal Society Meeting on Open Access in the UK: What Willetts Wants | Supporting research for academic librarians | Scoop.it

  8. WHAT WILLETTS WANTS — AND WHAT HE WILL GET

    David Sweeney’s new HEFCE proposal for consultation comes very close to providing the optimal OA mandate model:

    (1) It separates the date on which deposit must be made (immediately upon acceptance for publication, with no differences across disciplines) from the date on which the deposit must be made OA (preferably immediately, but, at the latest, within an allowable embargo whose length will be adapted to the needs of each discipline).

    (2) It specifies that the deposit must be made in the author’s institutional repository (whence the metadata can be exported or harvested to institution-external discipline repositories immediately — and the full-text once any embargo has elapsed).

    (3) It makes immediate-deposit (but not immediate-OA) an eligibility precondition for submission to research evaluation (REF), thereby (very sensibly) recruiting institutions in monitoring and ensuring timely compliance with the mandate.

    (4) It expresses no preference for gold OA publishing, leaving authors free to publish in whatever journal they choose.

    (5) It expresses a preference for licensing certain re-use rights, but again leaves this to author choice.

    I have been a strident critic of the Willetts/Finch/RCUK policy’s preference for gold over green and its constraints on authors’ freedom of journal choice. This new HEFCE mandate proposal would remedy all that and would make the UK’s OA mandate once again compatible with green OA mandates the world over — indeed, with (3) and (4) it provides the all-important compliance-verification mechanism that most of them still lack.

    I hope that once they have seriously reflected upon and understood this new mandate proposal, researchers and their institutions will see that it moots all the objections that have been raised to the Finch/RCUK mandate. And I profoundly hope that David Willetts will realize and understand that too.

    I also hope that those who are impatient for immediate, embargo-free OA, CC-BY licenses and Gold OA and will allow this HEFCE compromise mandate to be adopted and succeed, rather than trying to force these less urgent but much more divisive conditions into the policy yet again.

    The price of Green OA (per paper deposited) is negligibly small, compared to Gold OA. And institutional repositories are already created and paid up (for a variety of purposes) but they remain near-empty of their target OA content — unless deposit is mandated.

    Green deposit mandates have to have carrots and sticks to be effective. Funder mandates provide the carrot/stick for institutions (funding eligibility — and enhanced impact — if you deposit; ineligibility if you don’t).

    Double-paying publishers pre-emptively for gold now is fine — if you have effectively mandated a green deposit mandate for all articles first (and you have the extra cash to double-pay publishers for subscriptions and gold).

    But if you have not effectively mandated a green deposit mandate for all articles first, instead double-paying publishers pre-emptively for gold is not only a gratuitous waste of scarce research money, but a counterproductive retardant on OA growth, both in the UK and worldwide (by encouraging hybrid gold and increased embargo lengths on green, in order to ensure that UK authors must pick and pay for gold).

    (Where gold [or a fee waiver] is offered for free to authors (& their institutions) by a journal that they freely choose as suitable, authors are of course welcome to choose it — as long as they also deposit their article in their Green OA institutional repository, just as everyone else is mandated to do.)

    Global green OA grows anarchically, not journal by journal. If and when competition from green starts causing journal cancellations, journals will be forced to start cutting costs by downsizing, phasing out the obsolete print and online edition and offloading all access-provision and archiving onto the global network of green OA institutional repositories. The institutional cancellation savings will then (single-) pay for post-Green Fair Gold at an affordable, sustainable price (for peer review alone).

    To instead double-pay publishers pre-emptively for gold now (in the name of “cushioning” the transition) while publishers promise to “plough back” all Gold OA double-payment into subscription savings (all publishers? all subscribers?) is simply to give publishers a license to keep charging as much as they like and never bother to do the cost-cutting and downsizing that universal mandatory green would force them to do.

    If the UK instead double-pays for Gold pre-emptively, it has chosen the losing option in an unforced Prisoner’s Dilemma: the UK loses and the rest of the world gains. Less an admirable moral stance or idealism than an unreflective and somewhat stubborn rush for Fool’s Gold:

    http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/978-Sustainable-Post-Green-Gold-OA.html

    • Mike Taylor says:

      It’s not news that I disagree with Stevan on the best strategy to get to a proper OA ecosystem. But I want to draw attention to one important point that he makes which I fully agree with: the importance of separating the date on which deposit must be made (immediately upon acceptance for publication, with no differences across disciplines) from the date on which the deposit must be made OA (preferably immediately, but, at the latest, within an allowable embargo whose length will be adapted to the needs of each discipline).

      This is an important distinction that nearly everyone (me included) has elided in most discussion.

    • Stephen says:

      Stevan Harnad: “Global green OA grows anarchically, not journal by journal. If and when competition from green starts causing journal cancellations, journals will be forced to start cutting costs by downsizing, phasing out the obsolete print and online edition and offloading all access-provision and archiving onto the global network of green OA institutional repositories. The institutional cancellation savings will then (single-) pay for post-Green Fair Gold at an affordable, sustainable price (for peer review alone).”

      Stevan — maybe you’re right that this is the way to go but I don’t see any enthusiasm for an anarchic route to OA among most of my colleagues in science (not to mention other disciplines). There’s a lot of conservatism out there. Not to mention the opportunities for publishers to frustrate green OA, if they see it as a likely financial threat, by disallowing deposition. Their impact factors remain something of a trump card, with a powerful hold over researchers and universities.

      Plus, if you envisage a time-point at which it would be OK to switch to ‘fair gold’ how do people decide when that time-point has been reached? When you say so? ;-)

      Willetts clearly feels that it is worth an early gamble for the UK to go early — and that that will help to bring others on board. There is a risk of double-paying but at Monday’s meeting at least one publisher (OUP) recognised that it would not be reasonable for them to keep subscription charges unchanged if an institution was paying them APCs. And RCUK have said that they will collect and publish data on APCs paid to help universities argue for subscription reductions — so they are clearly sensitive to this issue.

      Given the agnosticism of HEFCE over gold or green, it will be interesting to see if universities spend all their RCUK allocations (though I imagine their administrators will instinctively want to do so).

      • MANDATORY GREEN IN THE TRANSITION FROM SUBSCRIPTION TO FAIR-GOLD

        Stephen Curry: “I don’t see any enthusiasm for an anarchic route”

        What “anarchic” means here is just the random growth of mandatory Green OA, article by article, worldwide, instead of systematic growth, journal by journal.

        Anarchic growth, article by article, means that journals cannot be cancelled until Green OA for their contents approaches 100%, which will not be until all journal articles, worldwide, approach 100%.

        Systematic growth, journal by journal, would have meant that journals could be systematically cancelled, one by one, one after the other.

        I think the enthusiasm for the latter would be a lot lower.

        Moreover, Stephen, you seem to be missing the crux of all this: There is not enough “enthusiasm” for OA among researchers to induce them to actually provide it (whether via costly Gold or via cost-free Green), despite its manifest benefits to research, researchers, R&D and the tax-payers that fund it — except if OA is mandated.

        So what we are talking about here is what to mandate unenthusiastic researchers to do:

        Mandate double-paying publishers for Gold OA (subscriptions + Gold OA fees) out of scarce research funds — in order to guarantee publishers’ current revenue streams and modus operandi?

        Or mandate just the few keystrokes it takes to self-archive the author’s final draft as Green OA, whilst subscriptions are paying the publication costs, in full (and generously) — and let publishing adapt to the new reality as it grows (anarchically)?

        Stephen Curry: “opportunities for publishers to frustrate green OA…by disallowing deposition”

        (1) Publishers can adopt embargoes on the date at which deposits are made OA, but they cannot block deposit itself.

        (2) Currently (and for almost a decade now) over 60% of journals (including most of the top journals) have endorsed immediate, un-embargoed Green OA by their authors.

        (3) During that decade less than 20% of articles (yearly) have been made Green OA — except where it was mandated. (The percentage for Gold OA was even lower.)

        (4) Do you want to lose another decade worrying that publishers may change their mind? (And is that worry not self-fuflfilling as well as self-defeating?)

        (5) Besides, even for embargoed deposits, the automated “email-eprint-request” Button allows all authors to provide almost-immediate Almost-OA to individual requesters.

        (6) So are we to continue foregoing 60% immediate-OA + 40% Almost-OA, on the worry that mandating it might make it 60-X% immediate-OA + 40+X% Almost OA?

        (7) And is there not the much higher likelihood that as Green OA mandates and Green OA grow (anarchically) it will in practice be the percent of immediate-OA that grows, with the growing consciousness of the benefits of immediate-OA, and the means of providing it?

        Stephen Curry: “their impact factors remain something of a trump card”

        Mandating and providing Green OA does not require authors to switch journals or renounce their impact factors and track-records (as Gold OA does).

        And OA itself increases uptake, usage and impact.

        Stephen Curry: “how do people decide [the] time-point at which it would be OK to switch to ‘fair gold’”

        As mandatory Green OA grows, anarchically, worldwide, the handwriting (skywriting) will be on the wall, for journals to see, and adapt to, even before cancellations are felt:

        (1) The print edition (and its costs) can be phased out first. (It is sure to go, one way or the other).

        (2) As Green climbs toward 100% (but even before cancellations become significant) start to plan for phasing out the online edition (and its costs) too, once access-provision and archiving can be offloaded onto the Green OA repositories.

        (3) Make editing and peer-review management service and infrastructure autonomous, so it can be performed as well as budgeted independently of all other product and service and insfrastructure expenses.

        (4) When cancellations become significant (or even earlier) graph the rate at which they will reach the point of un-sustainability, and well before that, offer institutions the option of converting from subscriptions to fair-gold, per outgoing article published, for the peer-review service alone.

        Stephen Curry: “Willetts clearly feels that it is worth an early gamble for the UK to go early — and that that will help to bring others on board”

        All the evidence that other will join the UK goes against this. (See the SPARC Europe Table.)

        Unilateral Gold OA Publishing (with author publication charge) instead of Green OA self-archiving (no cost) is the losing choice in a non-forced-choice Prisoner’s Dilemma:

        UK vs. Rest of World x Unilateral-Green vs. Unilateral-Gold

        UK Unilateral Green + World Unilateral Green: win/win
        UK Unilateral Gold + World Unilateral Gold: win/win
        UK Unllateral Green + World Unilateral Gold: win/lose
        UK Unilateral Gold + World Unilateral Green: lose/win

        If OA were adopted worldwide, the net benefits of Gold OA would exceed those of Green OA…. However, we are not in an OA world… At the institutional level, during a transitional period *when subscriptions are maintained*, the cost of unilaterally adopting Green OA is much lower than the cost of Gold OA – with Green OA self-archiving costing average institutions sampled around one-fifth the amount that Gold OA might cost, and as little as one-tenth as much for the most research intensive university… Hence, we conclude that the most affordable and cost-effective means of moving towards OA is through Green OA, which can be adopted unilaterally at the funder, institutional, sectoral and national levels at relatively little cost.” [emphasis added]

        Houghton, John W. & Swan, Alma (2013) Planting the green seeds for a golden harvest: Comments and clarifications on “Going for Gold” D-Lib Magazine 19(1/2)

        Stephen Curry: “There is a risk of double-paying but… RCUK… will collect and publish data on APCs paid to help universities argue for subscription reductions…”

        On this question, here are the excerpts from my Evidence to the BIS OA Select Committee:

        19. Unilateral UK Payment for Gold OA is Double-Payment (Incoming Subscriptions + Outgoing Gold). What this amounts to is the UK double-paying publishers for Gold OA instead of strengthening the UK’s existing mandate to provide extra-cost-free Green OA: The UK publishes about 6% of the world’s research output. Hence, irrespective of how it makes its own research output OA – whether it pays extra for Gold OA or simply mandates Green OA – the UK must continue to pay for its incoming journal subscriptions in order to have access to the remaining 94% of the world’s published research output. Hence unilateral UK payment for Gold OA is double-payment (incoming subscriptions + outgoing Gold).

        20. Dictating UK Authors’ Journal Choice Based on Access Policy Instead of Quality. The Finch Committee might also have imagined that if Gold OA were mandated, UK researchers could and would switch from subscription journals to Gold OA journals. But the majority of journals today (and almost all the top journals) are not Gold OA journals. UK researchers are unlikely to accept to have their journal choice dictated to them, preferring to continue choosing their journals on the basis of their quality and track-record rather than their cost-recovery model or whether they are OA or non-OA.

        21. UK Subsidizing “Hybrid Gold.” In electing to pay for Gold, the Finch Committee has given subscription publishers an irresistible incentive to add a “hybrid Gold” option for their UK authors. This means journals continue to collect subscriptions from institutions worldwide and in the UK, and their articles continue to be non-OA – except the articles of authors who pay extra for Gold OA: Their articles are made Gold OA. And the journal is double-paid: They receive all of their worldwide and UK subscription revenue, plus whatever extra hybrid Gold OA income they earn from the UK.

        22. Gold OA “Rebates” to Counter Charges of “Double-Dipping.” Now suppose the publishers make good on their promise not to “double-dip”: Suppose they give all of their Gold OA income back to their subscribers in the form of a subscription rebate at the end of the year. Suppose a journal earns J euros per year in subscriptions and publishes N articles per year. Let’s say it charges J/N euros per article for its Gold OA fee.

        23. UK Unilaterally Subsidizes the World. Now let’s suppose the UK pays this J/N fee for all of UK’s own articles (which, remember, represent 6% of all articles published worldwide). That means the UK increases worldwide publishers’ revenues by 6% per year. True to their word, the publishers give back that extra revenue to their subscribers. How? At year’s end, every subscribing institution worldwide gets back 6% of what they have paid for subscription. So the UK gets back 6% of the 6% it has itself double-paid (for subscription + Gold), and the rest of the world gets back 94% of the 6% that the UK has double-paid.

        24. Unilateral UK Gold is the losing choice in a Prisoner’s Dilemma. This would not be a very good deal for the UK — especially in view of the fact that the UK’s full annual 6% share of worldwide published research could have been made OA at no extra cost, by mandating Green OA (with an upgrade to the ID/OA mandate). If the UK unilaterally mandates Gold OA Publishing (with author publication charges) today, instead of first (effectively) mandating Green OA self-archiving (at no added cost) then the UK has made the losing choice in a non-forced-choice Prisoner’s Dilemma.

        25. UK-Only Gold OA Rebate. The only alternative to a 6% publisher rebate given to all institutional subscribers worldwide would be for the full rebate for the 6% UK double payment to be given to UK subscribers only. But that would effectively amount to publishers transforming UK institutional journal subscriptions into Gold OA payments, so that in exchange for whatever was being paid for incoming subscriptions by UK institutions already, each UK institution would also be given (hybrid) Gold OA for its research output. (Let us assume that the UK institutions whose article output exceeded what they were paying for incoming subscriptions at J/N euros per Gold article would be “subsidized” by the institutions whose article output was less than their incoming subscriptions, with the UK’s total overall spend on incoming subscriptions roughly equal to its total annual article Gold OA output at J/N euros per article, accounting for 6% of journals worldwide revenues either way.)

        26. A UK Gold OA Mandate on Publishers? Such a UK-Only Gold OA rebate would effectively mean that the UK’s OA mandate was binding not on UK researchers but on their publishers. But it is highly unlikely that established subscription publishers worldwide would comply with a unilateral UK mandate to provide Gold OA for UK output just in exchange for the institutional subscriptions they were being paid already. For if publishers did comply with a UK mandate to make all their UK articles Gold OA without the UK paying a penny extra, then of course all other countries could mandate it too.

        27. An Unstable Subscription/Gold Equilibrium. But if all articles in all journals worldwide were being made Gold OA in exchange for existing journal subscriptions, there would no longer be any reason for institutions to continue subscribing to journals at all, because the journal articles would be accessible free for all. The journal subscriptions would be hanging by a skyhook, and the equilibrium we had assumed between those institutions that were publishing more Gold OA articles (at J/N euros per article) than they were paying for subscriptions and those who were publishing less would lead to instability: There would be opportunistic institutional subscription cancellations, which would require publishers to raise subscription prices to keep their total subscription revenue levels constant; that would in turn raise the J/N euro Gold OA fee. But higher subscriptions prices would generate more cancellations, which would again raise subscription prices and the corresponding J/N euro Gold OA fee.

        28. Transforming Incoming Journal Subscriptions to Outgoing Gold OA Article Payments Stably and Sustainably. It is evident (and certainly foreseeable by publishers) that a full rebate to UK subscribers in the form of free Gold OA would be unstable, unscaleable and unsustainable. The reason is obvious: Journals are subscribed to by institutions as a whole yearly package of incoming articles, whereas articles are published singly, by individuals, as outgoing articles. If there is to be a transition from non-OA journal subscription charges to Gold OA article publication charges, the product that is paid for has to change from annual incoming journal bundles to individual outgoing articles. Such a transformation cannot be sustained by gradually converting incoming yearly journal subscriptions into outgoing yearly subscription rebates for Gold OA.

        29. If Offered Double-Payment Is Offered, Publishers Will Double-Dip. Hence the likely outcome of a unilateral Gold OA subsidy from the UK is that no one would get back any rebates from the UK double payments. The UK would just spend a lot of scarce research money on paying publishers even more money, in exchange for OA that the UK could have for its 6% had at no extra cost, by mandating Green. And publishers will double-dip.

        —[skip]—

        33. The Solution: Mandate ID/OA and Restore Researchers’ Journal Choice. The solution is extremely simple: Upgrade to Immediate-Deposit/Optional-Access (ID/OA) for all UK research output (ID/OA moots publisher embargoes), let UK authors publish wherever they wish, and let UK authors decide whether and when they want to publish Gold, offering them whatever Gold subsidy it is felt can be spared from research without researcher resentment. This will undo both the publisher incentive to offer hybrid Gold and the incentive to adopt or increase Green OA embargo lengths.

        34. Transition From Fool’s Gold to Fair Gold. ID/OA will not only accelerate the UK towards 100% Green, but it will eventually also induce the transition to Gold OA, thereby forcing publishers to phase out products and services for which there is no longer need or market in an OA world, so as to allow publishing to evolve toward the obvious, optimal and inevitable outcome: Gold OA at a fair, affordable, sustainable price, with no inflation and no double-dipping:

        Subscription to Green to Fair-Gold Transition Scenario

        I. Self-archiving mandates (by universities and research funders)
        II. Green OA 100% globally

        (As Green OA climbs anarchically toward 100% under the effect of ID/OA mandates from institutions and funders worldwide, publishers would do well to start to phase in the second rebate model discussed above as they cut costs by phasing out obsolete products and services — the same rebate that is unstable and unscaleable until Green OA is globally mandated: The cost of Gold OA is simply deducted from the institutional subscription. As the total publishing price drops instead of rising, driven down by universal Green OA, and the obsolete inessentials and their costs are phased out, this institutional rebate can serve as the transition into the affordable, sustainable asymptotic Fair-Gold OA fee.)

        III. Universal Green OA allows journals to be cancelled: subscriptions become unsustainable
        IV. Journals are forced by cancellations to downsize and cut costs, phasing out obsolete products and services
        V. Print and online editions and their costs are phased out
        VI. Archiving & access-provision are all off-loaded onto the distributed worldwide network of institutional Green OA repositories
        VII. Conversion to Gold OA cost-recovery model occurs at a fair, affordable, sustainable price, in exchange for the service of peer review and editing only; all else is phased out.
        VIII. Institutional subscription funds are freed by the cancelations to pay for the Fair-Gold OA service, per paper

        35. Publishers Are Lobbying To Delay Global Green and Fair Gold As Long As They Can. When BIS is lobbied by the publishing industry about potential job losses as a result of the eventual downsizing likely to be induced by globally mandated Green OA, it would be a good idea for BIS to remind both the industry representatives and themselves that the real stakes here are not publishing industry job losses: More publishing industry jobs are being and will be lost to online-era software developments that make publishing more efficient and less labour-intensive than will be lost to OA. What is really at stake is the productivity and progress of research, researchers, research institutions, research funders, doctors, teachers, students, journalists, the general public, and the vast R&D industry that produces research applications for the benefit of the public that funded the research.

        36. Publishers are Trying to Embargo OA and Its Benefits. It is a great miscalculation to allow the publishing lobby to keep holding back the natural evolution of research publishing in the online era, depriving so many stake-holders of the potential benefits of OA in order to preserve the publishing industry’s bloated and increasingly undeserved revenues for products and services (print edition, online edition, archiving, access-provision) that are already obsolescent…

        Click here for full text.

        • Stephen says:

          Thanks for taking the trouble to leave such a detailed comment (though am still processing the transition scenarios laid out in your submission to the Lords committee).

          On the question of the ‘anarchic’ route to OA I wonder if, you might want to pick an alternative word, since your definition sounds more like an evolution based on enforcement of green OA mandates. That might make it a more persuasive sell (though I know you’re more interested in mandates).

          I agree that green OA mandates do provide a powerful incentive and certainly think that the HEFCE proposals for post-2014 REF will make people sit up and think.

          On the question of double-dipping via the RCUK’s gold-preference, you may be right. I will be interested to see what moves publishers make. One can only expect them to behave rationally in their best commercial interests but I wonder if they are becoming sensitive on this issue? Certainly that was the impression that the speaker from OUP was aiming to give at the RS meeting last week. However, actions will speak louder than words. In any case, I would like to see the academic community make more of the running on this (which is already happening in various quarters).

          • POSTERITY’S SMIRK

            I’m completely open to a better term than “anarchic” (since I’m still smarting from the inchoate choice of “esoteric” 19 years ago for pinpointing what it later became obvious was simply the peer-reviewed journal literature).

            But although the series of adaptations I describe and predict is indeed driven by Green OA mandates (and whatever drives the adoption of Green OA mandates) the crucial trait that still seems to me to be best described as anarchic is the fact that even if all the research institutions and all the funding councils in the UK adopted an (effectively implemented) Green OA mandate this very day, — and, starting tomorrow, every UK author faithfully self-archived every new journal article immediately upon acceptance for publication — not a single subscription journal could be cancelled as a consequence.

            For although the UK publishes 6% of the world’s research, this does not translate into 6% of the world’s c. 30,000 peer-reviewed journals, publishing a total of bout 2.5 million articles a year: the UK mandate would free only 6% of each journal (or of each journal in some big subset of the 30K journals).

            It is not until effective mandates have been adopted by close to 100% of the world’s universities and funding councils that any essential journal can be cancelled.

            I think that “anarchic” growth (article by article) in contrast to systematic growth (journal by journal) is a fair description of this mandate-driven evolutionary process.

            Of course, if something could induce the prompt and systematic adoption of effective Green OA mandates by all the world’s (say) 25,000 research active institutions and (say) 2,500 major research funders, that would certainly moot this discussion.

            But alas it’s already too late in the day for anything about OA to be described as having happened “promptly and systematically.” The optimal and inevitable outcome has been obvious for at least two decades now, but it’s already embarrassingly overdue.

            This was already sadly evident mid-voyage:

            I have a feeling that when Posterity looks back at the last decade of the 2nd A.D. millennium of scholarly and scientific research on our planet, it may chuckle at us…. [T[here is[n’t] any doubt in anyone’s mind as to what the optimal and inevitable outcome of all this will be: The Give-Away literature will be free at last online, in one global, interlinked virtual library, and its QC/C expenses will be paid for up-front, out of the S/L/P savings. The only question is: When? This piece is written in the hope of wiping the potential smirk off Posterity’s face by persuading the academic cavalry, now that they have been led to the waters of self-archiving, that they should just go ahead and drink!

            Harnad, S. (1999) Free at Last: The Future of Peer-Reviewed Journals. D-Lib Magazine 5(12) December 1999 

            • Stephen says:

              But alas it’s already too late in the day for anything about OA to be described as having happened “promptly and systematically.”

              Ain’t that the truth. Future looks messy too but, despite lots of eddys, the current is moving in the right direction.

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