One of the biggest debates taking place in academia these days is the issue of Open Access. For those of you not familiar with the term Open Access it is, according to the overview created by Peter Suber of the Harvard Open Access Project, literature which is “online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions”. According to the European Union Survey on open access in FP7, Open Access refers to “the practice of granting free Internet access to research outputs”.
Mentioning Open Access to sponsors at the HSLG conference last week was like waving a red rag at a bull. And why not? Publishers make substantial amounts of money each year from the fact that academics want to have their articles published. “Why shouldn’t publishers make money?” I hear you say. Yes, absolutely, I support commercial enterprise. I don’t begrudge coffee shops for charging me 3 euro for a coffee so why should I object to publishers charging me for the articles they have taken the time and effort to publish the articles I want to read?
Well, here’s the thing – the business model is skewed. It is completely weighted in favour of the publishers. Assuming an authors works in a public service academic environment, then their salary is paid by the taxpayer. They spend months or years researching an article. Then they send it off to whatever subscription journal best suits their research. It is then reviewed by peers and if accepted, is included for publication in the journal. In order to access that article, the institution which pays the author’s salary must purchase a subscription to that material, even though they already pay the author to carry out research as a member of staff. In addition, unless the taxpayers (who are paying the salaries of all public servants, not just academics) are studying in an institution which subscribes to the journal in which the article is published, then they can’t access it (without paying significant charges) – despite having paid for the research by paying the taxes which pay the author’s salary! Meanwhile the publishers charge the institutions which pay the researchers for access to the research. It’s tantamount to Toyota paying an engineer to design a new car for them, then allowing the designer to hand over the blueprint to another business, which will then package the blueprint up with lots of other car blueprints and sell it back to Toyota to use to design a car!
I’m not denying that there are costs involved for the publishers. However, when Elsevier’s operating profit margin was £724m on revenues of £2bn in 2010/2011 (according to the Guardian) at a time when universities in Ireland had their budgets cut by 10% and their staff numbers reduced while at the same time student fees were increased in an attempt to offset the cuts, then something is very wrong.
This brings us to the issue of Open Access. Governments globally, as well as academic bodies, consumer rights groups and freedom of information activists have all debated whether research which is publicly funded should be freely available . Since the overall agreement was that, yes, it should be, the debate then progressed to HOW this would be achieved. This is where the Green versus Gold debate arises.
Green versus Gold refers to two specific models of Open Access. Clearly it still costs money to publish an Open Access journal and there must be some way to fund them. The Gold model operates a pay-to-publish scheme whereby authors pay a fee to have their work published. The fee covers the cost of peer reviews and subsidises the production costs of the journal. The Green model does not require any payment and operates on a data repository model, whereby authors deposit a copy of a work which has been peer-reviewed elsewhere. Both of these models require that the authors own the copyright for their works and that they grant a licence to the Open Access publisher to distribute the articles under a Creative Commons type-licence.
According to the European Commission paper authors tend to be familiar with the commercial publishers and less so with Open Access publishers. One way to address this is by profiling resources such as the Directory of Open Access Journals which currently has 8968 journals listed. For anyone interested in publishing in relation to LIS, let me take this moment to plug OALIS which is a new Open Access journal being launched in January 2014. For those interested in Open Access repositories, NUI Galway has the ARAN institutional repository. Information can also be found on OpenDOAR, the Directory of Open Access Repositories.
Meanwhile the debate continues…