Excerpts from Peter Suber, Open Access, 2012, MIT Press.
I want busy people to read this book. OA benefits literally everyone, for the same reasons that research itself benefits literally everyone. OA performs this service by facilitating research and making the results more widely available and useful. It benefits researchers as readers by helping them find and retrieve the information they need, and it benefits researchers as authors by helping them reach readers who can apply, cite, and build on their work.
My honest belief from experience in the trenches is that the largest obstacle to OA is misunderstanding. The largest cause of misunderstanding is lack of familiarity, and the largest cause of unfamiliarity is preoccupation. Everyone is busy. There has been organized opposition from some publishers, but that has been a minor impediment by comparison. The best remedy to misunderstanding is a clear statement of the basics for busy people.
This little book doesn’t say much about kindred topics such as open data, open educational resources, open government, free and open-source software, or open science (combining OA texts, open data, and open-source software, and providing these sorts of openness at every stage of a research project, not just at the end in reporting results). Some of the kindred forms of scholarly openness might soon be covered by other volumes in this series.
Shifting from ink on paper to digital text suddenly allows us to make perfect copies of our work. Shifting from isolated computers to a globe-spanning network of connected computers suddenly allows us to share perfect copies of our work with a worldwide audience at essentially no cost. About thirty years ago this kind of free global sharing became something new under the sun. Before that, it would have sounded like a quixotic dream. Digital technologies have created more than one revolution. Let’s call this one the access revolution.
Imagine a tribe of authors who write serious and useful work, and who follow a centuries-old custom of giving it away without charge. I don’t mean a group of rich authors who don’t need money. I mean a group of authors defined by their topics, genres, purposes, incentives, and institutional circumstances, not by their wealth. In fact, very few are wealthy. For now, it doesn’t matter who these authors are, how rare they are, what they write, or why they follow this peculiar custom. It’s enough to know that their employers pay them salaries, freeing them to give away their work, that they write for impact rather than money, and that they score career points when they make the kind of impact they hoped to make. Suppose that selling their work would actually harm their interests by shrinking their audience, reducing their impact, and distorting their professional goals by steering them toward popular topics and away from the specialized questions on which they are experts. If authors like that exist, at least they should take advantage of the access revolution. The dream of global free access can be a reality for them, even if most other authors hope to earn royalties and feel obliged to sit out this particular revolution. These lucky authors are scholars, and the works they customarily write and publish without payment are peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals. Open access is the name of the revolutionary kind of access these authors, unencumbered by a motive of financial gain, are free to provide to their readers.
A price tag is a significant access barrier.
Pag. 8. 125 Copyright can also be a significant access barrier.
When we need to, we can be more specific about access vehicles and access barriers. In the jargon, OA delivered by journals is called gold OA, and OA delivered by repositories is called green OA. Work that is not open access, or that is available only for a price, is called toll access (TA). Over the years I’ve asked publishers for a neutral, nonpejorative and nonhonorific term for toll-access publishers, and conventional publishers is the suggestion I hear most often.
If we remove price barriers alone, we provide gratis OA, and if we remove at least some permission barriers as well, we provide libre OA.
OA was defined in three influential public statements: the Budapest Open Access Initiative (February 2002), the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing (June 2003), and the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities (October 2003).1 I sometimes refer to their overlap or common ground as the BBB definition of OA. My definition here is the BBB definition reduced to its essential elements and refined with some post-BBB terminology (green, gold, gratis, libre) for speaking precisely about subspecies of OA.
an obligation to attribute the work to the author.
The basic idea of OA is simple: Make research literature available online without price barriers and without most permission barriers. Even the implementation is simple enough that the volume of peer-reviewed OA literature and the number of institutions providing it have grown at an increasing rate for more than a decade.
Two background facts suggest the answer. First, authors are the copyright holders for their work until or unless they transfer rights to someone else, such as a publisher. Second, scholarly journals generally don’t pay authors for their research articles, which frees this special tribe of authors to consent to OA without losing revenue. This fact distinguishes scholars decisively from musicians and moviemakers, and even from most other kinds of authors. This is why controversies about OA to music and movies don’t carry over to OA for research articles. Both facts are critical, but the second is nearly unknown outside the academic world. It’s not a new fact of academic life, arising from a recent economic downturn in the publishing industry. Nor is it a case of corporate exploitation of unworldly academics. Scholarly journals haven’t paid authors for their articles since the first scholarly journals, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London and the Journal des sçavans, launched in London and Paris in 1665.4
Creative people who live by royalties, such as novelists, musicians, and moviemakers, may consider this scholarly tradition a burden and sacrifice for scholars. We might even agree, provided we don’t overlook a few facts. First, it’s a sacrifice that scholars have been making for nearly 350 years. OA to research articles doesn’t depend on asking royalty-earning authors to give up their royalties. Second, academics have salaries from universities, freeing them to dive deeply into their research topics and publish specialized articles without market appeal. Many musicians and moviemakers might envy that freedom to disregard sales and popular taste. Third, academics receive other, less tangible rewards from their institutions—like promotion and tenure—when their research is recognized by others, accepted, cited, applied, and built upon.
Some focus single-mindedly on carrying an honest pebble to the pile of knowledge (as John Lange put it), having an impact on their field, or scooping others working on the same questions. Others focus strategically on building the case for promotion and tenure. But the two paths converge, which is not a fortuitous fact of nature but an engineered fact of life in the academy. As incentives for productivity, these intangible career benefits may be stronger for the average researcher than royalties are for the average novelist or musician. (In both domains, bountiful royalties for superstars tell us nothing about effective payment models for the long tail of less stellar professionals.)
We can take this a step further. Scholars can afford to ignore sales because they have salaries and research grants to take the place of royalties. But why do universities pay salaries and why do funding agencies award grants? They do it to advance research and the range of public interests served by research. They don’t do it to earn profits from the results. They are all nonprofit. They certainly don’t do it to make scholarly writings into gifts to enrich publishers, especially when conventional publishers erect access barriers at the expense of research.
But OA benefits authors as well as readers. Authors want access to readers at least as much as readers want access to authors. All authors want to cultivate a larger audience and greater impact. Authors who work for royalties have reason to compromise and settle for the smaller audience of paying customers. But authors who aren’t paid for their writing have no reason to compromise.
The reasons to make work OA are essentially the same as the reasons to publish. Authors who make their work OA are always serving others but not always acting from altruism. In fact, the idea that OA depends on author altruism slows down OA progress by hiding the role of author self-interest.
OA articles are cited more often than non-OA articles, even when they are published in the same issue of the same journal. There’s growing evidence that OA articles are downloaded more often as well, and that journals converting to OA see a rise in their submissions and citation impact.6
the correlation is simply due to the larger audience and heightened visibility provided by OA itself. When you enlarge the audience for an article, you also enlarge the subset of the audience that will later cite it, including professionals in the same field at institutions unable to afford subscription access. OA enlarges the potential audience, including the potential professional audience, far beyond that for even the most prestigious and popular subscription journals.
My colleague Stevan Harnad frequently compares research articles to advertisements. They advertise the author’s research.
Because any content can be digital, and any digital content can be OA, OA needn’t be limited to royalty-free literature like research articles. Research articles are just ripe examples of low-hanging fruit. OA could extend to royalty-producing work like monographs, textbooks, novels, news, music, and movies. But as soon as we cross the line into OA for royalty-producing work, authors will either lose revenue or fear that they will lose revenue. Either way, they’ll be harder to persuade. But instead of concluding that royalty-producing work is off limits to OA, we should merely conclude that it’s higher-hanging fruit. In many cases we can still persuade royalty-earning authors to consent to OA.
All the key players in peer review can consent to OA without losing revenue.
Of course, conventional publishers are not as free as authors, editors, and referees to forgo revenue. This is a central fact in the transition to OA, and it explains why the interests of scholars and conventional publishers diverge more in the digital age than they diverged earlier. But not all publishers are conventional, and not all conventional publishers will carry print-era business models into the digital age. Academic publishers are not monolithic. Some new ones were born OA and some older ones have completely converted to OA. Many provide OA to some of their work but not all of it. Some are experimenting with OA, and some are watching the experiments of others. Most allow green OA (through repositories) and a growing number offer at least some kind of gold OA (through journals). Some are supportive, some undecided, some opposed.
OA gains nothing and loses potential allies by blurring these distinctions. This variety reminds us (to paraphrase Tim O’Reilly) that OA doesn’t threaten publishing; it only threatens existing publishers who do not adapt.
A beautiful opportunity exists where the willingness and the medium overlap. A scholarly custom that evolved in the seventeenth century frees scholars to take advantage of the access revolution in the twentieth and twenty-first.
- OA isn’t an attempt to bypass peer review. OA is compatible with every kind of peer review, from the most conservative to the most innovative, and all the major public statements on OA insist on its importance.
- OA isn’t an attempt to reform, violate, or abolish copyright. It’s compatible with copyright law as it is. OA would benefit from the right kinds of copyright reforms, and many dedicated people are working on them.
- OA isn’t an attempt to deprive royalty-earning authors of income. The OA movement focuses on research articles precisely because they don’t pay royalties.
- OA isn’t an attempt to deny the reality of costs. No serious OA advocate has ever argued that OA literature is costless to produce, although many argue that it is less expensive to produce than conventionally published literature, even less expensive than born-digital toll-access literature. The question is not whether research literature can be made costless, but whether there are better ways to pay the bills than charging readers and creating access barriers.
Pag. 20. 316
Pag. 5.. OA isn’t an attempt to reduce authors’ rights over their work.
(Here we needn’t get into the complexity that some toll-access journals effectively create involuntary reader boycotts by pricing their journals out of reach of readers who want access.) 10. OA isn’t primarily about bringing access to lay readers. If anything, the OA movement focuses on bringing access to professional researchers whose careers depend on access. But there’s no need to decide which users are primary and which are secondary.
- Finally, OA isn’t universal access. Even when we succeed at removing price and permission barriers, four other kinds of access barrier might remain in place: • Filtering and censorship barriers Many schools, employers, ISPs, and governments want to limit what users can see. • Language barriers Most online literature is in English, or another single language, and machine translation is still very weak. • Handicap access barriers Most web sites are not yet as accessible to handicapped users as they should be. • Connectivity barriers The digital divide keeps billions of people offline, including millions of scholars, and impedes millions of others with slow, flaky, or low-bandwidth internet connections. Most us want to remove all four of these barriers. But there’s no reason to save the term open access until we succeed.
removing price and permission barriers is a significant plateau worth recognizing with a special name.
We are in the midst of a pricing crisis for scholarly journals. For four decades, subscription prices have risen significantly faster than inflation and significantly faster than library budgets. Subscription prices have risen about twice as fast as the price of healthcare, for most people the very index of skyrocketing, unsustainable prices. We’re long past the era of damage control and into the era of damage.
- When most peer-reviewed research journals are toll access, a pricing crisis entails an access crisis. Before the rise of OA, all peer-reviewed journals were toll access, and even today about three-quarters of peer-reviewed journals are toll access.3 When subscribers respond to skyrocketing prices by canceling subscriptions, access decreases. Cancellations mitigate one problem and aggravate another. A study by the Research Information Network in late 2009 found that 40 percent of surveyed researchers had trouble accessing journal literature at least once a week, and two-thirds at least once a month. About 60 percent said that access limitations hindered their research, and 18 percent said the hindrance was significant.4
- Even the wealthiest academic libraries in the world suffer serious access gaps. When the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted unanimously for a strong OA policy in February 2008, Professor Stuart Shieber explained that cumulative price increases had forced the Harvard library to undertake “serious cancellation efforts” for budgetary reasons.5 Access gaps are worse at other affluent institutions, and worse still in the developing world. In 2008, Harvard subscribed to 98,900 serials and Yale to 73,900. The best-funded research library in India, at the Indian Institute of Science, subscribed to 10,600. Several sub-Saharan African university libraries subscribed to zero, offering their patrons access to no conventional journals except those donated by publishers.6
By design, big deals are too big to cancel without pain, giving publishers leverage to raise prices out of proportion to journal costs, size, usage, impact, and quality. Without bundling, libraries would have responded to the pricing crisis with a devastating number of cancellations. With bundling, publishers protect even second-rate journals from cancellation, protect their own profits, and shift the devastation to library budgets.7
To top it off, most big deals include confidentiality clauses preventing universities from disclosing the prices they pay. The effect is to reduce bargaining and price competition even further. In 2009, three academics launched the Big Deal Contract Project to use state open-record laws to force disclosure of big-deal contracts with public universities. Elsevier went to court to block the release of its contract with Washington State University and lost.9
During the decades in which journal prices have been rising faster than inflation and faster than library budgets, libraries have cut into their book budgets to pay for journals.
When libraries pay for subscriptions to digital journals, they don’t buy or own their own digital copies but merely rent or license them for a period of time. If they cancel a subscription, they could lose access to past issues.
Libraries must negotiate for prices and licensing terms, often under nondisclosure agreements, and retain and consult complex licensing agreements that differ from publisher to publisher and year to year.
I make this list library-centric rather than user-centric because the pricing crisis has nearly killed off individual subscriptions. Most subscribers to toll-access journals are libraries, and most authorized readers of toll-access journals are library patrons.11
- Conventional publishers use a business model that depends on access barriers and creates artificial scarcity. All publishers (conventional and OA) need revenue to cover their costs, but OA publishers use business models that dispense with access barriers and avoid artificial scarcity.
The deeper problem is that we donate time, labor, and public money to create new knowledge and then hand control over the results to businesses that believe, correctly or incorrectly, that their revenue and survival depend on limiting access to that knowledge.
- Conventional publishers often criticize OA initiatives for “interfering with the market,” but scholarly publishing is permeated by state action, public subsidies, gift culture, and anticompetitive practices.14 All scholarly journals (toll access and OA) benefit from public subsidies. Most scientific research is funded by public agencies using public money, conducted and written up by researchers working at public institutions and paid with public money, and then peer-reviewed by faculty at public institutions and paid with public money.
- Every scholarly journal is a natural mini-monopoly in the sense that no other journal publishes the same articles. There’s nothing improper about this natural mini-monopoly. It’s a side-effect of the desirable fact that journals don’t duplicate one another. But it means that toll-access journals compete for authors much more than they compete for subscribers. If you need an article published in a certain journal, then you need access to that journal. This is one reason why free and expensive journals can coexist in the same field, even at the same level of quality. The free journals don’t drive the expensive journals out of business or even drive down their prices. By weakening the competition for buyers, however, this natural monopoly weakens the market feedback that would otherwise punish declining quality, declining usage, and rising prices.
- Large conventional publishers spend some of the money they extract from libraries on marketing and “content protection” measures that benefit publishers far more than users. Indeed, the content protection measures don’t benefit users at all and make the texts less useful.16
Researcher oblivion to the problems facing libraries adds several new problems to the mix. It means that the players who are most aware of quality are generally unaware of prices, which Jan Velterop once called the “cat food” model of purchasing. It creates a classic moral hazard in which researchers are shielded from the costs of their preferences and have little incentive to adjust their preferences accordingly.
Too much of the OA discussion is grim, utilitarian, and problem-oriented. We should complement it with discussion that is joyful, curious, and opportunity-oriented. Serious problems don’t rule out beautiful opportunities, and one of the most beautiful opportunities facing OA is that certain strategic actions will solve serious problems and seize beautiful opportunities at the same time.
A less obvious but more fundamental opportunity is that knowledge is nonrivalrous (to use a term from the economics of property). We can share it without dividing it and consume it without diminishing it. My possession and use of some knowledge doesn’t exclude your possession and use of the same knowledge. Familiar physical goods like land, food, and machines are all rivalrous. To share them, we must take turns or settle for portions. Thomas Jefferson described this situation beautifully in an 1813 letter to Isaac McPherson: If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea. . . . Its peculiar character . . . is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening mine.24 We seldom think about how metaphysically lucky we are that knowledge is nonrivalrous.
But for all of human history before the digital age, writing has been rivalrous. Written or recorded knowledge became a material object like stone, clay, skin, or paper, which was necessarily rivalrous. Even when we had the printing press and photocopying machine, allowing us to make many copies at comparatively low cost, each copy was a rivalrous material object. Despite its revolutionary impact, writing was hobbled from birth by this tragic limitation.
There are many ways to deliver OA: personal web sites, blogs, wikis, databases, ebooks, videos, audios, webcasts, discussion forums, RSS feeds, and P2P networks.1 Unless creative thinking stops now, there will be many more to come. However, two delivery vehicles dominate the current discussion: journals and repositories.
As early as 2004, Thomson Scientific found that “in each of the broad subject areas studied there was at least one OA title that ranked at or near the top of its field” in citation impact. The number of high-quality, high-impact OA journals has only grown since.2 Unlike toll-access journals, however, most OA journals are new. It’s hard to generalize about OA journals beyond saying that they have all the advantages of being OA and all the disadvantages of being new.3 To be more precise: A disappointing number of OA journals don’t have all the advantages of being OA because they retain needless permission barriers.
OA repositories are online collections or databases of articles. Unlike OA journals, OA repositories have no counterpart in the traditional landscape of scholarly communication. That makes them woefully easy to overlook or misunderstand. By default, new deposits in OA repositories are OA. But most repositories today support dark deposits, which can be switched to OA at a later date. Most OA repositories were launched to host peer-reviewed research articles and their preprints. But often they include other sorts of content as well, such as theses and dissertations, datasets, courseware, and digitized copies of works from the special collections of the hosting institution’s library. For scholars, repositories are better at making work OA than personal web sites because repositories provide persistent URLs, take steps for long-term preservation, and don’t disappear when the author changes jobs or dies.
Gold and green OA differ in at least two fundamental respects. First, OA journals and repositories differ in their relationship to peer review. OA journals perform their own peer review, just like conventional journals. Repositories generally don’t perform peer review, although they host and disseminate articles peer-reviewed elsewhere. As a result, gold and green OA differ in their support costs and in the roles they can play in the scholarly communications universe.
The OA movement uses the term gold OA for OA delivered by journals, regardless of the journal’s business model, and green OA for OA delivered by repositories. Self-archiving is the practice of depositing one’s own work in an OA repository. All three of these terms were coined by Stevan Harnad.
Gold and green OA require different steps from authors. To make new articles gold OA, authors simply submit their manuscripts to OA journals, as they would to conventional journals. To make articles green OA, authors simply deposit their manuscripts in an OA repository.
Most importantly, the green/gold distinction matters because if authors can’t make their work OA one way, they can make it OA the other way. One of the most persistent and damaging misunderstandings is that all OA is gold OA. Authors who can’t find a high-quality, high-prestige OA journal in their field, or whose submissions are rejected from first-rate OA journals, often conclude that they must give up on OA or publish in a second-rate journal.
One of the early victories of the OA movement was to get a majority of toll-access publishers and journals to give blanket permission for author-initiated green OA. But this victory remains one of the best-kept secrets of scholarly publishing, and widespread ignorance of it is the single most harmful consequence of green OA’s invisibility. Overlooking this victory reduces the volume of OA and creates the false impression that a trade-off between prestige and OA is common when in fact it is rare. Forgetting that green OA is compatible with conventional publishing also feeds the false impression that policies requiring green OA actually require gold OA and thereby limit the freedom of authors to submit work to the journals of their choice. (More in chapter 4 on policies.) Most publishing scholars will choose prestige over OA if they have to choose. The good news is that they rarely have to choose. The bad news is that few of them know that they rarely have to choose. Few realize that most toll-access journals permit author-initiated green OA, despite determined efforts to explain and publicize this early victory for green OA.
There are two reasons why OA is compatible with prestigious publication, a gold reason and a green one. The gold reason is that a growing number of OA journals have already earned high levels of prestige, and others are steadily earning it. If there are no prestigious OA journals in your field today, you could wait (things are changing fast), you could help out (by submitting your best work), or you could move on to green. The green reason why OA is compatible with prestige is that most toll-access journals, including the prestigious, already allow OA archiving. As noted, this “most” can become “all” with the aid of an effective OA policy.
In the jargon, OAI compliance makes repositories interoperable, allowing the worldwide network of individual repositories to behave like a single grand virtual repository that can be searched all at once. It means that users can find a work in an OAI-compliant repository without knowing which repositories exist, where they are located, or what they contain. (OA and OAI are separate but overlapping initiatives.)5
Disciplinary repositories (also called subject repositories) try to capture all the research in a given field, while institutional repositories try to capture all the research from a given institution.
Because most publishers and journals already give blanket permission for green OA, the burden is on authors to take advantage of it.
I’ll argue that green and gold OA are complementary and synergistic. We should pursue them simultaneously, much as an organism must develop its nervous system and digestive system simultaneously.
Green OA has some advantages over gold OA. It makes faster progress, since it doesn’t require the launch of new peer-reviewed journals or the conversion of old ones. For the same reason, it’s less expensive than gold OA and can scale up quickly and inexpensively to meet demand, while the bulk of the money needed to scale up OA journals is still tied up in subscriptions to toll-access journals. Green OA can be mandated without infringing academic freedom, but gold OA cannot. (More precisely, gold OA can’t be mandated without infringing academic freedom until virtually all peer-reviewed journals are OA, which isn’t on the horizon.) A green OA policy at a university can cover the institution’s entire research output, regardless of where authors choose to publish, while a gold OA policy can only cover the new articles that faculty are willing to submit to OA journals. Green OA is compatible with toll-access publication.
Librarians traditionally distinguish four functions performed by scholarly journals: Registration (time stamp), certification (peer review), awareness (distribution), and archiving (preservation). We know that green and gold OA are complementary as soon as we recognize that green is better than gold for registration (its time stamps are faster) and preservation, and that gold OA is better than green OA for certification (peer review).
The growing volume of green OA might have this effect. Some publishers fear that it will, and some OA activists hope that it will. But it might not have this effect at all. One piece of evidence is that green OA hasn’t triggered journal cancellations in physics, where levels of green OA approach 100 percent and have been high and growing for nearly two decades. (More in chapter 8 on casualties.) Even if it did have this effect, however, it wouldn’t follow that it is the best strategy for advancing gold OA. There are good prospects for a peaceful revolution based on publisher consent and self-interest. (More in chapter 7 on economics.)
Most importantly, however, we’ll still want green OA in a world where all peer-reviewed journals are OA. For example, we’ll want green OA for preprints and for the earliest possible time-stamp to establish the author’s priority. We’ll want green OA for datasets, theses and dissertations, and other research genres not published in journals. We’ll want green OA for the security of having multiple OA copies in multiple independent locations. (Even today, the best OA journals not only distribute their articles from their own web sites but also deposit copies in independent OA repositories.)
Neither green nor gold OA will suffice, long-term or short-term. That’s a reason to pursue both.
Gratis OA is free of charge but not more free than that. Users must still seek permission to exceed fair use. Gratis OA removes price barriers but not permission barriers. Libre OA is free of charge and also free of some copyright and licensing restrictions.
Gratis/libre answers the question, how open is it? Green/gold answers the question, how is it delivered?15 Green OA can be gratis or libre but is usually gratis. Gold OA can be gratis or libre, but is also usually gratis.
The default around the world today is that new works are copyrighted from birth (no registration required), that the copyright initially belongs to the author (but is transferrable by contract), and that the rights holder reserves all rights. Authors who want to provide libre OA must affirmatively waive some of their rights and use a license to tell users they’ve done so. For convenience, let’s say that an open license is one allowing some degree of libre OA.
The CC Attribution license (CC-BY) describes the least restrictive sort of libre OA after the public domain. It allows any use, provided the user attributes the work to the original author. This is the license recommended by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) and the SPARC Europe Seal of Approval program for OA journals.18 I support this recommendation, use CC-BY for my blog and newsletter, and request CC-BY whenever I publish in a journal.
The BBB definition calls for both gratis and libre OA. However, most of the notable OA success stories are gratis and not libre. I mean this in two senses: gratis success stories are more numerous than libre success stories, so far, and most gratis success stories are notable.
The Directory of Open Access Journals is the most authoritative catalog of OA journals and the only one limiting itself to peer-reviewed journals. But only 20 percent of titles in the DOAJ use CC licenses, and fewer than 11 percent use the recommended CC-BY license. Viewed the other way around, about 80 percent of peer-reviewed OA journals don’t use any kind of CC license. Some of these might use non-CC licenses with a similar legal effect, but these exceptions are rare. Simply put, most OA journals are not using open licenses. Most operate under all-rights-reserved copyrights and leave their users with no more freedom than they already had under fair use. Most are not offering libre OA.
First, demanding libre or nothing where libre is currently unattainable makes the perfect the enemy of the good. Fortunately, this tactical mistake is rare. Second, settling for gratis where libre is attainable makes the good a substitute for the better. Unfortunately, this tactical mistake is common, as we see from the majority of OA journals that stop at gratis when they could easily offer libre.
Let’s be more specific about the desirability of libre OA. Why should we bother, especially when we may already have attained gratis OA? The answer is that we need libre OA to spare users the delay and expense of seeking permission whenever they want to exceed fair use. And there are good scholarly reasons to exceed fair use. For example: • to quote long excerpts • to distribute full-text copies to students or colleagues • to burn copies on CDs for bandwidth-poor parts of the world • to distribute semantically-tagged or otherwise enhanced (i.e., modified) versions • to migrate texts to new formats or media to keep them readable as technologies change • to create and archive copies for long-term preservation • to include works in a database or mashup • to make an audio recording of a text • to translate a text into another language • to copy a text for indexing, text-mining, or other kinds of processing
Libre OA under open licenses solves all these problems. Even when a desirable use is already allowed by fair use, a clear open license removes all doubt. When a desirable use does exceed fair use, a clear open license removes the restriction and offers libre OA.
Authors control the volume and growth of OA. They decide whether to submit their work to OA journals (gold OA), whether to deposit their work in OA repositories (green OA), and how to use their copyrights. But scholarly authors are still largely unfamiliar with their OA options. It’s pointless to appeal to them as a bloc because they don’t act as a bloc. It’s not hard to persuade or even excite them once we catch their attention, but because they are so anarchical, overworked, and preoccupied, it’s hard to catch their attention. Fortunately, funding agencies and universities are discovering their own interests in fostering OA. These nonprofit institutions make it their mission to advance research and to make that research as useful and widely available as possible. Their money frees researchers to do their work and avoid the need to tie their income to the popularity of their ideas. Above all, these institutions are in an unparalleled position to influence author decisions.
At universities, there are roughly three approaches to green OA mandates: 1. Loophole mandates These require green OA except when the author’s publisher doesn’t allow it.5 2. Deposit mandates These require deposit in an OA repository as soon as the article is accepted for publication, but they separate the timing of deposit from the timing of OA. If the author’s publisher doesn’t allow OA, then these policies keep the deposited article dark or non-OA. If the publisher allows OA, immediately or after some embargo, then the deposit becomes OA as soon as the permission kicks in. Because most publishers allow OA on some timetable, this method will provide OA to most new work in due time. Deposit mandates generally depend on publisher permission for OA, just like loophole mandates. The difference is that they require deposit even when they can’t obtain permission for OA.6 3. Rights-retention mandates These require deposit in an OA repository as soon as the article is accepted for publication, just like deposit mandates. But they add a method to secure permission for making the deposit OA.
By contrast, we do have a good word for policies that use mandatory language for those who agree to be bound. We call them “contracts.” While “contract” is short, accurate, and unfrightening, it puts the accent on the author’s consent to be bound. That’s often illuminating, but just as often we want to put the accent on the content’s destiny to become OA. For that purpose, “mandate” has become the term of art, for better or worse.
All the public statements in support of OA stress the importance of peer review. Most of the enthusiasm for OA is enthusiasm for OA to peer-reviewed literature. At the same time, we can acknowledge that many of the people working hard for this goal are simultaneously exploring new forms of scholarly communication that exist outside the peer-review system, such as preprint exchanges, blogs, wikis, databases, discussion forums, and social media.
OA preprints offer obvious reader-side benefits to those tracking new developments. But this may be a case where the author-side benefits swamp the reader-side benefits. Preprint exchanges give authors the earliest possible time stamp to mark their priority over others working on the same problem. (Historical aside: It’s likely that in the seventeenth century, journals superseded books as the primary literature of science precisely because they were faster than books in giving authors an authoritative public time stamp.) Preprint exchanges existed before the internet, but OA makes them faster, larger, more useful, and more widely read.
One effect is a creative and long-overdue efflorescence of experiments with new forms of peer review.
open review makes submissions OA, before or after some prepublication review, and invites community comments. Some open-review journals will use those comments to decide whether to accept the article for formal publication, and others will already have accepted the article and use the community comments to complement or carry forward the quality evaluation started by the journal. Open review requires OA, but OA does not require open review.
Theses and dissertations are the most useful kinds of invisible scholarship and the most invisible kinds of useful scholarship. Because of their high quality and low visibility, the access problem is worth solving. Fortunately OA for electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) is easier than for any other kind of research literature. Authors have not yet transferred rights to a publisher, no publisher permissions are needed, no publisher fears need be answered, and no publisher negotiations slow things down or make the outcome uncertain. Virtually all theses and dissertations are now born digital, and institutions expecting electronic submission generally provide OA, the reverse of the default for journal publishers.
5.3 Books5 The OA movement focuses on journal articles because journals don’t pay authors for their articles. This frees article authors to consent to OA without losing money. By contrast, book authors either earn royalties or hope to earn royalties. Because the line between royalty-free and royalty-producing literature is bright (and life is short), many OA activists focus exclusively on journal articles and leave books aside. I recommend a different tactic: treat journal articles as low-hanging fruit, but treat books as higher-hanging fruit rather than forbidden fruit. There are even reasons to think that OA for some kinds of books is easier to attain than OA for journal articles.
Even if books are higher-hanging fruit, they’re not out of reach. Two arguments are increasingly successful in persuading book authors to consent to OA. 1. Royalties on most scholarly monographs range between zero and meager. If your royalties are better than that, congratulations. (I’ve earned book royalties; I’m grateful for them, and I wish all royalty-earning authors success.) The case for OA doesn’t ask authors to make a new sacrifice or leave money on the table. It merely asks them to weigh the risk to their royalties against the benefit of OA, primarily the benefit of a larger audience and greater impact. For many book authors, the benefit will outweigh the risk. The benefit is large and the realistic prospect of royalties is low. 2. There is growing evidence that for some kinds of books, full-text OA editions boost the net sales of the priced, printed editions. OA may increase royalties rather than decrease them.
The first argument says that even if OA puts royalties at risk, the benefits might outweigh the risks. The second argument says that OA might not reduce royalties at all, and that conventional publication without an OA edition might be the greater risk. Both say, in effect, that authors should be empirical and realistic about this. Don’t presume that your royalties will be high when there’s evidence they will be low, and don’t presume that OA will kill sales when there’s evidence it could boost them. Both arguments apply to authors, but the second applies to publishers as well. When authors have already transferred rights—and the OA decision—to a publisher, then the case rests on the second argument. A growing number of academic book publishers are either persuaded or so intrigued that they’re experimenting.6
Why would anyone buy a print book when the full text is OA? The answer is that many people don’t want to read a whole book on a screen or gadget, and don’t want to print out a whole book on their printer. They use OA editions for searching and sampling. When they discover a book that piques their curiosity or meets their personal standards of relevance and quality, they’ll buy a copy. Or, many of them will buy a copy. Evidence has been growing for about a decade that this phenomenon works for some books, or some kinds of books, even if it doesn’t work for others. For example, it seems to work for books like novels and monographs, which readers want to read from beginning to end, or which they want to have on their shelves. It doesn’t seem to work for books like encyclopedias, from which readers usually want just an occasional snippet.
Another variable is that ebook readers are becoming more and more consumer friendly. If the “net boost to sales” phenomenon is real, and if it depends on the ergonomic discomforts of reading digital books, then better gadgets may make the phenomenon disappear. If the net-boost phenomenon didn’t depend on ergonomic hurdles to digital reading, or didn’t depend entirely on them, then it might survive any sort of technological advances. There’s a lot of experimenting still to do, and fortunately or unfortunately it must be done in a fast-changing environment.8 The
The question is whether more readers of the OA edition will buy the toll-access edition than would have bought the toll-access edition without the OA edition to alert them to its existence and help them evaluate its relevance and quality. If there are enough OA-inspired buyers, then it doesn’t matter that there are also plenty of OA-satisfied nonbuyers.
Pag. 78. 1200 As the late Jim Gray used to say, “May all your problems be technical.”
Not all the literature that researchers want to find, retrieve, and read should be called knowledge. We want access to serious proposals for knowledge even if they turn out to be false or incomplete. We want access to serious hypotheses even if we’re still testing them and debating their merits. We want access to the data and analysis offered in support of the claims we’re evaluating. We want access to all the arguments, evidence, and discussion. We want access to everything that could help us decide what to call knowledge, not just to the results that we agree to call knowledge. If access depended on the outcome of debate and inquiry, then access could not contribute to debate and inquiry. We don’t have a good name for this category larger than knowledge, but here I’ll just call it research. Among other things, research includes knowledge and knowledge claims or proposals, hypotheses and conjectures, arguments and analysis, evidence and data, algorithms and methods, evaluation and interpretation, debate and discussion, criticism and dissent, summary and review.
Wikipedia aspires to provide OA to a summary of knowledge, and (wisely) refuses to accept original research. But the larger OA movement wants OA to knowledge and original research themselves, as well as the full discussion about what we know and what we don’t.
5.5 Access for Whom? Answer: human beings and machines.
The idea is to stop thinking of knowledge as a commodity to meter out to deserving customers, and to start thinking of it as a public good, especially when it is given away by its authors, funded with public money, or both.15
When the U.S. National Library of Medicine converted to OA in 2004, for example, visitors to its web site increased more than a hundredfold.17
Part of the beauty of OA is that providing access to everyone is cheaper and easier than providing access to some and blocking access to others.
Information overload didn’t start with the internet. The internet does vastly increase the volume of work to which we have access, but at the same time it vastly increases our ability to find what we need.
Some publishers have seriously argued that high toll-access journal prices and limited library budgets help us cope with information overload, as if the literature we can’t afford always coincides with the literature we don’t need.
In Clay Shirky’s concise formulation, the real problem is not information overload but filter failure.24
The ultimate promise of OA is to provide free online data for software acting as the antennae, prosthetic eyeballs, research assistants, and personal librarians of all serious researchers. Opening research literature for human users also opens it for software to crunch the literature for the benefit of human users.
Publishers who refuse to publish rights-retaining authors are not asserting copyright. They are asserting an independent, background right to refuse to publish any work for any reason. (I support this right and would never want to see publishers lose it.) Authors who retain rights don’t violate rights belonging to publishers; they merely prevent publishers from acquiring those rights in the first place.
When rights-retaining authors make their work OA, publishers can’t complain that OA infringes a right they possess, only that it would infringe a right they wished they possessed.
Conventional wisdom holds that authors need copyright to give them an incentive to write. Others can debate whether this is true for nonacademic authors like novelists and journalists. (L. Ray Patterson liked to point out that it wasn’t true for Chaucer, Shakespeare, or Milton.5) But there are two reasons why it’s simply false for authors of research articles. First, authors of research articles are not paid. When money is even part of an author’s incentive, copyright fortifies the incentive by giving authors a temporary monopoly on their work and the revenue stream arising from it. Without copyright, unauthorized copies might kill the market for authorized copies and reduce sales. But all this is irrelevant to authors who write for impact, not for money, and who voluntarily forgo royalties. Second, authors of research articles traditionally transferred copyright to publishers.
The most comprehensive survey to date shows that an overwhelming 89 percent of researchers from all fields believe that OA journals are beneficial to their fields.7
The false beliefs that most OA journals charge author-side fees and that most toll-access journals don’t have caused several kinds of harm. They scare authors away from OA journals. They support the misconception that gold OA excludes indigent authors. When we add in the background myth that all OA is gold OA, this misconception suggests that OA as such—and not just gold OA—excludes indigent authors.
There are two kinds of OA journals, full and hybrid. Full OA journals provide OA to all their research articles. Hybrid OA journals provide OA to some and toll-access to others, when the choice is the author’s rather than the editor’s. Most hybrid OA journals charge a publication fee for the OA option. Authors who can find the money get immediate OA, and those who can’t or prefer not to, get toll access. (Many hybrid OA journals provide OA to all their articles after some time period, such as a year.) Some hybrid OA journals promise to reduce subscription prices in proportion to author uptake of the OA option, that is, to charge subscribers only for the toll-access articles. But most hybrid journal publishers don’t make this promise and “double dip” by charging subscription fees and publication fees for the same OA articles.11
Hybrid OA is very low-risk for publishers. If the OA option has low uptake, the publisher loses nothing and still has subscription revenue. If it has high uptake, the publisher has subscription revenue for the conventional articles, publication fees for the OA articles, and sometimes both at once for the OA articles. Hence, the model has spread far and fast. The Professional/Scholarly Publishing division of the Association of American Publishers reported in 2011 that 74 percent of surveyed journals offering some form of OA in 2009 offered hybrid OA. At the same time, SHERPA listed more than 90 publishers offering hybrid OA options, including all of the largest publishers. Despite its spread, hybrid OA journals do little or nothing to help researchers, libraries, or publishers. The average rate of uptake for the OA option at hybrid journals is just 2 percent.
To support a full range of high-quality OA journals, we don’t need new money. We only need to redirect money we’re currently spending on peer-reviewed toll-access journals.18
Redirection is also taking place on a large scale, primarily through CERN’s SCOAP3 project (Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics). SCOAP3 is an ambitious plan to convert all the major toll-access journals in particle physics to OA, redirect the money formerly spent on reader-side subscription fees to author-side publication fees, and reduce the overall price to the journal-supporting institutions. It’s a peaceful revolution based on negotiation, consent, and self-interest. After four years of patiently building up budget pledges from libraries around the world, SCOAP3 entered its implementation phase in in April 2011.20
Mark Rowse, former CEO of Ingenta, sketched another strategy for large-scale redirection in December 2003. A publisher could “flip” its toll-access journals to OA at one stroke by reinterpreting the payments it receives from university libraries as publication fees for a group of authors rather than subscription fees for a group of readers. One advantage over SCOAP3 is that the Rowsean flip can be tried one journal or one publisher at a time, and doesn’t require discipline-wide coordination. It could also scale up to the largest publishers or the largest coalitions of publishers.21
- OA may increase submissions and subscriptions. Some subscription journals have found that OA after an embargo period, even a very short one like two months, actually increases submissions and subscriptions. For example, this was the experience of the American Society for Cell Biology and its journal, Molecular Biology of the Cell. Medknow saw its submissions and subscriptions increase when it began offering unembargoed full-text editions of its journals alongside its toll-access print journals.10 Hindawi Publishing saw its submissions rise steadily after it converted all its peer-reviewed journals to OA in 2007. Looking back on several years of rapidly growing submissions, company founder and CEO Ahmed Hindawi said in January 2010, “It is clear now more than ever that our open access conversion . . . was the best management decision we have taken. . . .”11
If you don’t know which modifications to request, use an author addendum: a proposed contract revision, written by OA-friendly lawyers, for authors to sign and staple to their standard contract. If a publisher rejects your requested changes or addendum, then consider another publisher.5