The adoption of open access (OA) in the UK continues to meet with challenges, months after the RCUK adopted the Finch Report recommendations and placed an April 2013 stipulation on research results being published via either Green or Gold OA.
As the policy and its implications have sunk in, responses have been mixed at best.
As far back as a year ago, learned societies were expressing their concerns about what OA policy shifts could mean for them:
The extent to which learned societies depend on their publishing activities for revenue generation varies considerably but, for the majority of societies present, it represents over 50% of their total income. The impact of funder mandates is, therefore, likely to have a significant impact on learned societies.
Later last year, other “inconvenient truths” emerged from academic voices, which have consistently expressed concerns about the effects of gutting publishing operations could have on learned societies’ other activities, such as research grant support, educational initiatives, and so forth:
. . . the belief that dismantling the infrastructure of society-owned journals (or indeed publisher-owned ones in partnership arrangements) can be dismissed as an irrelevance will have far-reaching consequences — in the worst-case scenario, the demise of a significant number of societies.
The Financial Times recently came out with a sobering assessment of its financial implications and inherent incentives. A large group of editors of history journals have stated they will not abide by the RCUK recommendations. Hearings are ongoing, and meetings at which Dame Janet Finch or her colleagues speak have resulted in more questions than enthusiasm.
Second thoughts may be seeping in at the roots of the recommendations. At a recent hearing of the Lords Science and Technology Committee, Finch was covered in the Times Higher Education thusly:
. . . she conceded there was “no doubt” that some journals produced by learned societies would “find some difficulty finding a business model that will work in the mixed economy”.
She is also quoted as saying this:
Different learned societies will take different views of where their interests lie and whether it is appropriate to modify their [journals'] business models. For the foreseeable future, they could decide to remain subscription journals.
The comments on the Times Higher Education article are also worth reading. While we have the usual assertions from the usual OA advocates — it’s just a matter of learning to change, publishers are exploitative, and if we just jump off the cliff, we’ll learn how to fly — what’s more interesting is the emergence of newer voices expressing some well-considered concerns. For instance, this person, identified as a society publishing professional, expresses concerns from that quarter:
It’s not just our journal that will be in jeopardy — it’s the entire work of our society. Our substantial, nationwide programme of grants, workshops, seminars, training, student support, and a major international conference are all subsidised by the income our journal raises. Without our journal income, it’s unlikely we’ll survive.
A professor in the humanities strikes a note similar to the note other academics in the UK have started to sound:
From the prospective of a Humanities professor, at least, this government’s approach to HE teaching, research,and publication issues–be it fees, research funding, or open access–is so ludicrously ill-informed, impulsive, and clumsy that it defies explanation. When I describe recent policy changes to my colleagues in North America, they are absolutely gobsmacked.
(This comment is great also because it utilizes the word “gobsmacked.”)
The clock is ticking on the RCUK mandate. So far, it seems that the discomfort with its implications is growing. And with more inquiries and meetings to come, the next few months promise to be worth watching.