In a move suggesting considerable coordination, the European Commission has announced its support for open access (OA) publishing solutions for all its member states. The statement, coming fast on the heels of a nearly identical mandate from the UK, is only a statement, unlike the RCUK mandate that was announced earlier this week. However, it mirrors the UK statement in many specifics, including proposed embargo times for various types of research.
The arguments intoned by the European Commission are off-the-rack OA arguments — taxpayers have paid for the research, so they should have access to the reported results; what they want is the final published papers; subscription prices are squeezing library budgets; open data is also part of open access; and public access to research reports will provide more value to society than keeping them “locked up.”
European Commission plans outline either funding for author fees for Gold OA, or deposit of papers after an embargo in an open repository (six months for everything but humanities and economics journals, a distinction I still shake my head at). One such repository could be the EU’s OpenAIRE.
How might publishers respond? It will be interesting to see. Some will protest and fulminate, of course, but that’s unlikely to be effective. Others will understand that there’s a potential silver lining in these clouds.
Rational economics suggests that when a large and well-funded sponsor steps forward offering to pay for you to get your work done, you rationally transfer all your costs to them. Publishers know what it costs to do what we do. Policymakers seem to believe the OA line that online makes it all cheap and cheerful. Therefore, both the EU and UK groups believe that publishing costs will fall dramatically. I don’t see this as necessarily true.
The disconnect we may see over the coming years as these mandates warp our businesses will, I think, be financial.
Right now, most “gold OA” is achieved on the backs of subscription models, either through embargoed subsidies (the costs of delayed Gold OA are mostly recouped during the current 12-month embargo) or through indirect subsidy (the subscription part of a business does well enough to support some OA publishing) or through environmental venue-shifting (I publish my minor works in OA journals with low prestige, saving my better works for subscription journals with high prestige).
If you know of one, please tell me about a high-prestige OA journal that doesn’t need some type of cross-subsidization, and what it charges authors.
Assuming that the UK and EU moves are designed to put the subscription model out of business for scholarly publishers, yet all the valuable pieces of what the subscription model contains are assumed to be transferred, the financial battles over what it really costs to go “all in” on OA may be pitched, and rather surprising. Nature’s estimate of US$10,000 may prove to be low, and with research funding the only targeted budget line for OA fees, we are tapping an artery. Also, secondary filtering services may prove to be where the smart money goes, as the core literature will become impossible to navigate as it becomes more and more like the current government repositories few use and fewer value.
In an effort to give something to people who aren’t really demanding it and to cut costs in one ancillary area (libraries) by creating expenses in a core area (research), policymakers in Europe seem to be shooting themselves in the foot. But given their recent track record on austerity, LIBOR, and other matters financial, should we really be all that surprised that they’d also hurt a major European industry, misallocate research dollars to publishing, and deflate the overall economy even more?