The Scholarly Kitchen will be making an appearance at this year’s Frankfurt Bookfair. On Wednesday, October 16, we will host a panel discussion (and a free breakfast!) beginning at 8:45 AM in Hall 4.2 at the Academic & Business Information Stage. At last year’s Bookfair, we discussed “The Great Acceleration”, and how the pace of change in scholarly communications was increasing. This year, we’re looking at the results of that rapid pace – what has changed and what is reaching a tipping point toward change.

As a preview of the session, my thoughts will be about a threshold I think the community has reached, largely due to the remarkable success of Plan S, the attempt to accelerate the transition of scholarly publishing to open access (OA). Although it remains unclear how well Plan S will work for researchers funded by Coalition S, it is increasingly clear that even before it has gone into effect, Plan S has achieved one of its major goals, changing the conversation around OA. What I largely hear from the community is no longer, “eventually things will move to OA,” but instead a sense of urgency, “we’re on the clock for a move to OA.” That’s inspiring a huge amount of analysis on business models, and finding ways to make that transition in a sustainable manner. Through that process, perhaps one of the most significant shifts we’ve seen is the increasingly widespread recognition that the author-pays model for OA is an evolutionary dead end.

road blocked by fallen tree

Author-pays OA remains a growth area for many publishers (essentially a new revenue stream that comes directly from researchers and funders rather than libraries) and so far at least, the most sustainable model available, but its flaws are becoming plainly evident, and concerns about shifting the entire scholarly communications economy over to a system of Article Processing Charges (APCs) are looking increasingly urgent. In the last two weeks alone, there have been three presentations from PLOS (a pioneer of the APC model) focused on the subject of moving past the APC.

The flaws in the author-pays business model for journals have been evident for more than a decade. The APC model represents a lateral move in terms of access, greatly improving access for readers but shifting the inequity in the system onto authors. It allows everyone to read the work of others, but limits the ability to publish one’s own work to those with sufficient funds to cover the costs of doing so. This greatly disadvantages authors from less-wealthy regions of the world, along with unfunded researchers, and entire fields without the significant funding structures found in some of the sciences that are largely driving the move to APC models. Waiver programs are already under strain, and there seems little willingness among wealthy nations or authors to overpay in order to support their less-well-off colleagues.

As a publisher, the author-pays models causes a shift from focusing on readers as your customers to focusing on authors. This creates pressure to favor quantity over quality, and rewards bulk publishing approaches, as well as creating a now-thriving industry of predatory scammers. Further, APC models favor scale, and work to the benefit of the largest commercial publishers over smaller, not-for-profit, and community-owned publishers. Ask any publishing consultant or acquisition editor at a large publishing house and you’ll hear about the enormous flood of requests for proposals coming in, as previously independent research societies realize they can no longer make it on their own.

Another major issue is that library budgets are already strained and APC models are beyond the current capacity of many institutions. When the author pays, costs are concentrated solely on that author or their institution, rather than being spread more broadly across the readership of the article. This means that the institutions that largely read the literature but that don’t produce a lot of papers (“Read” institutions) will see great cost savings, while productive institutions that publish a lot of papers (“Publish” institutions) will see significant cost increases. No one knows how those cost increases will be covered, beyond hoping that funders will come up with more money, although this most likely means that publishing funds will come out of existing research budgets.

While all of this has been repeatedly discussed since the days of the first APC-driven journals, the reality of relying on author-pays models has finally begun to sink in. To their credit, many of the organizations and individuals who pioneered APC models have evolved in their thinking over time, and there is increasing consensus that we need to move beyond the APC to more equitable and sustainable models for supporting OA (e.g., Ashley Farley of the Gates Foundation: “I do not think that APCs are the solution and I hope that we move beyond them.”).

This is not an easy problem to solve – if there were obvious and easy models to support OA publishing at scale, we’d have moved to them years ago and be much further along than we are today. Like many others, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about different approaches, and asking theoretical questions like, if we had no scholarly publishing at all, and were going to start a system from scratch, knowing what we know today, what would that system look like? Every idea I can come up with runs up against roadblocks that I can’t yet figure a way around.

Decentralized Funding and Decision-Making

It’s often said that there’s enough money in the system already to support a flip to OA. The problem, to paraphrase William Gibson, is that the money is not evenly re-distributable.

European nations, in particular, have played a leadership role in the drive to OA. Often, these countries have a centralized funding and decision-making system in place for education and research. The universities, their libraries, and their researchers are funded by the national government, and as a result, there is essentially one set of policies and one pool of money that can be moved around to make author-pays models work. The subscription funds saved by a Read institution in an OA world can readily be shifted over to a Publish institution to cover the increased costs their researchers would face. This ability for one governing body to set publishing policy and to pool and distribute publication funding opens up intriguing possibilities for new models.

There is something deeply compelling about systems like SciELO and AmeliCA, where community resources are pooled and then distributed to a variety of not-for-profit publishers who are required to meet certain standards. But I struggle to envision how such a model could drive innovation and reward novel approaches that excel. We’re not seeing the same level of technological innovation and methodologies coming from these programs as we see inspired by the competitive market.

Perhaps a move to a pared-down, yet stagnant, publication system would be acceptable, with journals providing the basic services required and nothing further (peer review and a PDF). The entrepreneurs and startups will move elsewhere, and the technological innovation, new metrics and tools will move to different stages of the research workflow. It certainly fits with the current business strategies of the largest commercial publishers.

That may not be an insurmountable problem, at least when compared to the question of pooled funds when one starts to think about countries that don’t have centralized education and research funding systems. The United States is the prime offender here, responsible, according to the latest STM Report, for 41% of the global revenue in the existing system of scholarly communications.

To be clear for our non-US readers, there is no centralized, federal higher education system in America, no US government-funded and controlled set of universities. Instead, our public universities are funded and controlled by the 50 individual states, and these are supplemented by a large number of private institutions, funded by tuitions, donations, and their often significant endowments.

That means there is no centralized pool of money that can be shifted around to accommodate new communication models. If a Read university in Arkansas recognizes cost savings through OA, the funds provided by the taxpayers, tuitions, and student fees of Arkansas are not going to be sent to help cover increased costs for the poor researchers of Harvard (with its $39 billion endowment), a Publish institution that will see its costs skyrocket. The public education system in America is increasingly underfunded. Any sudden influx of funds (or freeing up of previously-spent funds) will rapidly find a new purpose within a given university. And that brings us to the other major roadblock to new models:

Free Riders

At the recent Society for Scholarly Publishing New Directions Seminar, one of the main proposed models for moving beyond the APC was Collective Action, that is, libraries voluntarily choosing to provide financial support to services they ideologically agree with, but could instead receive for free. While this approach has seen some success, at least on a small scale through programs like the Open Library of the Humanities or community support of arXiv, it is unlikely to be broadly sustainable in the long term. Again, this comes back to how libraries and universities are funded.

Any system that is under great financial strain and that allows for free riders is going to be largely populated with free riders.

In the US, there are state laws preventing the spending of public funds on things that are available for free or for making charitable contributions. Even in states lacking these prohibitions, university funding levels are simply too low to enable large scale unnecessary spending. In the Twitter discussion of the New Directions Seminar, I posted the following quote from Gwen Evans, the Executive Director of the OhioLINK Library and Information Network:

The problem I see with other proposed voluntary OA subventions is that under the pressure of decreasing budgets in higher education generally, but especially in public institutions, administrations will not continue to pay for something that they will receive for free. It’s a nice idealistic hope, but administrations often cut budgets for services and content that are, or were until the moment of the budget cut, perceived to be highly valuable or necessary. Any model that relies on substantial voluntary support of OA (whether OA provided by current publishers or a hypothetical shift to library/institutional owned and operated OA publishing ventures) is highly suspect from my observation of state funded education in the state of Ohio. The financial mantra is efficiency and cost effectiveness; voluntary financial support for content that is free is neither.

The responses largely echoed the reality of library funding:

Any system that is under great financial strain and that allows for free riders is going to be largely populated with free riders.

There are no easy answers here, and no models available without significant negative consequences. This is the biggest complaint I’ve heard about Plan S – not the desire to move to OA, but rather the required immediacy, despite the lack of a clear roadmap to a sustainable and equitable future. Those complaints are not just coming in from traditional established publishers like scholarly societies, but also from born-digital, born-OA publishers, who are already seeing themselves shut out of library budgets in the “transformative agreement” gold rush (note: you can’t sign a “Read and Publish” deal if all of your content is already OA). The uncertainty is pushing the market into the hands of the largest and most-profitable publishers, those that can withstand potentially troubled times ahead.

And so we see most publishers making a good faith effort to accommodate Plan S, but doing their best to contain the potential downsides of the APC model, which at the moment is the only route available that offers some chance of staying afloat, or at least an ability to hang on until new models arise. Will that happen before the roof caves in for most? It’s hard to say, but at least we have reached a point of urgency where great efforts are being made to conceive of and experiment with new models. All of the energy that used to going into arguments about “should we?” is now going into questions of “how can we?” and this is important, as the survival of the many things the community values about scholarly communication depend on finding viable new routes.


David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


38 Thoughts on "Roadblocks to Better Open Access Models"

Interesting post. If I may ask,

1. Do you see the APC model as ever being completely superseded, or do you think that there’ll still be a subset of APC-funded (or partially funded) journals? If the second, I guess we have to resign ourselves to the continued presence of the scammers, as an unwanted consequence.

2. What, exactly, are the technological innovations you refer to? It seems a bit harsh to refer to peer review and a copyedited version as just ‘basic services’, with the implication (which I am sure that you don’t really intend!) that these are simple objectives that any fool could implement. I wonder if the true beneficiaries of technological innovation are not so much readers, or authors, but publishers – to try and differentiate themselves and gain a commercial advantage?

Both really good questions! And yes, I didn’t mean to denigrate peer review and editing — I was trying to think of a bare bones system that would provide the minimum necessary functions, and those to me are essential.

1) One could envision APC-based models surviving in well-funded fields, at least for wealthy parts of the world. These are the areas where APC-OA is thriving now. The concern I have is that it would likely be a mixed market in those fields, APC journals for those with money, non-APC model journals for those less well-off. That creates a tiered system of publishing, which, if you’re concerned about equity and a level playing field for all researchers, isn’t acceptable.

2) By technological innovations I mean to paint with a broad brush, including both internal systems for publishers that make things more efficient (and offer potential cost savings for authors), but also things like new functionality and services for authors. Semantic tagging, APIs, new discovery services, integrating data publication into the journal article process, altmetrics, really any of the companies invested in by Digital Science, new services being offered by Elsevier and Clarivate. Many of these are aimed at authors, readers, and research institutions. I suspect many may not be of lasting value, but there’s certainly a thriving market of innovation and entrepreneurship going on these days, which may not be the case in a centralized system governed by one body.

Some thoughts very much on the fly:
1. Yes indeed: “the author-pays model for OA is an evolutionary dead end.” One of the TSK contributors noted that APCs are exhibiting inflationary pricing. Entirely unsurprising, if true, and something that for the longest time has been obvious would happen.
2. “As a publisher, the author-pays models causes a shift from focusing on readers as your customers to focusing on authors. This creates pressure to favor quantity over quality, …” But only if authors have access to funds for APC?
3. Ah, arXiv! Yes, it’s hard for pooled voluntary funding of preprint servers to work. However, why not charge a nominal, very low submission fee (say $10) for preprint submissions, with waivers in case of demonstrated need? Perhaps that would be helpful too in creating a minor hurdle for submission that would play a role (small, but perhaps significant) in discouraging too facile submission of preprints. A quality incentive, in effect.
4. Again, the potentials for preprints to serve as a *very* low-budget space in which a kind of de facto peer review occurs needs more exploration. This format serves as a marketplace of ideas, a cutting edge frontier of research disclosure. And it’s fully compatible with the ex post role of traditional peer-reviewed journals. We need both formats: one is for disclosure and analysis, the other for critical synthesis, both of which are historically important functions of scientific communication. But the journal space has to be contracted for reasons that have to do with the perpetuation of knowledge across generations.The *glut* of literature is becoming more and more problematic. (Spoken by a science/math/psychology librarian in the trenches.) Is anything going to be done about the glut? I doubt it, at least for a very long time. Perhaps pricing trends in journal subscriptions, conjoined with flat library budgets will (very) eventually do something about it.
Views are not those of my employer.

A well-written and provocative piece with progress in mind. Well-done and thank you, David.

As I’ve often said and written about Tarzan Economics, this focuses on the next vine and not clinging to the one we’re leaving behind. Bravo!

David, I have to disagree on the part where it says SciELO is not showing the same level of technical innovation and reward novel approaches that excel (maybe I’m misreading this), but having attended a number of the SciELO annual meetings, and seen first hand the great centralized work they do, from editorial training, starting up preprint servers, having data policies/platforms, advanced metrics and analytics, and phenomenal platform usage that makes a real impact, I wonder where and how exactly you are benchmarking them against other innovative players in the field. Not all innovation is the same, and certainly there maybe different drivers in the global south, but I would question how you are calling them out here … worthy of a Frankfurt discussion/question for sure !

“There is something deeply compelling about systems like SciELO and AmeliCA, where community resources are pooled and then distributed to a variety of not-for-profit publishers who are required to meet certain standards. But I struggle to envision how such a model could drive innovation and reward novel approaches that excel. We’re not seeing the same level of technological innovation and methodologies coming from these programs as we see inspired by the competitive market.”

Thanks Adrian — I think the question I was raising was about technical innovation arising from groups like SciELO, rather than their ability to adopt technologies that arise elsewhere. Can you suggest anything coming out of these groups that has potential for adoption in other markets?

I think there’s something about having an open market with lots of potential customers that helps draw in entrepreneurs. If there’s one centralized system, that means one potential customer, no Digital Science or Elsevier to bid against each other to buy out your company, no financial incentive for the publishers under that system to invest in separately integrating those new technologies.

A thoughtful and illuminating piece as ever, David. But some people do worry about the trend to big tech and big pharma trusts, and, even more, governments, calling the shots as funders and drivers of the research communications universe.

Many independent publisher partners that I worked with over the years in the ‘Global South’- for want of a better term – were keen to develop their indigenous publishing operations, to advance their own professional editing, management, marketing and publishing operations, to grow and impart professional skills for professional staff, and to create viable businesses, generate profits and contribute to national economies. Subsidised ‘diamond’ or ‘platinum’ systems could threaten that, and have the potential for the development of more nefarious control of both the research agendas and research communication.

David, I think you’re right on when you say that other business models would have emerged if there were easy solutions. Although there are no perfect models, we at UC believe we have developed a model that can make APCs work much better than they do today, esp in a decentralized context. By combining institutional and research funds in a single stream and workflow, we can support all authors and manage growth over time, while bringing to bear both the forces of the market and the fiduciary controls that institutions can wield. There are two additional things that are needed to make this work globally: differentiated APCs and waiver policies that can enable all economies to participate without disadvantage (we are currently engaged in an analysis of this issue); and a commitment to a process that maintains cost neutrality today (subscription content is not going away immediately, so there is ample reason for primarily reading institutions to stay in the game for now), while shifting economic burdens very gradually, so that markets and funding streams can adjust. And of course there will be other business models too, and innovations that will and should keep the market competitive. It is complex but not insurmountable. Where there is a will there is a way.

I agree 100% that if we’re stuck on the APC model for the near-term, there’s much that can be done to improve things, and certainly everyone is keeping an eye on the UC efforts to see where they go. I still have the concerns voiced in the post above though — if indeed OA is going to be paid for out of research funds, that means reduced budgets for researchers, as I don’t see a lot of funders offering additional money on top of grants to pay OA fees (Wellcome and Gates aside). I’m concerned that researchers are going to balk at losing those funds out of their budgets (examples here: This will mean fewer postdoc salaries to offer, less money to put toward necessary reagents and equipment, and an even tougher funding/job market. On the plus side, it is likely to help reduce salami-slicing, and should result in researchers concentrating their publication efforts on fewer, better papers.

As far as waivers and differentiated APCs, doesn’t this rely on wealthier nations and institutions voluntarily contributing more than their fair share in order to cover the costs of those waivers or reduced fees for others that need them? Is this feasible with the goal of cost neutrality/reduction?

Re. David’s comment: “should result in researchers concentrating their publication efforts on fewer, better papers”, one might argue that the price inelasticity of APC charges, if indeed there is inflationary pricing there, shows that researchers will spend whatever it takes to play the tenure and promotion/grant-funding game, which includes quantity as well as (perceived) quality. And this means they will continue to spend lots of publicly funded grant money playing this game, which (as you suggest) has opportunity costs: postdoc opportunities are affected, less money for actual research, and so on. I laud the fact, in any case, that you recognize the problem of *glut* in the publishing space! This is the driver of pricing, whether toll access or APCs. How to reduce demand for so many articles? We need a change in the t and p and grant-funding process. That’s not going to happen any time in the near future. So we’re back at square one.

The big consortia need to educate their faculties about the glut problem. The counterargument will be the refrain: well, that’s not our role as consortially organized libraries. To which I respond: is it any more or less the role of the library consortia to be advocating a wholesale reform of the scholarly publishing system along the lines that the U Cal system appears to be pursuing using public funding and as I recall, a very big research grant? In my view, time is well spent if the large consortia start educating faculty about the scholarly communication perils of so much dross getting publishing. I see this problem up front, day in and out, as a working librarian. It’s getting harder and harder for researchers to navigate the immense pool of literature, and this is a very bad thing in many ways.

Wonderful piece, David. Thanks.

One thing that comes to my mind when pondering the sustainability of the APC model is how scientists often comment on the explosion in volume of published works in recent years and how the body of literature in their discipline is being diluted by redundant and/or irrelevant papers.

I then wonder:

Is that a common lament from scientists?
How true is it?
If so, how much does salami-slicing contribute to it?
To what extent would the inevitable limits on APC funds (from whatever the source) reduce that?
And does that in any way change the math on an APC-funding (author pays) model?

Alvin, great questions.
There is a section about this in my preprint on ResearchGate about arXiv. Version 3 will expand the discussion about this somewhat, plus hopefully add more bibliography about that topic and how in some hypothetical world to reform the system. (Aside from providing a diagnostic, this exercise is primarily for me an “entertainment”, since it seems very unlikely that much is going to happen to resolve this problem and, to the extent that anything constructive happens, it will arise more or less spontaneously via market forces, though it’s anyone’s guess whether those forces will go in a constructive or destructive directions.)
Anyhow take a look at Figure 2 in Learned Publishing, July 2010, “Article 50 million: an estimate of the number of scholarly articles in existence” to see the extent of the problem, assuming the assumptions in this article are correct.
Anecdotal/experiential evidence that this is a real problem is that whereas some decades ago, people were interested in the nuances of searching abstracting and indexing sources, there just no longer this level of care or even interest in these nuances. (Paradoxical–one would have thought the level of care in doing lit searches would grow in proportion to the size of the literature.) Why? The best explanation is that there is so much stuff out there now that people have thrown up their hands. It’s probably now acceptable to cite whatever everyone else is citing and what, in the fleeting moment, happens to be garnering attention. And consider practical limitations. If a worker in any field attempts to read all the literature in their sub-discipline, they would expire from exhaustion in short order.

That PLOS has publicly recognized systemic problems in the APC model is quite notable. However, for clarity and accuracy, PLOS was not the pioneer of the APC model–Biomed Central predated them by several years was with its slate of BMC branded journals and low APC fees.

To be pedantic, I said “a pioneer”, not “the pioneer”. It’s interesting to note that the model originated in the for-profit world though.

The more this continues, the more the virtues of the subscription model become apparent. Everyone makes a contribution, whether they are Read or Publish institutions, and the system is sufficiently funded to allow free access through schemes like Research4Life or Access to Research. This could readily be extended with more liberal approaches, allowing university subscribers to provide access to private individuals or non-profit groups and organizations for a nominal fee to cover the admin costs. I have never understood the obsession of the Plan S lobby with providing free access to Big Pharma, who could perfectly well afford to pay for it. It is part of the neo-liberal obsession with looting the public purse to compensate for falling rates of profit elsewhere.

The subscription model did not evolve just by chance. It provided a fair, equitable and stable model in particular historical circumstances and is well capable of further evolution.

But how can universities continue to pay for so much subscribed content?

How are they going to sustain any kind of author-pays model when the burden falls on a much narrower group of institutions?

They aren’t. The hope is that the funding agencies will pick this up as part of research grants. So transformational arrangements back into Plan S or something like it. That means reduced spending for APCs, money being taken out of research budgets, thinner editorial review practices, and a mostly untouched area for disciplines not covered by research grants. The funding agencies may wonder why the universities are no longer kicking in a share. It will be a mess. A perfect environment for entrepreneurs. Out of chaos, profit.

We should stop framing this as an either/or proposition. Institutions *and* funders can play a role. This will lower the funding burden for both parties while expanding OA publishing options for both funded and unfunded authors. The share of research budgets needed to support OA is already very low – in the 1% range – and shared funding models will lower this further. The problem is not whether this is solvable but whether we have the will to solve it.

I am responding to Ivy Anderson’s comment. She wrote: “We should stop framing this as an either/or proposition.” I would be interested to know who the “we” is of that sentence. And does this “we” represent anyone or thing in particular? In any event, I was not framing this as an either/or situation. I was responding narrowly to Robert Dingwall’s comment.

Yes, thank you Joseph Esposito. Surely the way forward is to find ways to encourage research funders to pay for the publication of the research. Publication should be part of the research budget. However, the decision to publish should be made independently of the research funder. Many of us on Healthcare Information For All ( have argued for this. It is the only way I can see to have equitable open access in authorship and readership. Exceptions/waivers should be available for selected cases (for example, where the research is unsupported by a research funder).

Robert, it’s indeed not clear to me, either way (toll-access or APCs).

I was originally going to say “people” but I thought “we” was more community-minded. The “we” refers to everyone in the scholcomm community conversation whose framing of the business model choices confronting us, either explicitly or implictly, assumes that either funders must pay APCs, allowing institutions to completely withdraw support for publication (“The hope is that the funding agencies will pick this up as part of research grants. … The funding agencies may wonder why the universities are no longer kicking in a share”) and leaving unfunded authors out in the cold, or that a shift to an APC model will shift the burden of publication solely onto the institutional budgets of high-output institutions. I am arguing that there is a middle way.

Very useful summary David. Regarding your reply about SciELO to Adrian Stanley, in which you say “Can you suggest anything coming out of these groups that has potential for adoption in other markets?”, I believe the SciELO innovations he mentions could be adopted to support Canadian social science and humanities journal publishing and maybe, more broadly, independent SSH journal publishing in other countries. As I see it, SciELO has added a publishing function to the primary focus of small journals on editorial matters. In a world of underfunded OA titles the superimposition of a cross-title publishing function that draws from journal input and, by virtue of scale, can provide publishing services, could energize cost-effective and readily affordable independent journals enormously.

Thanks Rowland — I concur, and I think there’s great value in what SciELO and AmeliCA are doing and much we can learn from their approaches. Maybe I didn’t express myself clearly though. We have a thriving community of entrepreneurs and startups around scholarly publishing, and all sorts of new technological development being done. To my eye, at least, much of this activity is being driven by the potential availability of lots of customers, investors, and potential purchasers for any new company. In a system where there is essentially one customer (the governing body), it would seem to me to that one would see a less vibrant ancillary market. Does that make sense? Please let me know if there’s something off in my thinking because I’m a big fan of this sort of approach, but wanted to better understand the tradeoffs.

I take your point, David, about customers, investors, and purchasers — essentially an open market. The vigour and innovation that has emerged in journal publishing in response to the transition to digital technology within the commercial sector is supportive evidence for your point. This innovation contrasts with both the not-for-profit sector and the stance of many librarians re journal publishing — that journals add on little in marginal value that can easily be handled by the libraries becoming publishers. I just didn’t want the efforts of SciELO (and AmeliCA) to be dismissed as a backwater. True, also, one purchaser creates a monopsony which creates an imbalance that is likely to dampen innovation but still worse is the command economy lurking beneath the APC model.

Brian have costs gone down because of OA or merely been transferred from university to author?

It seems to me as we go down the OA road we will see a form of economic censorship in that those who can pay to play will play! I can foresee no decreasing of the cost to publish because publishing lives in the world of economic reality as well as everyone else.

Thus, David raises the question what will replace OA and its unintended consequences.

Subscription based publishing may have had some problems with the free lunch crowd but perhaps we should have addressed the problems instead of as the cliche goes: thrown the baby out with the bathwater!

Nevertheless we have done or are doing the above and what is replacing it, namely: OA does not seem the answer.

Shaun Khoo wrote in TSK that “APCs are already rising faster than inflation when fully open access journals make up around 15-20% of the market for journals or articles, so imagine what could happen if demand was increased further by Plan S-style mandates.” So despite whatever optimism OA advocates had about OA bringing down prices in some mysterious way, that hope has never materialized, if this is correct. Nor has the OA movement lead to a decrease, however small, in toll access pricing, so far as I can see. Both types of publishing (toll access and OA) will continue to be very problematic for budget strapped institutions, from a pricing standpoint.
I’m on board with this statement above that “the subscription model did not evolve just by chance. It provided a fair, equitable and stable model in particular historical circumstances and is well capable of further evolution.” I just think that the evolution of subscription markets needs to be in the direction of significant contraction, since too much stuff is being published, with great burden on peer reviewers but more importantly because science is affected–who is going to absorb all this stuff and find the gems amdist the dross. And there is also the specter of hyper-specialization that people talk about, with good reason.
It would be good to see the really big consortia starting to advocate a change in the t and p system so that quantity of publications is not rewarded. The sad fact however is that quantity/mile-long-cvs has become the stuff of bragging rights.


On who’s back to you lay the blame for “too many articles”? While publishers may exploit the increase in available scholarly output, they are not the root cause of it, are they? Academia pumps out more PhD’s each year, in vast excess of those needed to replenish the academy and with skill sets, interests and experience not directly transferable to industry. While this practice helps flow grant and governmental monies into universities ( show me a Research intensive university without a major new research building in various stages of construction), it’s directly stimulates the hyper competition to“publish more” – especially on a global scale.

Brandon, see one of my comments above for one answer to your question. “How to reduce demand for so many articles? We need a change in the t and p and grant-funding process. That’s not going to happen any time in the near future. So we’re back at square one.” Despite that caveat about the difficulty of this project, time is well spent if the large consortia start the very long term project of educating faculty about the scholarly communication perils of so much dross getting publishing. As well as the great need for a greater preponderance of review/synthesis articles, and rewards for writing them. It will take a very long time for such educational efforts to bear fruit, but look at the impact the library profession has played in promoting open access. (Consortia will retort: we can’t tell faculty what to do or impinge on how they evaluate perceived quality of research and their own reward structures, but then look at the role consortia are playing in promoting to faculty a particular model of publishing (OA), and now the expectation that they’ll shoulder a significant piece of the funding via publicly funded research monies: so any such retort bears no water.)
In sum, we can’t lay primary blame on the publishers for the fact of the glut. They’re on the supply side. (Which is not to suggest that there aren’t serious questions about their ongoing pricing schemes in this environment.) The problem you ask about lies mainly on the demand side, imo.
It seems as if reform of t and p or the grant process is more likely in the very long run to reform publishing than efforts to promote APCs that will merely replicate the price dynamics of toll access pricing.

P.S. I can merely repeat too that while OA is inherently good, the OA movement has deflected attention from questions about the content of what is made OA. In particular, the fact that there is too much content that is now hard for researchers to master, given that there is so much of it. But I’ve elaborated all this at far too much length elsewhere and proposed an ideal type for possible reform. “Ideal type” since publishing is an extremely complicated economic system, one factor of which is that the cultures of different discipline vary. (My views are mainly tailored to physics publishing for various reasons.)

Since we are asking “how can we?” let’s look at David’s post and the resulting comments in the context of Green OA.

Green OA focuses on (1) OA for readers, and (2) can demonstrate the academy’s values and value to society. Green OA can also highlight the value publishers bring by keeping them in the game. Publishers can (3) without APCs pick quality content through editors/peer-review, taking the burden off authors that cannot get an APC loan to publish in Nature, and (4) compete amongst themselves with “semantic tagging, APIs, new discovery services, integrating data publication…” in order for libraries to choose to pay a subscription for tools our users use. Green OA and these 4 points have many pros/cons/details, but I am offering a short answer to “how can we?”

We live in a decentralized funding and decision-making scholarly communication world. An inhospitable place for APCs at the institution and individual level. In place of David’s example of Arkansas funds not flowing to Harvard, we can say European Country X’s funds will not flow to European Country Y. On the individual level, Author A may have their APC paid, but the institution runs out of money before paying Author Z’s APC. Author Z needs an appeals process.

If it was easy, it would be fixed by now. I’m glad we get to work on it together. What do you think?

Green routes remain the neglected stepchildren of OA, even though they are the chosen method for many major funders and governments (and one could argue, that PubMed Central remains the greatest OA success story to date). I’m a big proponent of Green approaches, but, as with those discussed above, they suffer from the Free Rider problem. No one is going to voluntarily pay for content that is free (and the impact of current Green policies is becoming increasingly evident as many universities cancel subscriptions and big deals because they have other routes to the same material). In order to allow journals to survive, embargoes are needed, and that seems unacceptable to many.

Your idea that publishers could give away content and then sell services around the content is intriguing, but it is unclear how big a market exists for such things, or if there’s any market there at all. Further, if your business is selling semantic tagging, APIs, discovery services, and data publication, why would you waste time, money, and effort creating any content at all? Why not focus on your moneymakers and apply them as a layer on top of the free content others are producing?

My idea was much less fancy. I meant libraries would continue to pay for the content with a subscription in order for their users to find/use the bells and whistles available on well maintained, integrated, forward thinking online platforms, while still supporting Green OA for readers, demonstrating academy value and values. And if a platform wasn’t that great, or much used, or the content too expensive, then a library would not pay for the content with a subscription.

Green OA is dependent on the academy taking action. Subscription fee payments to support publisher added value and tools is dependent on the publishers taking action. I’m not saying anything y’all do not already know.

We have been participating in a full, detailed OA conversation for decades. Where is our benign deus ex machina?

There is no benign deus ex machina. There is only the indifferent movements of the economy.

I’m writing as the editorial director of a publisher specialising in academic monographs (rather than articles/journals etc.) so this is slightly away from the main direction. But IF the traditional “added-value” of publishers, such as organising peer-review, “curating” a list, copy-editorial work, design, typesetting, marketing, distribution etc. (and perhaps it is no longer an “added-value”) cannot be funded by sales revenue – or by author contributions – then frankly, I don’t see a future for this sort of publishing. These functions have to be paid for – but where from?

I think as participants of the Radical Open Access conferences and network in the UK have demonstrated, academics can do most of this themselves. Already, book publishers are saving costs by getting us to do everything bar final typesetting .Of course, academics need more recognition of the time we spend on such activities but as I see it, we will just be supporting the big commercial publishers if we do not do it. Especially if smaller more ethical publishers get bought out by the big 5, or disappear completely.

Interesting article. Thanks.

This situation reminds me a little of the challenge faced by some specialty publishers when federal documents became available online for free. There was a time (before the internet) when publishers in DC could make a killing simply by going down to the agencies, getting the documents and providing them to subscribers. When the subscribers had free access to those documents, the publishers had to add value — either in their selection of what to publish, by providing additional analysis, or by adding indexes, glossaries, search functions, etc.

In a somewhat similar vein, I can imagine a future where there are tiers of access. All researchers would have to pay for peer review and basic publishing functions, and all papers would be available for free, but specialty journals would make their living by their selection criteria and by adding value to the papers they publish.

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