Welcome to the third of our special blogposts for Open Access Week 2018! Today we are thinking about this year’s theme of “designing equitable foundations for open knowledge” and focusing specifically on the issue of wealth.
Open Access can operate under a variety of different models, but none of them are without costs. For example, using what is called “Green Open Access” involves making research openly available on repositories and, while there is no immediate cost to researchers, there are costs involved in staffing the repository service and operating the platform itself. An alternative model is “Gold Open Access”, which involves making research openly available on publisher websites and involves payments to the publisher, either from the researchers or from third parties like learned societies who may fund the journal. In both models, the audience is able to access the research for free, but the costs have been shifted elsewhere, which means that having enough money to support the preferred model of Open Access remains an issue.
While the way in which Open Access models currently work may change in the near future as a result of the proposed “Plan S” (a potentially game-changing set of principles produced by Science Europe)1, the issue of how Open Access will be sustainably funded remains a challenging and often contentious topic. With Gold Open Access, publishers have previously been accused of “double-dipping” – by charging for expensive journal subscriptions while also charging researchers to make individual articles open access. Money spent on library subscriptions and article processing charges (for Gold Open Access) continues to increase, putting ever more pressure on institutional budgets trying to support this model of Open Access.2 Green Open Access remains a cheaper route in comparison to Gold Open Access, but has various shortfalls in terms of publisher-imposed embargoes and other restrictions, and also still requires institutions to finance their own repositories.
Debates on how models of Open Access should develop are ongoing and form a fundamental part of the general conversation around a transition to a more open research environment. However, the groups involved in those discussions are usually organisations that are relatively wealthy – well-funded universities in economically-privileged countries, or for-profit publishers – and which often have the loudest voices and the greatest financial clout. This means that there is a risk of overlooking other groups that are less well-off and which may be just as significantly affected by changing costs of Open Access. For example, independent researchers and smaller universities rarely have the funds to support Open Access in the same way as wealthier organisations; similarly, European researchers are privileged in terms of access to national funding for Open Access, which is not the case in many other parts of the world.3
The costs of Open Access must be fair and sustainable. We do not want to be in a situation where you can only be “open” if you can afford it. The needs and perspectives of less wealthy parts of the global community should not be neglected in the process of forming new models for Open Access, otherwise the research landscape will be biased in favour of economically-privileged groups. At the same time, all stakeholders must address the issue of financial sustainability in a way that is fair and avoids destructive changes to the research ecosystem. For example, publishers provide various important contributions to the research process, such as editorial work and the provision of well-indexed databases, and educational institutions must respect publishers’ need for income in order to sustain these contributions. Likewise, publishers should respect the need for transparency in what they charge for subscriptions and Open Access, and must also recognise the reality of limited and dwindling institutional budgets.
Feel free to share your own thoughts with the community, for example on Twitter (#openaccess https://twitter.com/search?q=%23openaccess), or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org! Also, don’t forget to check out our other activities for Open Access Week at https://www.rgu.ac.uk/open-access.
1 For the official communication on “Plan S”, see the Science Europe website (https://www.scienceeurope.org/coalition-s/ – checked 17.10.2018).
2 See for example an analysis of institutional spending on article processing charges in Germany, Austria and the UK between 2014-2015 (Jahn, N. and Tullney, M. 2016. A study of institutional spending on open access publication fees in Germany. PeerJ, 4, article e2323. Available from: https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.2323 [checked 17.10.2018]). See on subscriptions the examples of cancelled deals listed by Sparc (https://sparcopen.org/our-work/big-deal-cancellation-tracking/ – checked 17.10.2018)
3 Discussion at the Scottish Higher Education Digital Libraries (SHEDL) “Read and Publish” event, 4th October 2018, University of Dundee.