Harnad, S. (2017). OA Overview January 2017. (email sent 06-01-17 Repositories discussion list <JISC-REPOSITORIES@JISCMAIL.AC.UK>.
(1) The old librarians’ “double-payment” argument against subscription publishing (the institution pays once to fund the research, then a second time to “buy back” the publication) is false (and silly, actually) in the letter (though on the right track in spirit).
(2) No, the institution that pays for the research output is not paying a second time to buy it back. Institutional journal subscriptions are not for buying back their own research output. They already have their own research output. They are buying in the research output of other institutions, and of other countries, with their journal subscriptions. So no double-payment there, even if you reckon it at the funder- or the tax-payer-level instead of the level of the institution that pays for the subscription.
(3) The problem was never double-payment (for subscriptions): It was (a) (huge) overpayment for institutional access and (b) completely intolerable and counterproductive access-denial for researchers at institutions that couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for subscriptions to any given journal (and there are tens of thousands of research journals): The users that are the double losers there are (i) all researchers at all the institutions that produce all research output (who lose all those of their would-be users who are at non-subscribing institutions for any given journal) and (ii) all researchers at all the non-subscribing institutions for any given journal, who lose access to all non-subscribed research. Now take a few minutes to think through the somewhat more complicated but much more accurate and informative version (3) of the double-payment fallacy in (1). The solution is very clear, and has been clear for close to 30 years now (but not reached — nor even grasped by most):
(4) Peer-reviewed research should be freely accessible to all its users. It is give-away research. The authors gets no money for it: they (and their institutions and funder and tax-payer) only seek readers, users and impact.
(5) The only non-obsolete service that peer-reviewed journals still perform in the online era is peer review itself (and they don’t even do most of that: researchers do all the refereeing for free, but a competent editor has to understand the submissions, pick the right referees, umpire their reports, and make sure that the necessary revisions are done by the autho). Journals today earn from $1500 to $5000 or more per article they publish, combining all their subscription revenue, per article. Yet the true cost of peer review per article is a small fraction of that: My estimate is that it’s from $50 to $200 per round of refereeing. (Notice that it’s not per accepted paper: There’s no need to bundle the price of refereeing all rejected, or many times re-refereed papers into the price of the winning losers who get accepted!
(6) So the refereeing service needs to be paid for at its true, fair price, per paper, regardless of whether the outcome is accept, revise + re-referee, or reject: a service fee for each round of refereeing.
(7) Now comes open access publishing (“Gold OA”) — which is not — repeat not — what I have just described in (6)!
(8) Gold OA today is “Fool’s Gold OA,” and it includes two subtler kinds of double payment than the simplistic notion in (1). It has to be calculated at the level of the double-payer, the institution: Institutions must, first, pay (A) for the subscription journals that they need and can afford: the ones whose contents are otherwise not accessible to their users but need to be. Then, second, they must pay (B) the FGold OA publication costs for each paper that their researchers publish in a non-subscription journal. That’s already a double-payment: Subscription costs plus FGold OA costs. The S costs are for incoming S-research from all other institutions and the FG costs are for their own outgoing FG research output. And the FG costs are not $50-$200 per paper for peer review, but $1000 or much more for FG “publication costs” (now ask yourself what are the expenses of which those are payment!).
(9) And there is another “double” here in some cases, because sometimes the S-journal and the FG-journal are the same journal: The “hybrid” subscription/ FG publishers: These publishers offer FG as an option that the author can choose to pay for. That is double-dipping. And even if the hybrid journal promises to lower the subscription price per article in proportion to how many articles pay for FG, that just means that the foolish institution that is paying for the FG is subsidizing, with its huge payment per article, the subscription costs of all the other subscribing institutions.
(10) So FG is not only outrageously over-priced, but it means double-payment for institutions, the possibility of double-dipping by publishers, and, at best, paying institutions subsidizing the S institutions with their FG double payments.
(11) So FG does not work: Publishers cannot and will not cut costs and downsize to just providing peer review at a fair price (“Fair Gold”) while there are still fat subscription revenues as well as fat FG payments to be had.
(12) Yet there is another way that OA can be provided, instead of via Fools Gold OA and that is via Green OA self-archiving, by their own authors, of all refereed, accepted, published papers, in their own institution’s Green OA Institutional Repositories.
(13) Not only does Green OA provide OA itself, but once it reaches close to 100%, it allows all institutions to cancel their subscription journals, making subscriptions no longer sustainable, thereby forcing publishers to cut costs by unbundling peer review and its true costs from all the obsolete costs of printing paper, producing PDF, distributing the journal, archiving the journal, etc. That’s all done by the global network of Green OA Institutional repositories, leaving only the peer review as the last remaining essential service of peer-reviewed journal publishers. That’s affordable, sustainable, Green-OA-based “Fair Gold” OA.
(14) 100% Green OA could have been had over 20 years ago, if researchers had just provided it. Some did, but far too few. Most were too lazy, too dim-witted or too timid to do it. Then their institutions and funders tried to mandate OA — so publishers decided to embargo Green OA for at least a year from publication, offering Fool’s Gold OA instead.
(15) And that’s about where we are now: Weak Green OA mandates providing some Green OA but not enough. Some FG OA, doubly compromised now by the fact that authors have been taking it up as a kind of pay-to-publish opportunity, with weak peer review (or none at all, in the case of the many scam FG journalswho are rushing to cash in on the Fool’s Gold Rush). Meanwhile OA activists are foolishly clamouring ore-emptively for “open data,” “CC-BY licenses” and “open science” when they don’t even have OA yet, subscriptions are doing fine, and FG is outrageously over-priced and double-paid, hence unaffordable.
(16) There are simple solutions for all this, but they require sensible, concerted action on the part of the research community: Green OA mandates need strengthening, monitoring and carrot/stick enforcement; there is a simple way around publishers’ Green OA embargos (the “Copy Request” Button , and a few institutions and funders are sensibly using the eligibility rules for research evaluation as the carrot/stick to ensure compliance with the mandate. But I’ve tired of repeating myself and tired of waiting. It can all be said in these 16 points, and has been said, countless times. But it’s one thing to lead a bunch of researchers to the waters of Green OA self-archiving; it’s quite another to get them to stoop to drink. So let their librarians keep whinging incoherently about “double-payment” for yet another decade of lost research access and impact…
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