“ALLEA, therefore, welcomes recent studies showing that OA publication in scientific journals is on the rise. An important driver of this development are the so-called “Big Deals”; “read and publish agreements” that have been negotiated in recent years between (consortia of) research libraries, institutions, and universities on the one hand, and scientific publishers on the other. These agreements, also known as “transformative agreements”, have replaced the subscription deals that were previously agreed between research libraries and publishers, and which provided for large bundles of subscriptions to proprietary journals to be made available electronically to libraries and their affiliated researchers.
The new generation of deals is “transformative” in that they additionally allow for OA publication under the “Gold” standard of (usually a finite number of) research articles by institution-affiliated researchers in return for payment of substantial “article processing charges” (APCs)3 that allow publishers to recoup their investment in OA publication.
As a recent study demonstrates, commercial publishers currently derive more than two billion USD annually from APCs.2 Despite gradually decreasing subscription revenues, the commercial publishers have managed to embrace the Gold OA model without compromising their total revenues and enormous profit margins. Evidently, Gold OA publishing has become a new, highly profitable business model in and of itself,2 in addition to the subscription model which has remained partially intact. Incorporating Gold OA publication into all-encompassing read and publish agreements has thus allowed the major commercial publishers to effectively consolidate and enhance their already dominant position in the field of scholarly publishing, solidifying their role as the gatekeepers of publicly funded research.
While the rising number of Gold OA publications facilitated by these deals is to be applauded, they do not deliver on the triple promise of OA. In particular, they have not led to a reduction in the exorbitant costs to the academic community incurred in the process of research publication. While the downstream costs of journal subscriptions are gradually falling, the upstream costs of publication, made up of the APCs, have risen sharply.
Concomitantly, the imposition of APCs has created new, and sometimes insurmountable, barriers to publication for researchers that are not affiliated to a contracting institution. In addition, as already underlined in previous ALLEA Statements,6, the Gold OA model creates a disadvantage for those coming from less wealthy countries and institutions, under-funded researchers in the social sciences and humanities, and early career researchers, among others. For these academics, OA of published research comes at the expense of closure of first-tier publication fora.
In addition, ALLEA is concerned that the conditions of the “Big Deals” that drive these developments do not adequately reflect the rules on copyright law in the European Union (EU) and fail to fairly value the creative and research endeavours of researchers and their institutions, as well as their investment and efforts over time to generate research results and publications to the benefit of the public….”