“The open access movement has dropped barriers to readers only to erect them for authors. The reason is the article processing charge (APC), which typically runs $3,000 to $5,000. The APC model, with its tolled access to authorship, is the subscription model seen through a camera obscura: author paywalls in place of reading paywalls.
Most scholars cannot afford the steep fees, a fact masked by the privileged segment who can: scientists in the rich industrialized world, and scholars in a handful of wealthy European countries and North American universities. The fees are often paid via so-called “read-and-publish” deals, which fold APCs into the subscription contracts that libraries negotiate with publishers.
The emerging APC regime is also re-anointing the commercial oligopolists—the same five firms that fleece universities through usurious subscription charges. Springer Nature, Elsevier, and their peers are, with every read-and-publish deal, transitioning their enormous profit margins from tolled to open—and capturing the lion’s share of library spending in the process. Librarians continue to fund the tolled system, while also—at the richer institutions—picking up the tab for their faculty’s author fees. The result is an incumbent-publisher spending lockdown, one that ratifies the APC regime….
Collective funding is an appealing idea, versions of which have been circulating since at least 2006, with important variations on the theme published since. The challenge is getting the model to work beyond a handful of successful, single-resource experiments (including the ArXiv preprint server, the Open Library of Humanities, and the SCOAP3 particle physics journals, among others). The two main hurdles are coordination and funder participation. The academic communication system involves thousands of funders and hundreds of publishers, which makes for a nightmarish coordination challenge. A related obstacle, one made much worse with lots of actors, is the free rider problem. Fee-free open access is a public good that benefits everyone, even non-payers; if enough libraries opt out, the collective funding scheme is likely to collapse….”