Hybrid Gold OA and the Cheshire Cat’s Grin

Suppose you’re a subscription journal. Hybrid Gold Open Access (OA) means you just keep selling subscriptions and — on top of that — you can charge (whatever you like) as an extra fee for selling single-article hybrid gold.

How much do you charge? Well, if you publish 100 articles per year and your total annual revenue is £XXX, you charge 1% of £XXX for hybrid Gold OA per article.

Once you’ve got that (plus your unaltered subscription revenue of £XXX) you’ve earned £XXX + 1% for that year.

Good business.

And if the UK publishes 6% of the world’s articles yearly, then on average 6% of the articles in any journal will be fee-based hybrid Gold OA, thanks to Finch and RCUK. That means worldwide publisher revenue — let’s say it’s £XXX per year — will increase from £XXX per year to:

£XXX + 6% per year
Not bad.

Publishers are not too dense to do the above arithmetic. They’ve already done it. That is what hybrid Gold is predicated upon. And that is why publishers are so pleased with Finch/RCUK: “The world purports to want OA. Fine. We’re ready to sell it to them — on top of what we’re selling them already.”

In the UK, Finch and RCUK have obligingly eliminated hybrid Gold OA’s only real competition (Green OA) — Finch by ignoring it completely, and RCUK by forcing fundees to pay for Gold rather than provide Green whenever the publisher has the sense to offer Gold.

Of course publishers will say (and sometimes even mean it) that they are not really trying to inflate their income even further. As the uptake of hybrid Gold increases, they will proportionately lower the cost of subscriptions — until subscriptions are gone and all that’s left, like the Cheshire Cat’s grin, is Gold OA revenue (now no longer hybrid but “pure”) — and at the same bloated levels as today’s subscriptions.

So what? The goal was always OA, not Green OA or Gold OA. Who cares if all that money is being wasted?

I don’t.

I care about all the time (and with it all that OA usage and impact and research progress) that has been wasted, and that will continue to be wasted, as the joint thrall of Gold Fever and Rights Rapture keep the research community from mandating the cost-free Green OA that would bring them 100% OA globally in next to no time, and leave them instead chasing along the CC-BYways after gold dust year upon year, at unaffordable, unnecessary and unscaleable extra cost.

§ § § §

Let’s hope that RCUK will have the sense and integrity to recognize its mistake, once the unintended negative consequences are pointed out, and will promptly correct it. The policy can still be corrected completely with two simple patches.

RCUK should:

(1) Drop the implication that if a journal offers Green and Gold, RCUK fundees must pick Gold


(2) Downgrade to a request the requirement that the Green option must be within the allowable embargo interval.

(The deposit of the refereed final draft would still have to be done immediately upon publication, but the repository?s ?email-eprint-request? Button could be used to tide over user needs by providing ?Almost-OA? during the embargo.)

There is no way to resurrect the current RCUK policy in such a way as to rule out hybrid Gold: to do that, the policy would have to be re-conceived and re-written completely. If that were done, all of the fatal bugs of the present draft would be gone:

?You must provide at least gratis OA within the allowable embargo. This can be done either by paying for pure Gold OA (not hybrid) ? but then the OA must be libre and unembargoed (and the paper should be deposited in the fundee’s repository anyway). Or you can provide Gratis Green OA to the refereed final draft within the allowable embargo (but the deposit itself must be done immediately upon acceptance for publication).?

That would be a fine policy, especially if beefed up with a link to submission to HEFCE [Higher Education Funding Council for England] for RE.

Stevan Harnad