On "Platinum OA," "Titanium OA," and "Overlay-Journal OA," Again

1. Green/Subscription Co-Existence. Subscriptions might co-exist peacefully with Green OA for some time, even after the world has reached 100% Green.

(As long as mandatory Green OA generates 100% Green OA, this is no problem for OA, and it certainly does ease the hardship of the serials crisis, since with 100% Green, subscriptions become a luxury rather than a painful necessity, as they are now.)

2. The Green/Gold Distinction.The definition of Green and Gold OA is that Green OA is provided by the author and Gold OA is provided by the journal. This makes no reference to journal cost-recovery model. Although most of the top Gold OA journals charge APCs and are not subscription based, the majority of Gold OA journals do not charge APCs (as Peter Suber and others frequently point out).

These Gold OA journals may cover their costs in one of several ways:

(i) Gold OA journals may simply be subscription journals that make their online version OA
(ii) Gold OA journals may be subsidized journals
(iii) Gold OA journals may be volunteer journals where all parties contribute their resources and services gratis
(iv) Gold OA journals may be hybrid subscription/Gold journals that continue to charge subscriptions for non-OA articles but offer the Gold option for an APC by the individual OA article.

All of these are Gold OA (or hybrid) journals.

It would perhaps be feasible to estimate the costs of each kind. But I think it would be a big mistake, and a source of great confusion, if one of these kinds (say, ii, or iii) were dubbed “Platinum.”

That would either mean that it was both Gold and Platinum, or it would restrict the meaning of Gold to (i) and (iv), which would redefine terms in wide use for almost a decade now in terms of publication economics rather than in terms of the way they provide OA, as they had been.

(And in that case we would need many more “colours,” one for each of (i)(iv) and any other future cost-recovery model someone proposes (advertising?) — and then perhaps also different colors for Green (institutional repository deposit, central deposit, home-page deposit, immediate deposit, delayed deposit, OAI-compliant, author-deposited, librarian-deposited, provost-deposited, 3rd-party-deposited, crowd-sourced, e.g. via Mendeley, which some have proposed calling this “Titanium OA”).

I don’t think this particoloured nomenclature would serve any purpose other than confusion. Green and Gold designate the means by which the OA is provided — by the author or by the journal. The journal’s cost-recovery model is another matter, and should not be colour-coded lest it obscure this fundamental distinction. Ditto for the deposit’s locus and manner.

3. “Overlay Journals.” I have a longstanding problem with the term “overlay journal” that I have rehearsed before. Overlay of what on what?

The notion of an “overlay journal” was first floated by Ginsparg for Arxiv. Arxiv contains authors’ unrefereed, unpublished preprints and then their refereed, published postprints. Ginsparg said that eventually journals could turn into “overlays” on the Arxiv deposits, corresponding roughly to the transition from preprint to postprint. The “overlay” would consist of the peer review, revision, and then the journal title as the “tag” certifying the officially accepted version.

But in that sense, all Gold OA journals are “overlay journals” once they have phased out their print edition:

The “overlay” of the peer review service and then the tagging of the officially accepted version could be over a central repository, over distributed institutional repositories, or over the publsher’s (OA) website.

Even a non-OA subscription journal would be an “overlay” journal if it had phased out its print edition: The peer review and certification tag would simply be an “overlay” on an online version, regardless of where it was located, and even regardless of whether it was OA or non-OA. (Once we get this far, we see that even for print journals the peer review and certification is just an “overlay”).

What I think this reveals is that in the online era (and especially the OA era) the notion of “overlay” is completely redundant: Once we note that the print edition was just a technical detail of the Gutenberg era, we realize that journal publishing consists (and always implicitly consisted) of two components: access-provision and quality-control/certification (peer-review/editing). The latter is always an “overlay” on the former. And once the print edition is gone, it’s an overlay on a digital template that can be here, there or everywhere. It is simply a tagged digital file.

Now my own oft-repeated scenario is that universally mandated Green OA self-archiving will eventually lead to journals abandoning their print versions, then abandoning their digital versions and offloading all access-provision and archiving of the digital version onto the global network of Green OA repositories.

This is, in a sense, an “overlay” scenario. But a much simpler and more natural way of looking at it is that from the multiple functions that journals formerly performed, and the multiple co-bundled products and services they formerly sold via subscription — print edition, online edition, distribution, storage and peer review/editing — Green OA will induce a down-sizing to the sole remaining essential function for a peer-reviewed journal in the networked online medium: peer review.

Peer review is hence an unbundled service provided by a post-Green Gold OA journal. I don’t think it is realistic to try to assess its costs independently, as a form of journal publication “overlaid” on something or other — independent of what that something or other is, and how it gets there!

So although it is likely that 100% Green will eventually make subscriptions unsustainable and force a transition to Gold, there may be a long co-existence interregnum in between. (And the main unpredicatable factor determining that will be author/reader habits, including how long they will want to keep paying for print, and how much and how long they value the publisher’s version-of-record.)

That’s why it is far less important how long 100% Green will co-exist with subscriptions than how long it will take to get to 100% Green (and what’s the fastest and surest way to get us there?)!


Berners-Lee, Tim, De Roure, Dave, Harnad, Stevan and Shadbolt, Nigel (2005) Journal publishing and author self-archiving: Peaceful Co-Existence and Fruitful Collaboration.