Institutional Repository "Business Model" for Open Access Publishing?

There is a profound latent conflation and incoherence in the question “What is the business model to support open access through institutional repositories?”

It is a conflation between the business model for publishing and the “business” model for institutional repositories (IRs).

The conflation is also evident in any mention (in the context of IR costs) of peer review costs or of revival university presses linked to repositories.

1. Green OA self-archiving is not a substitute for peer-reviewed subscription journal publishing: it is a supplement to it, for the purpose of providing access to all users, rather than just to subscribers.

2. The function (and cost) of (the editorial management of) journal peer review is neither an institutional repository function (and cost) nor a university function (or cost).

3. Institutional repositories provide access (only) to their own research output.

4. Hence the notion of their doing their own peer review would amounts to a vanity press (self-publication).

5. Alternatively, if a university press produces a peer-reviewed journal that publishes research from other institutions, then that’s just another Gold OA journal, not an IR function or cost.

Please let us not be drawn into the fuzzy notions of certain critics of OA or of Green OA IRs, with hazy, incoherent questions about “business models” that naively conflate IR functions with publishing functions.

IRs are created for many different purposes (some sensible, some not), Green OA being only one of those purposes. (Elaborate local IR search is a foolish function, for example; search will always take place at the multi-IR harvester level. Digital preservation is also not a straightforward function for institutional journal article output, at least not yet: Green OA IRs archive authors’ final drafts, for access-supplemental purposes: that is not the draft that requires the preservation: the publisher’s version of record is!)

IRs also store all sorts of other institutional objects, data and records. Those functions and their costs have nothing to do with OA and it is absurd for OA policy-makers to ask for a Green IR “business model” that includes those costs and functions.

Yet the IR start-up and maintenance costs (small though they are) are already covered in large part by the institutional sectors that require those non-OA IR functions. (I say “in large part” because without effective Green OA mandates, the Green OA content and function of IRs is minimal.)

Houghton & Swan’s (2013) cost/benefit analyses stress that Green OA is a transitional strategy: It supplements subscription publishing and its costs by providing OA.

Houghton & Swan also have cost/benefit estimates for pure Gold OA publication, once subscriptions are gone.

But the question of “IR business model” cuts across these two, incoherently, as if they were both happening at the same time, which makes no sense whatsoever.

I have a more specific hypothesis about how this Green to Gold transition is likely to take place. At the very least, this hypothetical scenario has the virtue of keeping the respective expenses and “business models” in their proper places in the likely temporal sequence, rather than conflating them incoherently, in parallel:

I. Subscriptions prevail, as now.

II. Green OA is universally mandated, by institutions and funders.

III. Green OA grows (anarchically, article by article, not systematically, journal by journal).

IV. So subscriptions continue to co-exist with Green OA, as Green OA grows, because journals cannot be cancelled by institutions until all or most of their contents are available to their users by another means (Green OA).

V. Once there is enough Green OA to make subscription cancellations significant (or even earlier), journals will have to prepare for the transition, by phasing out obsolete products and services, and their costs:

VI. The print edition and its costs will be phased out first. Then, once subscriptions approach unsustainability, the online edition (and its costs) will be phased out, and both access-provision and archiving (and their costs) will be offloaded onto the worldwide network of Green OA IRs.

VII. But the costs of access-provision and archiving will already be distributed across the worldwide network of Green OA IRs: the only difference will be that the Green OA final refereed draft will become the version of record.

VIII. Publishers’ only remaining cost will be the editorial management of peer review.

IX. To cover this last remaining cost, publishers will convert to Gold OA, and institutions will pay for it, per outgoing article, out of a fraction of their subscription cancelation savings.

X. But publishing (peer review) and its costs will remain autonomous from the distributed IR access-provision and archiving and its costs.

Hence the pre-emptive call for a Green IR “business model” at this time is both unrealistic and incoherent, showing a lack of understanding (or a simplistic misunderstanding) if what is really going on.

“If OA were adopted worldwide, the net benefits of Gold OA would exceed those of Green OA. However, we are not in an OA world… At the institutional level, during a transitional period when subscriptions are maintained, the cost of unilaterally adopting Green OA is much lower than the cost of Gold OA ? with Green OA self-archiving costing average institutions sampled around one-fifth the amount that Gold OA might cost, and as little as one-tenth as much for the most research intensive university. Hence, we conclude that the most affordable and cost-effective means of moving towards OA is through Green OA, which can be adopted unilaterally at the funder, institutional, sectoral and national levels at relatively little cost.” [emphasis added]
Houghton & Swan (2013)

Houghton, John W. & Swan, Alma (2013) Planting the green seeds for a golden harvest: Comments and clarifications on ?Going for Gold? D-Lib Magazine 19(1/2)