Paid Gold OA Versus Free Gold OA: Against Color Cacophony

1. The Green/Gold Open Access (OA) distinction concerns whether it is the author or the publisher that provides the OA.

2. This distinction was important to mark with clear terms because the conflation of the two roads to OA has practical implications and has been holding up OA progress for a decade and a half.

3. The distinction between paid Gold and free Gold is very far from being a straightforward one.

4. Free Gold can be free (to the author) because the expenses of the Gold journal are covered by subscriptions, subsidies or volunteerism.

5. The funds for Paid Gold can come from the author’s pocket, the author’s research grant, the author’s institution or the author’s funder.

6. It would be both absurd and gratuitously confusing to mark each of these economic-model differences with a color-code.

7. Superfluous extra colors would also obscure the role that the colour-code was invented to perform: distinguishing author-side OA provision from publisher-side OA provision.

8. So, please, let’s not have “diamond,” “platinum” and “titanium” OA, despite the metallurgical temptations.

9. They amplify noise instead of pinpointing the signal, just as SHERPA/Romeo‘s parti-colored Blue/Yellow/Green spectrum (mercifully ignored by almost everyone) does.

10. OA is about providing Open Access to peer-reviewed journal articles, not about cost-recovery models for OA publishing (Gold OA).

11. The Gold that publishers are fighting for and that researcher funders are subsidizing (whether “pure” or “hybrid”) is paid Gold, not free Gold.

12. No one knows whether or how free Gold will be sustainable, any more than they know whether or how long subscription publishing can co-exist viably with mandatory Green OA.

13. So please leave the economic ideology and speculation out of the pragmatics of OA policy making by the research community (institutions and funders).

14. Cost-recovery models are the province of publishers (Gold OA).

15. What the research community needs to do is mandate OA provision.

16. The only OA provision that is entirely in the research community’s hands is Green OA.

And, before you ask, please let’s not play into the publishers’ hands by colour-coding OA also in terms of the length of the publisher embargo: 3-month OA, 6-month OA, 12-month-OA, 24-month-OA, millennial OA: OA means immediate online access. Anything else is delayed access. (The only quasi-exception is the “Almost-OA” provided by the author via the institutional repository’s email-eprint-request Button when complying with publisher embargoes — but that too is clearly not OA, which is immediate, free online access.)

And on no account should the genuine, substantive distinction between Gratis OA (free online access) and Libre OA (free online access plus various re-use rights) be color-coded (with a different shade for every variety of CC license)!

Harnad, S., Brody, T., Vallieres, F., Carr, L., Hitchcock, S., Gingras, Y, Oppenheim, C., Stamerjohanns, H., & Hilf, E. (2004) The Access/Impact Problem and the Green and Gold Roads to Open Access. Serials Review 30. Shorter version: The green and the gold roads to Open Access. Nature Web Focus.