Green OA Repository Infrastructure are Permanent, not “Transitional”

In his interview with Richard Poynder, Cameron Neylon, as always, makes many valid and astute points. But there is one thing about which I think he is quite profoundly mistaken:

CN: While we can generate wider access with relatively little transitional costs through repository-mediated OA this won?t help to bring down subscriptions costs.”

Apart from the fact that lowering subscription (or publication) costs and providing open access to publisher research are not the same thing at all (and that the urgent and overwhelming priority of Open Access is Access), I think Cameron underestimates the profound causal connection between them:

No, the primary purpose of repository-mediated OA (Green OA) is not to serve as a transition to Gold OA publishing: it is to provide OA.

But in providing the infrastructure for providing OA, the global network of Green OA repositories also provides the means of downsizing publishing to just the cost of managing peer review (which peers provide for free). All the rest of the costs of pre-Green-OA publishing (access-provision, archiving) are — post-Green — offloaded and distributed across the global network of Green OA repositories (while the print and online editions and their costs can be jettisoned completely).

That is why the small residual cost of post-Green Gold OA will be affordable, sustainable “Fair Gold” OA whereas the current cost of pre-Green Gold OA is arbitrarily inflated “Fools Gold” OA. And that’s not just because the global Green OA infrastructure is not yet in place and absorbing all the costs of access-provision and archiving, but because subscriptions are still in place and have to keep being paid until those articles are made Green OA!

Hence pre-Green Gold means not only inflated prices but double-payment (for (1) subscriptions to all the must-have journals that are non-OA plus (2) Fools-Gold fees for pre-Green Gold OA journals) — not to mention the further possibility of (3) publisher double-dipping in the case of hybrid Fools Gold.

So it is not at all the case that there is “a role for Green OA and institutional repositories, although perhaps only a transitional one“: Green OA repositories can and will provide not only 100% OA, permanently, but they will thereby also make it possible (indeed necessary) for journal publishing to downsize and convert to Fair Gold — and at the same time release the institutonal subscription funds, of which a fraction can then be used to pay (rather than double-pay) for Fair Gold.

Cameron is completely right, however, that “[t]he single most important task today is putting in place robust and transparent mechanisms to report on [Green OA mandatory] policy compliance? and monitor the growth of access.” That done, effectively, the transition to Fair Gold OA will then take care of itself.

(I would close by emphasizing that just as providing OA itself is incomparably more important and urgent than publishing reform, so OA’s provision of access to all users, rather than just to subscribers, is incomparably more important and urgent than providing further re-use rights, over and above online access free for all: Fair Gold and all the re-use rights that users need and authors want to provide will come, as surely as day follows night — but Green OA must come first.)

Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age. L’Harmattan. 99-106.

Harnad, S. (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).