The Only Way to Make Inflated Subscriptions Unsustainable: Mandate Green OA

The only effective way to make inflated subscriptions unsustainable is for funders and institutions to mandate Green OA self-archiving.

Tim Gowers is quite right that ?the pace of change is slow, and the alternative system that is most strongly promoted ? open access articles paid for by article processing charges [?Gold OA?] ? is one that mathematicians tend to find unpalatable. (And not only mathematicians: they are extremely unpopular in the humanities.)? there is no sign that they will help to bring down costs any time soon and no convincing market mechanism by which one might expect them to.?

This is all true as long as the other form of OA (?Green OA? self-archiving by authors of published articles in OA repsositories, mandated by funders and institutions) has not prevailed. Pre-Green Gold is “Fool’s-Gold.” Only Post-Green Gold is Fair-Gold.

The current Finch/RCUK policy, preferring Gold OA, has had its predictable perverse effects:

1. sustaining arbitrary, bloated Gold OA fees
2. wasting scarce research funds
3. double-paying publishers [subscriptions plus Gold]
4. handing subscription publishers a hybrid-gold-mine
5. enabling hybrid publishers to double-dip
6. abrogating authors’ freedom of journal-choice [based on cost-recovery model, embargo or licence instead of on quality]
7. imposing re-mix licenses that many authors don’t want and most users and fields don’t need
8. inspiring subscription publishers to adopt and lengthen Green OA embargoes [to maxmize hybrid-gold revenues]
9. handicapping Green OA mandates worldwide [by incentivizing embargoes]
10. allowing journal-fleet publishers to confuse and exploit institutions and authors even more

But the solution is also there (as already adopted by University of Liege and FRS-FNRS (the Belgian Francophone research funding council), EC Horizon2020 proposed and now adopted by HEFCE for REF2020.

a. funders and institutions mandate immediate-deposit
b. of the peer-reviewed final draft
c. in the author’s institutional repository
d. immediately upon acceptance for publication
e. whether journal is subscription or Gold
f. whether access to the deposit is immedate-OA or embargoed
g. whether license is transfered, retained or CC-BY;
h. institutions implement repository’s facilitated email eprint request Button;
i. institutions designate immediate-deposit the mechanism for submitting publications for research performance assessment;
j. institutions monitor and ensure immediate-deposit mandate compliance

This policy restores author choice, moots publisher embargoes, makes Gold and CC-BY completely optional, provides the incentive for author compliance and the natural institutional mechanism for verifying it, consolidates funder and institutional mandates; hastens the natural death of OA embargoes, the onset of universal Green OA, and the resultant institutional subscription cancellations, journal downsizing and transition to Fair-Gold OA at an affordable, sustainable price, paid out of institutional subscription cancellation savings instead of over-priced, double-paid, double-dipped Fool’s-Gold. And of course Fair-Gold OA will license all the re-use rights users need and authors want to allow.

In summary, plans by universities and research funders to pay the costs of Gold OA today are premature. Funds are short; 80% of journals (including virtually all the top journals) are still subscription-based, tying up the potential funds to pay for Gold OA; the asking price for Gold OA is still high; and there is concern that paying to publish may inflate acceptance rates and lower quality standards. What is needed now is for universities and funders to mandate Green OA self-archiving (of authors’ final peer-reviewed drafts, immediately upon acceptance for publication). That will provide immediate OA; and if and when universal Green OA should go on to make subscriptions unsustainable (because users are satisfied with just the Green OA versions) that will in turn induce journals to cut costs (print edition, online edition, access-provision, archiving), downsize to just providing the service of peer review, and convert to the Gold OA cost-recovery model; meanwhile, the subscription cancellations will have released the funds to pay these residual service costs. The natural way to charge for the service of peer review then will be on a “no-fault basis,” with the author’s institution or funder paying for each round of refereeing, regardless of outcome (acceptance, revision/re-refereeing, or rejection). This will minimize cost while protecting against inflated acceptance rates and decline in quality standards.

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.

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

______ (2013) Comments on HEFCE/REF Open Access Mandate Proposal. Open access and submissions to the REF post-2014

______ (2013) Finch Group reviews progress in implementing open access transition amid ongoing criticisms. LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog November 18th 2013

______ (2013) ?Nudging? researchers toward Gold Open Access will delay the shift to wider access of research. LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog December 5th, 2013