Open access: “Information wants to be free”?

“Below is a list of the main points I make in this document

– Internet mantras like information wants to be free misled OA advocates about what is possible in an online world. Amongst other things, these mantras led to the mistaken belief that publishing would be very much cheaper on the internet.

– BOAI was intended to achieve three things: to resolve the longstanding problems of affordability, accessibility, and equity that have long dogged scholarly communication.

– It now seems unlikely that the affordability and equity problems will be resolved, which will impact disproportionately negatively on those in the Global South. And if the geopolitical situation worsens, solving the accessibility problem may also prove difficult.

– OA advocates overestimated the wider research community’s likely interest in open access. This led them to lobby governments and funders to insist that they force open access on their peers. This was a mistake as it opened the door to OA being captured by neoliberalism.

– The goals of the OA movement are out of sync with the current economic and political environment. This is not good news for scholarly communication, for library budgets or for OA.

– Populism and nationalism pose a significant threat to open access. – The pandemic looks set to wreak havoc on budgets. This is likely to be bad news for OA.

– Rather than being a democratic force for good, the internet created power laws and network effects that saw neoliberalism morph into neofeudalism and paved the way for the surveillance capitalism and data extractivism that the web giants have pioneered. These negative phenomena look likely to become a feature of scholarly communication too.

– Today we see a mix of incompatible strategies being pursued by libraries, funders, and OA advocates – including unbundling, transformative agreements and the adoption of publishing platforms, as well as experiments with scholar-led and “collective action” initiatives. There appears to be no coherent overarching strategy. This could have perverse effects, which has in fact been an abiding feature of OA initiatives.

– OA advocates have unrealistic expectations about diamond open access and the possibility of the research community “taking back ownership” of scholarly communication.

– While publicly funded OA infrastructures would be highly desirable there currently seems to be little likelihood that governments will be willing to fund them, certainly at the necessary scale and with sufficient commitment.

– OA advocates have probably overplayed their claim that publishers are engaged in price gouging. Nevertheless, the industry consolidation we have seen has led to a publishing oligopoly that now dominates scientific publishing in a troubling way. And as these companies develop ever larger and more sophisticated platforms and portals, we can expect to see more worrying implications than high costs emerge. Unfortunately, governments and competition authorities currently seem either not to understand the dangers or are unwilling to act….”