Talking about majority of TA publishers which permit postprint archiving

Dorothea Salo, Two-thirds full?  Caveat Lector, September 3, 2008.  Excerpt:

…I’m going to dissect an often-rehearsed green-OA refrain and how I’ve seen it play out in practice. “About two-thirds of TA journals already give blanket permission for [self-archiving] and many of the others will give permission on request,” Suber says.

This just isn’t true, not unadorned, and I wish we’d stop waving it around. For it to be true, SHERPA/ROMEO (from whose database of publisher policies this datum is derived) would have to cover the entire toll-access journal universe. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even come close. Sure, it covers the behemoth toll-access publishers, but there are two problems with extrapolating from a set of data weighted heavily toward them: first, disciplinary coverage on SHERPA is extra-spotty in areas the behemoths can’t profit from (notably the humanities); and second, I have to date seen zero evidence presented that the behemoths’ policies are typical of non-behemoth publishers. I don’t think they are, myself, though I’m willing to be wrong….

The glass is not two-thirds full, folks. For the faculty I’ve dealt with, it’s often more than half-empty.


  • Dorothea starts out with some praise for the article in my September newsletter, which I appreciate. 
  • I do often say that about two-thirds of TA journals permit postprint archiving.  I’ll defend the claim, at least after I correct it.  But first I can acknowledge that it’s shorthand.  When I have time and remember to add them, I add these qualifications:

    First, it represents surveyed journals. Among unsurveyed journals, there are likely to be journals that do, and journals that don’t, permit postprint archiving. We don’t know their proportions yet. Second, the number represents journals that consent in advance to postprint archiving without requiring case-by-case requests. Many that do not consent in advance will still consent if asked individually, however. Elsevier routinely granted individual requests until mid-2004 when it decided to offer blanket permission instead. Third, it represents the journals that consent to postprint archiving, not preprint archiving. If we count the journals that consent to preprint or postprint archiving (or both), the figure rises to 93% [written in February 2006].

  • I base the claim on the numbers reported by SHERPA.  The numbers are also summarized by EPrints.  But be careful when comparing the two sources, because they use the color signifiers differently.
  • Dorothea is right that SHERPA doesn’t survey all publishers, although it’s steadily increasing the number it does survey.  As of today, it surveys 418.  Dorothea suggests that the SHERPA numbers are "weighted heavily" toward the "behemoth" publishers.  But while there are many commercial publishers, there are only half a dozen behemoths.  Any survey of 418 publishers covers far more than the behemoths.  (Maybe we differ on what counts as a behemoth.)  However, it may still be true that the SHERPA numbers reflect some kinds of publishers more than others.  I don’t know and I’d like to know.
  • She says, "I have to date seen zero evidence presented that the behemoths’ policies are typical of non-behemoth publishers…." If we revise this to refer to the SHERPA-surveyed publishers, rather than behemoth publishers, then I agree.  We’re in the same boat and we’d both like to see someone do the research.  Meantime, I’m sure we both want SHERPA continue its long-term survey of publishers.
  • The numbers fluctuate as SHERPA adds more publishers to the survey.  I used to give exact percentage figures, but when I noticed the fluctuation I decided to use looser expressions like "about two-thirds".  When I started using the expression, the SHERPA percentage was between 62 and 67%.  Today it’s 56% (publishers allowing postprint archiving alone or both preprint and postprint archiving), which I would not say is "about two-thirds".  This is a reason to downsize my loose expression (and check the latest number more often).  But…
  • The journals published by the half-dozen behemoths may outnumber the journals published by the next 400+ publishers in line.  However, the SHERPA number I’ve been using refers to the percentage of publishers who allow postprint archiving, not the percentage of journals.  This suggests that when I want to talk about the percentage of journals, as opposed to publishers, I should revise my number upward, not downward.  At the moment, I don’t know how the upward correction and downward correction net out.  If anyone has done the math (if 56% of this set of publishers permits postprint archiving, then what percentage of the journals they represent permits postprint archiving?), I’d like to hear from them.
  • One more thing I don’t know and would like to know:  Is the reported percentage of publishers who allow postprint archiving in decline, or is this just an artifact of the order in which SHERPA surveys publishers?  Does it mean that publishers are retreating to less-green policies, or does it mean that unsurveyed publishers are less often green than the surveyed publishers?
  • I fully agree that the limited number of green journals, and the complex and arbitrary restrictions which even some greenish publishers put on self-archiving, are obstacles to progress. 

UpdateKlaus Graf has some evidence that SHERPA hasn’t yet surveyed the principal publishers of German-language history journals.  Read his post in German or Google’s English.  This is a useful piece of the mosaic, and I wish we had more detail about the publishers SHERPA hasn’t yet surveyed.  BTW, he also reports that the same publishers don’t provide the relevant copyright and self-archiving information on their web sites.