How Might A Future OA World Look?


April 24, 2017 by Town Peterson

In the previous post, we argued that a scholarly world without open access (OA) inevitably excludes some researchers and scholars from the conversation. We were responding to a series of commentaries in Journal of Wildlife Management that made this point particularly clear, and evidently still in need of argument, going so far as to say that developing-world scholars should either invite richer colleagues as authors so that page charges can be paid, or wait a century for development to come to their countries. We disagree, and that was the subject of the post.

Peter Suber, Director of Harvard University’s Office of Scholarly Communication, commented on the post, requesting more information on our vision of an ideal, inclusive, barrier-free OA scholarly communications world. Here, we offer some preliminary thoughts, building on topics discussed in a recent symposium OA Beyond APCs. We have laid out these ideas in greater detail in a manuscript now submitted to Revue Français des Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication, in a forthcoming special issue about OA.

As we have argued in previous publications, it is clear that any need for payment in the scholarly communications process will exclude significant sectors of the global research community. For example, subscription-based systems exclude less-prosperous scholars, who frequently cannot even manage sufficient access to read the literature relevant to their work. Similarly, the system based on article processing charges (APCs) favored by some sectors of the OA community excludes many scholars from authorship, however attractive the open reading may prove.

Of course, publishing high-quality academic journals is not free, so Suber’s question is appropriate, although unlikely to be answered in a single blog post. Suber writes,

Many approaches to OA have arisen in the global south, and thrive there. Many others arose in the north, but do not suffer from the paternalism you criticize. Do any of them meet your criteria? Do you have recommendations above and beyond the best efforts already in under way?

Honestly, we do not see any of the OA approaches being developed and promoted as fully addressing this challenge. We have presented arguments previously that an ideal solution is what can be termed “platinum” OA: journals that are open to readers and authors alike without cost or barrier. These journals can be funded via subsidy from interested entities (institutions, funders, or societies) that prioritize effective and open communication over financial gain, and that develop under collaborations in a cross-stakeholder model (e.g., university presses with scholarly societies, libraries with funders, nonprofit publishers with scholarly societies). We note, as have many others, that funds exist for a shift to platinum OA in the form of the massive subscription budgets that institutions have maintained to keep up with the rising costs of commercial, closed-access journals.

We see a key foundation to an OA system as the absence of any requirement that authors or readers or institutions pay on a per-article basis for participation in the system. The system should accommodate local contexts and structures, and be designed and implemented with input from stakeholder groups from across the globe. As an immediate step toward a platinum OA system, we strongly recommend a large-scale network analysis that would include all actors in the scholarly communications system: scholars, institutions, funders, nations, publishers, scholarly societies, and OA initiatives.

The result would be a network that can be analyzed to discover bottlenecks, redundancies, and synergies… such a documentation of the structure of the scholarly publishing system would provide an ideal platform on which to design and build more effective strategies for achieving an optimal OA system. Short-term steps forward would then use the network analysis to develop efficient coalitions and cooperatives for testing ideas that move the entire system forward, with regular international meetings of diverse groups to look at the larger global picture. A longer-term step would use lessons from these test efforts to build appropriate and equitable connections between regional scholarly communities and an overarching global system.

As was noted at the November symposium hosted in Kansas, considered action at the local level is much needed, even if “local” means by a single stakeholder or in small inter-stakeholder coalitions. We don’t see that any well-packaged solution exists or can be defined today that adequately addresses the complexity of the problem or even the base principles for a fully equitable and open system of scholarly communication. We see great need for ongoing communication and connection among diverse groups interested in this challenge. The process by which we build this system matters as much as the final outcomes. These ideas, once again, are treated in greater detail in a manuscript we have submitted for publication, and surely will be discussed in many venues in days, months, and years to come.

Josh Bolick

Ada Emmett

Marc L. Greenberg

Town Peterson

Brian Rosenblum


6 thoughts on “How Might A Future OA World Look?

  1. Town Peterson says:

    From Peter Suber:

    +A. Townsend Peterson. I just tagged it for the Open Access Tracking Project. You’re right to mention no-fee journals. But what about green OA, which is also no-fee?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Town Peterson says:

      We support the idea of green OA… in which authors post versions of their publications (with permission) on institutional repositories for open access. We see green OA as an important element in the evolutionary process of an open system, and have worked for years to promote this solution here at the University of Kansas.

      However, we note that green OA is a solution only to the “reading” portion of this challenge. It does not speak in any way to the challenge of opening the “writing” dimension of the scholarly publishing system. That is, even in a perfect green OA world, in which all scholars worldwide can read a version of any and every paper published, scholars in the developing world, and at less-well-funded institutions, may encounter problems in getting their work published.


      • Peter Suber says:

        1. Fair point that green OA solves the reader-side problem, and not usually the author-side problem. However, it can also solve the author-side problem when repositories support overlay journals, especially the kind that are willing take deposited preprints as submissions.

        2. I like your emphasis on no-fee OA journals. I can even agree that the “large-scale network analysis” you recommend is desirable. But you make it sound as though that analysis were a pre-condition to the spread of no-fee OA journals. (You recommend it “an immediate step”.) I’d pursue both paths in parallel. It’s definitely possible to launch no-fee OA journals, and flip subscription journals to no-fee OA, without a large-scale analysis first. All the world’s no-fee OA journals got where they are today without that prior analysis, and they constitute about 70% of all peer-reviewed OA journals. I’d recommend full-steam ahead on the analysis, but at the same time, full-speed ahead on direct launches and flips, especially flips.

        3. You mention a longer write-up of your vision that you’ve submitted for publication. Do you happen to have an OA preprint online somewhere?


  2. adaemmett says:

    Thanks Peter, for your additional comments and questions. Briefly, to your first point: your suggestion is a good addition to the possibilities for green OA to be useful into the future–along the lines of the COAR and OpenAIRE models, and to which Jean-Claude Guédon described in his recent paper for BOAI15. We are suggesting that green/non-APC gold/platinum OA streams or systems whether more local or global must serve the needs of and have no financial barriers to readers or authors. And they must be equitably designed.

    Regarding your second point: We do not mean to indicate that all shifts of journals from subscription to no-fee OA journals should stop during an immediate step we feel is important. Just that as far as we know (and if you or other readers know of a network analysis happening or being planned, please let us know) a network analysis is needed urgently NOW– even as smaller and larger scale projects or even one-off shifts to OA (no-fee) happen.
    So, we are in agreement–network analysis and other assessments can continue or ramp up even as projects moving/flipping to or creating OA journals continue. We would urge all large and small projects to consider the fundamental principles underlying their efforts and whether what is good for them locally or regionally will not have deleterious effects elsewhere. Not making our global neighbors “tertiary issues”…

    Regarding your third point and question: we are looking forward to receiving, shortly, the comments from reviewers and although we are permitted to share the pre-print openly we are opting not to at this time.And if still interested we would be willing to share our pre-print with you off-line if you like. You know how to find us by email.

    With that final point in mind and other points outlined above, we would be happy to continue this exchange off-line. We here (and everywhere?) are in learning mode.


  3. Reblogged this on Могилянська Бібліотека and commented:
    Дружній блог від моїх колег з Канзаського університету запрошує до обговорення ідей Відкритого Доступу! Не можу не перепостити, й запрошую до читання-обговорення!

    Liked by 1 person

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The opinions here emerge from work done by OA advocates at our university in the Midwest. The opinions are those of the authors themselves and not necessarily of our home institution.


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