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Challenge to "OA" Publishers Who Oppose OA Self-Archiving Mandates

The online age has given birth to a very profound conflict of 
interest between what is best for (1) the research journal 
publishing industry, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, 
what is best for (2) research, researchers, universities, 
research institutions, research funders, the vast research and 
development (R&D) industry, and the tax-paying public that funds 
the research.

It is no one's fault that this conflict of interest has emerged. 
It was a consequence of the revolutionary new power and potential 
for research that was opened up by the Web era. What is at stake 
can also be put in very concrete terms:

      (1) hypothetical risk of future losses in publisher revenue
      (2) actual daily losses in research usage and impact

The way in which this conflict of interest will need to be 
resolved is also quite evident: The research publishing industry 
is a service industry. It will have to adapt to what is best for 
research, and not vice versa. And what is best for research, 
researchers, universities, research institutions, research 
funders, the R&D industry and the tax-paying public in the online 
age is: Open Access (free online access).

The research publishing industry lobby of course does not quite 
see it this way. It is understandable that their first commitment 
is to their own business interests, hence to what is best for 
their bottom lines, rather than to something else, such as Open 
Access, and what is best for research and researchers.

But what is especially disappointing, if not deplorable, is when 
so-called "Open Access" publishers take exactly the same stance 
against Open Access (OA) itself (sic) that conventional 
publishers do. Conventional publisher opposition to OA will be 
viewed, historically, as having been a regrettable, 
counterproductive (and eventually countermanded) but 
comprehensible strategy, from a purely business standpoint. OA 
publisher opposition to OA, however, will be seen as having been 
self-deluded if not hypocritical.

Let me be very specific: There are two ways to provide OA: Either 
individual authors make their own (conventionally) published 
journal article's final draft ("postprint") freely accessible on 
the Web, or their journals make their published drafts freely 
accessible on the Web. The first is called "Green OA" (OA 
self-archiving) and the second is called "Gold OA" (OA 

In other words, one of the forms of OA (OA publishing, Gold OA) 
is a new form of publishing, whereas the other (Green OA) is not: 
it is just conventional subscription-based publishing plus author 
self-help, a supplement. Both forms of OA are equivalent; both 
maximize research usage and impact. But one depends on the author 
and the other depends on the publisher.

Now both forms of OA represent some possible risk to publishers' 
revenue streams:

      With Green OA, there is the risk that the authors' free online
      versions will make subscription revenue decline, possibly

      With Gold OA, there is the risk that either subscription revenue will
      decline unsustainably or author/institution publication charges will
      not generate enough revenue to cover expenses (or make a profit).

So let us not deny the possibility that OA in either form may 
represent some risk to publishers' revenues and to their current 
way of doing business. The real question is whether or not that 
risk, and the possibility of having to adapt to it by changing 
the way publishers do business, outweighs the vast and certain 
benefits of OA to research, researchers, universities, research 
institutions, research funders, the R&D industry and the 
tax-paying public.

This question has been addressed by the various interested 
parties for several years now.  And after much (too much) delay 
and debate with publishers, research funders as well as research 
institutions have begun to take OA matters into their own hands 
by mandating Green OA:


      As a condition for receiving grants, fundees must self-archive in
      their Institutional OA Repositories (or Central OA Repositories) the
      final drafts of all resulting articles accepted for publication: The
      European Research Council (ERC), five of eight UK Research Councils,
      the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the Wellcome Trust have
      already mandated Green OA self-archiving. In the US both the Federal
      Public Research Access Act (FRPAA) and a mandated upgrade of the
      NIH Public Access Policy are likewise proposing a self-archiving
      mandate. Similar proposals are under consideration in Canada,
      individual European countries, and Asia.

      In parallel, Green OA mandates have been adopted by a number of
      universities and research institutions worldwide, requiring all of
      their institutional research output to be self-archived in their
      Institutional OA Repositories.


These Green OA mandates by research funders and institutions have 
been vigorously opposed by some (not all) portions of the 
publishing industry:  these opponents have already succeeded in 
delaying the adoption of Green OA mandates on a number of 


Nevertheless, the benefits of OA to research are so great that 
these attempts to delay or derail the Green OA mandates are 
proving unsuccessful.

The issue I wish to address here is the stance of (some) Gold OA 
publishers on the Green OA mandates: Most Gold OA publishers 
support Green OA mandates. After all, a Gold OA journal is also, 
a fortiori, a Green journal (as are about 65% of conventional 
journals), in that it explicitly endorses OA self-archiving by 
its authors.


But endorsing individual author self-archiving is not the same as 
endorsing self-archiving mandates by funders and universities. So 
it is not surprising that although most conventional journal 
publishers endorse individual author self-archiving, many of them 
oppose self-archiving mandates.

So what about those Gold OA journals that oppose Green OA 
mandates? This is an extremely telling question, as it goes 
straight to the heart of OA, and the rationale and justification 
for insisting on OA.

Gold OA journals rightly represent themselves as differing from 
conventional journals in that they provide OA. To put it crudely, 
what they propose to authors is: "Publish in my journal instead 
of a conventional journal if you want your article to be Openly 
Accessible to all users." (And, for those Gold OA journals that 
charge publication fees: "Publish in my journal instead of a 
conventional journal and pay my publication fee if you want your 
article to be Openly Accessible to all users.")

Apart from that, there is the usual competition between journals: 
OA journals competing with non-OA journals, and journals of all 
kinds within the same field, competing among themselves. For 
conventional journals and for OA Gold journals supported by 
subscriptions, there is competition for subscription fees. For 
all journals there is competition for authors. And for Gold OA 
journals that charge publication fees, the competition for 
authors is compounded by the competition for publication fees.

What about OA itself? In order to be successful over its 
competition, a product-provider or service-provider has to 
provide and promote the advantages of his product/service over 
the competition. In the competition between OA and non-OA 
journals, the cardinal advantage of the OA journal is OA itself: 
OA journals provide OA, maximizing research usage and impact, 
conventional journals do not. For subscription-based Gold OA 
journals, OA is a drawing point. For publication-fee-based Gold 
OA journals, OA is a selling point.

So what about Green OA mandates? For the 35% of conventional 
journals that have not endorsed OA self-archiving by their 
authors, their opposition to Green OA mandates is just an 
extension of their opposition to OA: We know where they stand. 
"What matters is what is best for our bottom line, not what is 
best for research."

For the 65% of conventional journals that are "Green" in that 
they have endorsed OA self-archiving by their authors, those of 
them (their percentage is not yet clear) that oppose Green OA 
mandates are in a sense in conflict with themselves: "It's ok if 
individual authors self-archive to enjoy the advantages of OA, 
but it's not ok if their institutions or funders mandate that 
they do so." (This is an awkward stance, rather hard to justify, 
and will probably succumb to the underlying premise that OA is 
indeed an undeniable benefit to research.)

But then what about opposition to Green OA mandates from Gold OA 
publishers -- publishers that are presumably 100% committed to 
the benefits of OA for research? This is the stance that is the 
hardest of all to justify. For the fact is that Green OA is in a 
sense a "competitor" to Gold OA: It offers OA without constraints 
on the author's choice of journal, and without having to pay 
publication fees.

The only resolution open to a Gold OA publisher who wishes to 
justify opposing Green OA mandates is to adopt *precisely the 
same argument* as the one being used by the non-OA publishers 
that oppose Green OA mandates: that it poses a potential risk to 
subscription revenues -- in other words, again putting what is 
best for publishers' bottom lines above what is best for 
research, researchers, universities, research institutions, 
research funders, the R&D industry and the tax-paying public.

Perhaps this was bound to come to pass in any joint venture 
between a producer who is not seeking any revenue for his product 
(i.e., the researcher-authors, their institutions and their 
funders) and a vendor who is seeking revenue for the value he 
adds to the (joint) product.

I happen to think that this will conflict-of-interest will only 
sort itself out if and when what used to be a product -- a 
peer-reviewed, published journal article, online or on paper -- 
ceases to be a product at all (or at least a publisher's 
product), sold to the user-institution, and becomes instead a 
service (the 3rd-party management of peer review, and the 
certification of its outcome), provided by the publisher to the 
author's institution and funder.


I also happen to think that only Green OA mandates can drive this 
transition from the current subscription-based cost-recovery 
model to the publication service-fee-based model, with the 
distributed network of institutional OA repositories making it 
possible for journals to offload all their current 
access-provision and archiving burden and its costs onto the 
repositories, distributed worldwide, thereby allowing journals to 
cut publication costs and downsize to become providers of the 
peer-review service alone, with its reduced cost recovered via 
institutional publication fees paid out of the institutional 
subscription-cancellation savings.


      Berners-Lee, T., De Roure, D., Harnad, S. and Shadbolt, N. (2005)
      Journal publishing and author self-archiving: Peaceful Co-Existence
      and Fruitful Collaboration.

But this is all hypothetical: We are not there now. Right now, 
the cost of publication is being amply paid by subscriptions. 
Publishers are hypothesizing that OA self-archiving mandates will 
make that revenue source unsustainable -- but no actual evidence 
at all is being provided to show either that the hypothesis is 
true, or when and how quickly subscriptions will become 
unsustainable, if the hypothesis is true. Most important, 
publishers are giving no indications whatsoever as to why the 
transition scenario described above will not be the (equally 
hypothetical, but quite natural) sequel to unsustainable 

Instead, the only thing publishers are offering is hypothetical 
doomsday scenarios: the destruction of peer review, of journals, 
and of a viable industry. Then, on the pretext of the need to 
protect their current revenue streams and their current ways of 
doing business from this hypothetical doomsday scenario, 
publishers try to block OA self-archiving mandates, despite OA's 
substantial demonstrated benefits to all the other parties 
involved, viz, researchers, research institutions and funders, 
R&D industries, and the tax-paying public that funds the 

This is indeed a conflict of interest, although the future 
revenue losses to the publishing industry are completely 
hypothetical, whereas the current access/impact losses to 
research are real and already demonstrated (to the satisfaction 
of all except the publishing industry).

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum