The limits of open access

Let’s be open about OA : yes, I’m somewhat disenchanted

Mercredi 13 octobre 2021, par Emmanuel Barthe // L’édition juridique

Although I tend to approve its goals, I have been thinking for a long time that open access was too slow a movement for publishers not to convert to it and/or circumvent it, notably by buying OA groups [1] as it has been the case in the acquisition of F1000 Research by Taylor & Francis [2] [3].

Reality proved me right.

There are now numerous OA journals publishers by "traditional" (also called "legacy") publishers and their costs are nevertheless getting higher and higher [4]

Let me cite another, recent example : the German DEAL agreements with Springer Nature and Wiley facilitate easy open access publishing but may further spur the concentration process in this market...

As the French economic newspaper Les Echos puts it [5] :

« Researchers want to publish in prestigious journals, which do the work of proofreading, translating, archiving and making research immediately available, and have content evaluation processes — with a reading committee — similar in ’open access’ to those of the subscription model, explains Sami Kassab, analyst at Exane BNP Paribas. These are all barriers to entry for challengers in the sector. [...]
The scientific publishing market is worth about 5 billion USD, according to him. The change in the business model of this sector has taken place over several years and at different speeds depending on the country. For example, several major publishers have signed so-called "transforming" agreements with universities in a number of countries. They have managed to ensure that the balance between the sums paid for the right to publish and those for traditional subscriptions is not to their disadvantage. »

I personaly prefer a publisher which journals are not OA but sold or licensed at a fair price, than a so called OA publisher with horribly expensive APC (article processing charges). Because the last one will drain University libraries’ budgets.

In my opinion, the two main problems faced by scientific publishing right now are :

  • professors, Universities (because of "Publish or perish") and States (because of intellectual property law alone ? [6]) accepting very high prices
  • predatory "OA" publishers.

Add to that finding that under French law, article 30 of the Lemaire République numérique Act of 2016 [7], which most of the publishers were against, doesn’t seem much implemented, at least yet (see, for the exception, Université de Nantes [8]).

On a more optimistic tone, it seems the EU is less shy on OA : on 24th March, 2021, the European Commission launched Open Research Europe, a publishing platform for scientific papers that will be accessible to everyone. The platform will present the results of research funded by Horizon Europe, the EU research and innovation program for 2021-2027, and its predecessor, Horizon 2020.

So, would do we information professionals (librarians, researchers ...) do ? Nothing ? No, we must simply go back to the main fight, the one which always was since the start of online publication : budgets and prices. We must go back to analyzing product performance and negotiation.

NB : this "disenchanted" opinion goes along with a similar one on open data.

Emmanuel Barthe
law librarian researcher

Notes de bas de page

[1Revues scientifiques : comment les grands éditeurs ont su résister à leurs disrupteurs, par Marina Alcaraz, Nicolas Madelaine, Les Echos.fr, 22 March 2021.

[2A study published in 2017 showed that Elsevier was already one of the largest open access publishers : Elsevier : Among the world’s Largest Open Access Publishers as of 2016, by H. Morrison, The Charleston Advisor, 2017, n° 3, p. 53-59. Cited in : La vie en Gold : enjeux et risques pour les chercheurs, by Chérifa Boukacem-Zeghmouri and David Nicholas, I2D, 2017, vol. 54, n° 1, pp. 10-11.

[3In other words, since 2009, I partly changed my mind on OA.

[4Current market rates for scholarly publishing services [v. 2, peer reviewed], by Alexander Grossmann, Björn Brembs, July 1st, 2021.

[5Les Echos.fr, 22 March 2021.

[6Publishers’ lobbying is highly probable, especially when one sees the energy they employed on the 2nd copyright directive, but there is little public proof of it.

[7Open Access : quelles incidences de la loi « République numérique » ?, par Lionel Murel, S.I. Lex, Oct. 31, 2016. La réutilisation des données de la recherche après la loi pour une République numérique, par Lionel Maurel, La diffusion numérique des données en SHS - Guide de bonnes pratiques éthiques et juridiques, Presses Universitaires de Provence, 2018. Que change l’article 30 de la Loi République Numérique d’octobre 2016 pour les publications scientifiques ?, Questions Réponses en IST, blog INRAE, July 11, 2017.

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