Dr Rupert Gatti (Fellow and Director of Studies in Economics, Trinity College, Cambridge, and Cofounder of Open Book Publishers), Liz Ferguson (Vice President, Editorial Development, Wiley) and Claudio Aspesi (independent consultant) recently joined OASPA for a webinar to discuss the economics and sustainability of open access publishing. Dr Stuart Taylor (Publishing Director, Royal Society) chaired the discussion. The Copyright Clearance Center web-hosted the webinar. Leyla Williams, Events and Communications Coordinator at OASPA, reflects on the discussion.
OASPA was pleased last month to host a timely and welcome discussion on the economic implications of publishing research open access, chaired by our newest Board Member Dr Stuart Taylor. The webinar kicked off our new Open Science Webinar Series, in which we are inviting a number of prominent speakers to consider contemporary debates in open science and open access publishing. Reflecting the high level of current interest and debate on the topic, we had more than 400 listeners join us for the event.
Opening the webinar with the perspective of a mixed-model publisher, Liz Ferguson argued that sustainability in open access publishing requires a mix of models depending on need, and that, at least in the short-term, open access means greater economic unpredictability and diversity in scholarly publishing. Liz doesn’t believe a wholesale flip to open access is on the cards in the near future, but that the migration of content from subscription to open access means subscription publishing is under more pressure on a global scale, and so publishers are required to continually adapt to this changing environment. Market forces, rather than regulations, she argued, are a better way to shape the contemporary publishing market. Capping of APCs might, she warned, unintentionally cause innovation to be constrained. Complexity will continue to prevail in finding solutions to open access, not least due to the differing attitudes of funders and publisher customers. While successful experimental models such as those of the Open Library of Humanities and Annual Reviews are exciting to watch unfold, in Liz’s opinion it’s challenging to see how such models would be scalable for larger publishers. It’s likely, she continued, that we will move from a flat, predictable market to one in which the rate and impact of change is very difficult to predict.
Describing the publishing industry as based on individual contributions in which ‘not every article is equal’, Claudio Aspesi considered the consequences of many published articles going unread under a subscription model. The is little economic justification for a subscription model, he argued, when an open access model logically enables a wide readership of published articles. The real question, he continued, is which economic model of open access should prevail. Gold open access is a difficult economic model for subscription publishers to transition to, he argued, since transitioning to open access under this model may involve declining costs. As a result, subscription publishers can be seen to favour hybrid solutions and oppose APC caps. Green open access, in contrast, can be effective if embargo periods are scrapped; the NIH and Royal Society have found the impact of green open access solutions on subscription publishing has been negligible. Moreover, funding bodies have a huge role to play in deciding how knowledge is disseminated; they could encourage experimentation in alternative business models. While the publishing industry may not profit as much in the future with more open access models as it currently does under subscription models, the scholarly communication landscape should count itself lucky it has a viable future-oriented model in open access.
Finally, Rupert Gatti reflected that much of the discussion around economics and sustainability in publishing centres around how current models can be sustained rather than newer models innovated. As can be seen from new groups like the Radical Open Access Collective, he argued, we have a diverse and increasingly radical publishing environment. New, experimental models such as those of Open Humanities Press are oriented to the missions of universities rather than larger publishers. We have also recently seen the emergence of large-scale digital publishing platforms for both journals and books, he continued, which has fundamentally changed the business model of publishers. We’re seeing publishers wanting to ‘lock in’ the use of their platforms through ’cradle to grave’ models that cater for initial research collaborations through to publishing final articles, and controlling the types of interactions users have with these platforms. We need to prioritise the need for openness and transparency while creating new platforms; open source software and modular code is not enough, since creating a truly open open research platform will depend heavily on who controls interoperability of platforms and code, and how. A progressive open access infrastructure will need funding, be run by bottom-up communities, and have diversity within management.
In the panel discussion, questions from the audience centred around quality control in publishing and how economic models differ around the world and across disciplines. While Sci Hub is widely used, Claudio pointed out that an increasing number of librarians point out to researchers that it isn’t legal, and its use continues to be contentious inside and outside of academia. On ensuring quality control without APCs, Rupert argued that there are many income sources for publishers outside of APCs, and added that peer review as a process is not particularly difficult to manage – it’s about ensuring excellent reviewers are in place. Liz highlighted the lack of research funding for the humanities when compared with science, and in the Global South compared with the Global North. Organisations like SciELO though, she pointed out, are leading the way in the Global South with showing how to support open access initiatives from within different Global South regions.
The recording of this webinar, along with the accompanying slides from the discussion, is freely available for the public and can be found here.