07 November 2007

More on OA

Peter Suber's Open Access News drew my attention to an article in The Scientist, by Joseph Esposito. I'm publishing here the comments I made on The Scientist's site:

Joseph Esposito's article is both thought-provoking and, in parts, a little dangerous. Out the outset he notes: "Many continue to argue one side or the other of a binary choice: Either all research publishing should be open access, or only traditional publishing can maintain peer review and editorial integrity." This is a dangerous comment, since he is picking up on the 'big lie', promoted by PRISM, that OA does not involve peer review. This, of course, is nonsense: every genuinely scholarly OA journal that I know of uses peer review as part of the publishing process - it could never achieve any kind of reputation if it didn't do so. Jan Velterop also seeks to perpetuate this association in his comment on the article - yes, developing and maintaining the brand does take time and effort, as he suggests, but that time and effort is invested by the unpaid peer-reviewers and they are just as happy to work unpaid for non-commercial OA journals as for commercial publishers.

Later Esposito appears at times to conflate 'open access' with 'open archives' - confusingly both can be reduced to the same initials - when he writes of authors choosing to make their work available outside of the formal publishing process. This ignores the fact that OA journals are formally published: they have ISSNs, regular publication intervals, they are indexed by the same indexing and abstracting services as the commercial journals.

There is also the association of OA with 'author charging', and what I have called elsewhere the 'Platinum Route' of subsidised, collaborative OA publishing is ignored - and yet it is this mode that is increasingly adopted by newly-published journals. And new journals are not the exceptional case that Esposito suggests: they are appearing almost every day and many of them adopt the Platinum Route. Case studies of such journals have appeared in Information Research, which is also a Platinum Route journal. The 'one click' push that Esposito refers to is not an exceptional situation, but a common one for new open access journals and the notion that this only works at the fringe of scholarly communication is rather silly - scholarly communication consists of a multitude of 'fringes', each of little relevance to the rest of the community: like any other scholar in a specific discipline I have no interest in what is published in physics, chemistry, biology, pharmacology, Near Eastern studies, Scandinavian folklore and most of the rest of scholarship, but what is available to me openly within my own discipline is going to be central.

As another commentator has noted the costs of OA publishing are exaggerated, especially if the Platinum Route is adopted. No money at all flows in the publishing system for many OA journals, which use freely given time. That time is also given to commercial publishers, and if they had to pay true market rates for the time of editors and reviewers, the economics of scholarly publishing might be different. They would be markedly different if publishers had to pay for their raw materials - the papers - the way companies in other industries have to pay.

The suggestion of a novel OA publishing platform chimes with my suggestion that, on the analogy with music tracks and iTunes, "One future model of scholarly communication could see collaborative peer reviewing in disciplines leading to archived papers that are delivered as tracks are today - the individual (who is always going to be more interested in the paper than in the journal as a whole) downloads papers of interest, and universities provide the finance for the open archive rather than subscriptions to the now-defunct journals". I don't see such a model requiring huge additional investment - as the system changes, as it inevitably will, what is saved in subscriptions can be transferred into the development costs of the new platform.

As I note in the same Weblog entry, commercial scholarly publishing is facing the same kind of threat, brought about by technological change, as the music industry and is reacting in much the same way as the music industry has reacted up to now. Neither industry will survive simply by defending the present model - the dissemination of music and the dissemination of scholarly research are changing in analogous ways and the direction of that change is towards openness and new entrepreneurial models. Just as the old computer companies were never the leaders in change in that industry - think of the switch from mainframe to mini-computer to desktop - so it is unlikely that the giants of scholarly publishing will be at the forefront of change in their industry.

No comments:

Post a Comment