Open Access good news, bad news

There was an interesting report done by market analysts, which claims that the threat to publishers from open access is fading. The threat has receded, and indeed OA may have increased profits for publishers. In short, publishers have nothing to fear in terms of profit from OA.

Good news one might think. This was exactly the argument many OA advocates made for its adoption. Making articles openly available increases uptake. Publishers don’t need to resist OA, and if we want to make it really mainstream, then getting publishers on board is the quickest route.

But, from a different perspective, it’s also a bad news story for open access. The report concludes that:

“The hybrid model deployed by subscription publishers to meet the requirements of the UK government is not threatening in any visible way the subscription model of the journals; the rate of adoption of deposit policies for US federal agencies, and the embargo period of 12 months also protect the position of subscription publishers”

In other words, publishers have successfully managed to carry on with their old model whilst simultaneously taking money for the new OA approach also, and this has been helped by the UK government policy. This isn’t really an open access victory, as the subscription model is still surviving, publishers are just getting paid twice. Curt Rice suggests that it is a failure of leadership on the part of open access that has caused this situation. Publishers now own the open access debate.

I would suggest that this is another example of the battle for open (I know, what isn’t an example to me?). Open Access starts out trying to make its argument. It is resisted, but eventually it begins to succeed in getting uptake. Academics get on board, then journals, funding agencies and governments. It looks like a big win, as open access becomes a standard approach. But then the real battle begins. While seeming to comply, it begins to take shape in a different form, and the hybrid model, with embargos and big publisher profits becomes the accepted model. But that wasn’t what was planned. So the next question is: Who owns the direction of open access?


  1. Strikes me as quite similar to the trajectory of online tutorial support at the OU: initial resistance overcome, it was quickly neutralised by the bland compromises of ‘blended tuition’ (often the worst of both worlds rather than the best) & the imposition of a highly centralised VLE which disempowers both students & tutors. Entropy, anyone?

    1. Hi Laura – yep, hybrid model is ‘we screw you both ways’. That’s what I mean by who gets to control what the future direction, because the hybrid model certainly wasn’t the aim. Thanks for the link

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