The OA battle ground

In the battle for open, I'd say open access is probably the front which has been engaged the longest. It's worth looking at how the battle is going, as it exhibits many of the characteristics we're seeing in other areas. For example, the spoils are worth fighting for - Reed
Elsevier reported revenue of over 6 billion GBP in 2012 of which over 2 billion
was for the Science Technical and Medical publishing area. It's also an area where openness has 'won' – OA mandates abound, and a recent Wiley report found that 59% of authors had published in OA journals. It's not a minority pursuit any more. And yet at the time of victory we are also beset with doubt and conflict.

The Gold route so favoured by the Finch report and other mandates may well end up costing us more. And as the sting operation from Science showed last week, the pay-to-publish model creates a tension in the traditional model. I think the sting (where an obviously flawed, fake article was accepted by 157 OA journals) reveals a couple of things about how the battle is going. Firstly, that 'openness' has market value as a term, and so dubious journals have entered the market place offering open access publishing. Secondly, the incumbents (many of whom published the article) may not have a vested interest in making OA a success. If OA is perceived as lower quality then it reinforces their market position and the position of the library subscription model. I have heard anecdotally (and if anyone can prove this please let me know), that an article rejected for a traditional journal by a publisher will be offered to publish in their alternative OA journal for a fee. If this is true, it's genius, since they get to undermine the alternative model while getting paid to do so. This illustrates the danger of trying to let commercial interests shape the direction of openness.

The same can be applied to the other fronts in the battle for open: MOOCs, OERs, open data, open scholarship. So watch the outcome of the open access skirmishes with interest, for that will determine much of what follows in the rest of open education.


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