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24 October 2016

Perspectives on Open Access

Matthew Day, Head of Open Access at Cambridge University Press, offers his thoughts on the future of Open Access publishing.

One of our aims as a university press is to become ever more transparent about the challenges we face.  Publishing is a complex and evolving arena in which Open Access is a substantial force for change; OA still a big topic for us.

On the face of it, our public information pages give, I hope, a clear picture of our Gold and Green OA policies and activities. But, like other publishers and stakeholders in the OA landscape, there are some big questions we are still working on. I want to surface a few of these here, and our plan is to follow up periodically to give more of our thoughts a public airing.

First off: how far do we want to go towards a fully OA world? My personal view is that all published research output, and certainly everything publicly funded, should be Gold OA. CUP can’t be quite as one sided as that because we have to work out the ‘how’ as well as the ambition. We are working hard for a greater adoption of OA, particularly in journals but also with books. We fully support Green OA practices, though Green OA risks being an unstable approach in the long term, riding on the back of subscription charges and potentially undermining them without helping a switch to the more sustainable approach of Gold OA. So our goal is to engage with and support Green, but to try to move towards Gold as much as possible, always looking for useful new approaches and models along the way.

How do we do this in practice? Launching new journals as Gold OA is certainly a major focus. For some established journals, a flip to Gold might be viable now or in the near future. We’re looking increasingly hard to figure out which journals these are and the best mechanisms or routes for the flipping. We publish many journals on behalf of societies and other proprietors, and we must take their needs and agendas into account. While some proponents see OA as an opportunity to reduce journal profits, we can’t put at risk revenues that our partner societies put to good use in their other activities. Within our enthusiasm for OA, there are many balancing acts we must perform.

For Gold OA content, there is ever present a question of who pays for it. Author charges or charges paid by a sponsor are two dominant solutions, each with some drawbacks. Waiving and discounting charges to authors from low and middle income countries is a vital policy for author-paid Gold OA journals, to ensure that journals can continue to publish good quality research irrespective of an author’s ability to pay. And while sponsorship can work well, it suffers from long-term sustainability issues and might limit a journal’s ability to grow. Consortia funding models for journals also seem to have some structural limitations, but I’m really pleased that this is being explored seriously for books and journals (by Knowledge Unlatched, for example).

Perhaps the most contentious approach for growing Gold OA is the hybrid model, in which subscription journals give authors an option to pay to publish as Gold OA. Two sensitive spots are double-dipping (charging both subscribers and authors for the same content), and a general inability of hybrid to drive a widespread Gold OA adoption.

For sure, double-dipping is fundamentally wrong and counter-productive, and CUP now has a strong policy to avoid it. But I’m disappointed to see some increasing reticence or concern from OA proponents and funders about supporting hybrid OA. It would be a shame if expectations for hybrid OA are limited to it being a way for authors to satisfy their funders’ requirements to publish Gold OA. It would be an even greater shame if funders turn their back on supporting Gold OA in hybrid journals: Fundamentally, authors must be able to publish in the most appropriate journals for them, and the hybrid model vitally allows those decisions to be made independently of OA considerations.

So, we at CUP have some clear tasks: continue supporting Green without harming subscriptions, drive a greater adoption of Gold, all while continuing to serve our publishing partners and the broader academic community. Simple, eh?​

Matthew has written more of his thoughts on Open Access on the Cambridge Core blog. To join in the conversation, click here

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