Now over ten years old, Open Access remains a divisive issue. Less than a year since the publication of the Finch report (free to read and download – naturally - here), OA inevitably featured heavily in discussions hosted by academic publishers at the London Book Fair. Publishers from Elsevier, OUP and CUP breached the topic in an early morning conference on Monday and the issue surfaced in talks over all three days.
Publishers grappled with the advantages and disadvantages of the two OA models outlined in the report. Gold Open Access is financed at the beginning of the process by charging the author (who is often backed by a research grant or institutional funds) an ‘article processing charge’ for publication rather than obtaining income from readers via subscriptions. In Green Open Access repositories (such as PubMed central) provide access to journals for free public use, subject to an embargo period. Repositories can belong to a discipline or an institution.
OA advocates attest that tax-payer funded research should be available to all. Moreover, open models would enhance accountability and public engagement with research, ensure improved efficiency in the research process itself and create closer links between research and innovation.
On the other side of the fence, many have rallied against OA. Firstly, there is the issue of low financial returns for IP-owners. Others are concerned that OA incentivises the infiltration of lower quality material – this would perhaps lead to a more difficult research experience the rise of importance in ‘brand’ journals. The peer-review system could be threatened. OA must be a global endeavour as the UK produces only a small percentage of the world’s research papers; there are limits to what it can achieve without international collaboration.
At the fair, these tensions were acknowledged and contested. All agreed that OA must focus on being author-facing as the array of gnarly creative commons licences are at best, unfriendly, and at worst could lead to IP-owners being exploited and/or restricted. The importance of working with all stakeholders for authors is imperative.
The debate surrounding the ethics, economics and reliability of OA will continue. Major funding agencies like the Wellcome Trust and National Institutes of Health have mandated it; whether this will be followed up in the future on a larger or more global scale waits to be seen.