Confused by "Open Access"? Danny Kingsley + AOASG give excellent Australian overview of OA; but which OA is actually valuable?

If you are confused by “Open Access” you are in good company. So am I. It’s horrendous. Here Danny Kingsley and the  Australian Open Access Support Group (AOASG) have created an excellent series of blog posts on Open Access. They are readable and authoritative. After it you will be less confused and more authoritative. But it will still be horrendous. My comments below.

The latest in the series on Payment for Publication from the Australian Open Access Support Group (AOASG) has gone live today. 
The membership model explores the different options publishers are offering in the form of discounts on article processing charges. These range from the well established model of membership to an open access publisher, through to some membership options now offered for hybrid publishing. Membership to open access repositories, and the ways learned societies are offering discounts are explored. The page looks at potential issues with these membership options and discusses some ways publishers are addressing double dipping by tying discounts to article processing charges to subscriptions.
This page is part of the Payment for Publication series which also includes:
‘Cost of Hybrid’ –
‘Addressing the double dipping charge’ – 
‘Do OA funds support hybrid?’ –
‘Not all hybrid is equal’ –
Regards ,Danny

Dr Danny Kingsley Executive Officer, Australian Open Access Support Group

There is no simple picture coming out of this. You may take the view that it’s the start of a worldwide revolution (albeit 10 years old) that is unstoppable. Or you may think “What a mess and what a set of unprincipled profiteers the traditional scholarly publishing industry is”.  There are at least 20 major publishers and they all make their own rules, many of which are inconsistent and inoperable. Danny highlights the likelihood that many publishers make a clear profit of > USD 1000 from “hybrid Open Access” where all the publisher has to do is remove the paper from behind the paywall and label it. (I have shown that Elsevier frequently cannot even do this, but they still bank the markup).
The only real challenge to this mess comes from funders such as Wellcome Trust and national science funders. Universities ands their libraries (who pay subscription charges) have done almost nothing that can be seen.
So is Open Access valuable?
The gut reaction is “of course”. What a stupid question!
But actually it is much less clear. I shall analyse this over the next fews blog posts, but taking a wider view.
Closed Access (or recently Broken Access) is of course massively negative. The opportunity costs are huge. The industry is grossly inefficient and makes massive, unjustified, profits. Increasingly it adds little tangible value, and most of that – highly questionable – is branding for authors.
But some of the costs also apply to OA. Here are some questions:

  • is OA part of the Digital Enlightenment or is it actually cementing outdated principles and institutions? Is it inclusive? Is it disruptive?
  • what are the true costs – which include opportunity costs – of OA to set against the benefits? And what actually are the benefits and for whom?
  • Does OA have any idea of an endgame? Or are we headed for a permanent mess?

I hope this provokes discussion. I believe that OA suffers from having very little Open discussion to balance the authoritarianism and bureaucracy of the practice.

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