Despite the Non-Profit Push for Gold Open Access, Publishers’ Transition to Open Science Involves Reservations

Ronald Tutor Campus Center, University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, California, USA, September 19, 2015 | © Courtesy of Ken Lund/Flickr.
Ronald Tutor Campus Center, University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, California, USA, September 19, 2015 | © Courtesy of Ken Lund/Flickr.

Vested interests and insufficient sustainability may slow the international progress toward Gold Open Access, as a standard for the publication of scientific articles, despite philanthropic funding, even though in the European Union policy-based mandates may effect a wide-ranging switch from subscription-based models to Open Access and Open Science.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

As the Open Access partnership trial between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has reached its conclusion, the rift between Open Access and subscription-based models becomes ever more apparent. As this inter-institutional partnership became effectively discontinued, on the face of it, this non-profit effort has proved the ineffectiveness of piecemeal initiatives. Based on more than 100,000 USD that the Gates Foundation has provided to the AAAS over the 18 months of their partnership, this initiative paid for only 16 academic articles in its first year and merely 10 additional papers in the next six months.

Though high-ranking American scientific journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine founded in 1811, have been responding to the Gates Foundation funding by introducing Gold Open Access publication options in addition to their subscription-based offerings with no author-facing fees, this does not amount to a momentum in favor of Open Access in the United States. This could be the case because the former funder insists on Creative Commons CC-BY licensing that also allows for unrestricted access, use and reproduction for commercial purposes. In other words, under these licensing terms, Open Access is likely to progressively reduce the stock of intellectual property assets in the form of scholarly articles that journal publishers could use as bargaining chips for subscription contract negotiations and valorization agreements with business organizations.

In other words, conventional journal publishers may be inclined to favor their economic interests in the article publishing models they institute, while making exceptions for third-party funded Open Access options. However, this does not bode well for the prospects of a world-wide transition to the principles of Open Science, since for journal publishers the adoption of Open Access models is likely to be tantamount to forgoing both subscription-based recurring revenue streams and future profit opportunities deriving from the ownership of intellectual property that published research results represent. This especially applies to Gold Open Access that rules out using subscriptions to increase the sustainability of Open Access models, such as Green or hybrid Open Access that limit access to recently published articles for a limited time period.

This is also what the European Commission (EC) seeks to overcome via policy-making means, as the deadline of 2020 for the default publishing in Open Access of research results supported by the European Union approaches. In view of the vested interests of large international publishers, such as Elsevier and Springer Nature, that have favored subscription-based models, the present market share of Open Access is limited to approximately 20%. Thus, in Europe and elsewhere, dismantling paywalls per se, such as via non-profit or governmental funding, may not necessarily usher in the age of Open Science, given that at present the critical mass of journal and article publishing setups continues to support subscription-based models as profitability engines.

Whether or not university consortia, such as in Germany, and supranational bodies, such as the EC, will tip the article publishing market toward Open Access remains to be seen.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Ronald Tutor Campus Center, University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, California, USA, September 19, 2015 | © Courtesy of Ken Lund/Flickr.

This post is based on an article that originally appeared in OpenScience, 15/07/2018,

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