The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition

Stevan Harnad

Open Access (OA) is: immediate, permanent, toll-free online access to the full-texts of peer-reviewed research journal articles. A great deal of the research community's attention to OA today is focussed exclusively on the prospect of a direct transition from Toll Access (TA, "Gray") journal publishing to OA journal publishing (the "Gold" road to OA). This golden road is the more radical of the two roads to OA, and hence the slower and more uncertain one. I would like to suggest that the research community has already been waiting passively for far too long. Cumulative research impact keeps being lost daily, weekly, yearly, because of access-denial to would-be users whose universities cannot afford the access-tolls.  OA is already within every author's immediate reach, via the "Green" road to OA.

This is why we should be focussing far more of our attention and effort on the far less radical transition from a "Gray" to a "Green" TA journal policy, whereby the journal stops short of converting to gold, but gives its "green light" to authors who wish to provide OA for their own articles by self-archiving them in their own university's online "eprint" archives. For a publisher who is currently making ends meet, this is a far less risky step than a direct conversion to the OA (author-end) cost-recovery model. Hence it is a step that publishers are far less reluctant to take in order to demonstrate their support for the research community's mounting desire for OA. Such a step is far less likely to be opposed -- or be held at arm's length by delays and embargoes of the kind Shulenburger (1998) has proposed. ("Shulenburger on open access: so NEAR and yet so far" http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/3277.html ).

The Green option allows the number of OA articles (not journals) to grow anarchically, article by article, rather than systematically, journal by journal. This allows TA journals to adjust gradually to any changes that might arise as the number of self-archived OA articles grows.

There is, for example, far less risk of library cancellation for any particular TA journal when OA is not growing systematically, journal by journal, but anarchically, article by article: The libraries too will only learn gradually whether it ever becomes safe to cancel any particular journal, for it will not be clear what proportion of any particular journal's articles is OA as yet.

But this gradual Green option is at the same time serving the immediate best interests of research, right now, for it allows the individual author to have immediate OA for his own findings, today (thereby immediately maximizing their visibility and impact).

In contrast, Shulenburger's "shrinking embargo" proposal -- which envisioned an eventual direct transition from Gray to Gold, but with the embargo interval between the time when a journal issue was published and the time when it was made freely accessible online being gradually reduced -- would not provide OA at all for a long, long time to come. Moreover, much of the benefit of OA occurs at research's "growth tip" (starting from the pre-refereeing preprint stage, even before publication, to about a year after the publication of the postprint). That is why OA is defined as immediate toll-free access. ("Needless Pruning of Research's Growth-Tip" http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/eletters/328/7430/1#45401 ).

Nor does a shrinking embargo provide a buffer against catastrophic cancellation (as the embargo period approaches zero); nor does it provide a gradual transition scenario for converting to the OA (Gold) cost-recovery model (author-institution publication charge per outgoing article) from the TA cost-recovery model (user-institution access-tolls per incoming journal) -- if and when that should ever evolve.

In contrast, the Green road offers the research community the option of immediate OA (but via author/institution self-help, rather than via publisher-conversion) and it allows both journals and institutions the time to prepare for a possible eventual transition (though not a necessary or certain one, as TA and OA might go on peacefully co-existing indefinitely) to Gold: a leveraged transition, as follows:

If growing competition to the journals' TA versions of articles from their authors' self-archived plain-vanilla OA versions ever does start to produce some cancellation pressure -- note that this would not be wholesale cancellation of a particular journal by all libraries, because of the anarchic nature of OA growth (article by article instead of journal by journal) but anarchic individual cancellations, by some libraries, of some individual journals -- then TA journals can gradually adapt to it, first by cutting costs (by cutting out the features that are no longer essential) and then, perhaps (if it should ever become necessary) by converting to the OA journal cost-recovery model (with the institutions' annual windfall institutional TA subscription savings now available to cover their annual OA publication costs)

The biggest uncertainty about the direct transition to Gold today is whether the Gold cost-recovery model is viable. Will author/institutions be willing to pay, and where will they find the funds? (Subsidies to pay for the small number of gold journals that exist today are not a realistic predictor: would a subsidy model scale up to all 24,00 journals, should they all go Gold?) Nor is it yet clear how much author/institutions will have to pay, because no one knows what the essentials for Gold journal publishing will be, and what inessential features and their costs could be cut:

    "Online Self-Archiving: Distinguishing the Optimal from the Optional"
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/0248.html

    "Separating Quality-Control Service-Providing from Document-Providing"
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/0466.html

    "Distinguishing the Essentials from the Optional Add-Ons"
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/1437.html

    "The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)"
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/0303.html

    "The True Cost of the Essentials
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/1973.html

    "Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review - NOT!)"
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/1966.html

    "Journal expenses and publication costs"
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/2589

    "Re: Scientific publishing is not just about administering peer-review"
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/3069.html

    "Author Publication Charge Debate"
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/1387.html

It might be, for example, that many of the added-values of TA journals will no longer be necessary: Will author-institutions want to keep paying the publisher for the cost of generating and distributing a print edition, of doing XML mark-up or creating PDF, of online distribution and archiving, even of copy-editing and proof-reading?

This cannot be decided a priori. It is only the "competition" between the publisher's enhanced TA version and the author's plain-vanilla OA version that can settle what is still essential and worth paying for, and what can be dropped in the era of universal OA. It could even turn out that a continuing market for the "inessential" added values will be sufficient to sustain TA publishing for a long time into the OA era, perhaps forever, with no need for the transition to Gold. (I don't believe this will be the case, but it cannot be prejudged with certainty either.) http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Tp/resolution.htm#4.2

It is more likely, though, that the eventual effect of the cancellation pressure during the transitional Green period in which TA journals co-exist with growing OA-provision through author self-archiving, will be to cause journals to downsize and cut costs by phasing out most or all of the inessentials listed above, leaving only the costs of implementing peer review to be recovered (offloading all text-generation onto the author [and soon-to-be-designed XML authoring tools] and all access-provision onto the network of interoperable institutional OAI-compliant open-access archives of self-archived articles).

Moreover, this Green leveraged-transition period will not only have guided -- via cancellation pressure -- the journal-publishing community's downsizing and cost-cutting while at the same time providing the researcher community's all-important OA, thereby determining what the essentials really are, and how much they really cost, but it will also have generated the revenues out of which to pay for them (in place of the indeterminate subsidies envisioned currently):

For the flip side of the TA "cancellation pressure" that guided the publisher cost-cutting is of course windfall TA savings for the cancelling institution! Those annual windfall savings were the ones that used to pay the costs of the inessentials in the TA era. Whenever an entire journal is cancelled, the institution saves the costs of both the essentials and the inessentials. It follows that the fraction of the total amount that institutions are currently paying for all articles subscribed/licensed via TA will be available to pay for the essentials only, per incoming outgoing article published -- if and when the conversion to the Gold-based cost-recovery model ever has to be made.

In other words, the funds for covering Gold journals' costs are there already ("in the system," as Peter Suber puts it), probably several times over (depending on what does and does not turn out to be part of the essentials). So with a gradual leveraged (Green) transition to the Gold cost-recovery model, there is no need to rely on the uncertain factor of finding extra subsidies to cover indeterminate costs.

In contrast, the Shulenburger "NEAR" proposal has been around as a proposal for years, has brought us no nearer to OA, and contains no mechanism for a transition to Gold with the shortening of the embargo interval. Embargoed access is not Open Access. Journal publishers know very well that most of their revenue comes from the first year after publication, and that they give up almost nothing in making their contents available after that. If a timetable for gradually shortening the embargo interval were ever actually implemented (which it has never been!), whether journal by journal or collectively, it would only be a recipe for approaching a catastrophe point, not for gradual adaptation and a smooth, leveraged transition to Gold, as the anarchic Green option is. (Harnad, Stevan (2001) AAAS's Response: Too Little, Too Late. Science dEbates http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/eletters/291/5512/2318b ).

It is not that embargoed access for only 6-12 months is not preferable to permanently embargoed access (just as lower-toll access is preferable to higher-toll access); but open access is the antithesis of embargoed access! So finite-embargo publishing should not be represented as either OA publishing or a step toward OA publishing. (Finite-embargo publishing would probably have happened anyway, in the online age, irrespective of the possibility or the demand for OA.) And shrinking finite-embargo publishing is either incoherent or catastrophic. (More likely just a concept that would put OA on indefinite hold -- embargoing it indefinitely.)

No: OA can and should be provided right now. It's already long overdue! But it need not be had at the cost of putting TA journals at needless risk, or asking them to make needless sacrifices. The transition to Green is low-risk. After that, nature can take care of itself.

Nor is subsidized access open access! HINARI provides subsidised access (sometimes low-toll, sometimes no-toll) for the no-market sectors of the world. It is provided at the expense of the toll-paying sector. Hence it is by definition not something that can generalise to open access for everyone. It is just as incoherent (from the standpoint of a smooth and gradual transition to OA) as the shrinking-embargo strategy! Both are Escher-style "impossible figures."

Embargoed access is too little, too late, for the very purpose of open access, which is to accelerate and augment research progress and productivity. Publishers do not have to be pushed or shamed -- or waited for! The Green strategy depends only on the research community. The only thing the publishing community needs to be "shamed" into doing is giving self-archiving its blessing, ex officio! And 93% of journals have already done that. In exchange, they have a long grace period to see what will be the effects of growing OA-provision via self-archiving -- with plenty of time to adapt to it (and without being demonized as the enemies of research access and impact in the meanwhile!).

The Darwinian evolution under the Green solution will not be journal vs. journal but feature vs. feature. Which of journals' current features (and their costs) will turn out to be necessary for journal survival and which not? Competition between the publisher's enhanced TA version and the author's self-archived plain-vanilla OA version will settle this. (My bet is that the only essential feature will prove to be administering peer-review and certifying its outcome.)

How can the many University Eprint Archives be linked into a seamless whole? That is what the OAI (Open Access Initiative) metadata harvesting protocol was designed for: http://www.openarchives.org/ The medatada of all OAI-compliant archives are interoperable. That means they share the same tagging, and therefore it is as if they were all in one global virtual archive, seamlessly searchable. (All have the AUTHOR, TITLE, DATE, PUBLICATION-NAME, etc. metadata tags.)

This is why the free GNU Eprints software http://www.eprints.org/ was designed: So that universities and research institutions could immediately create their own OAI-compliant OA Archives, all interoperable, hence integrable, with one another. http://www.arl.org/sparc/core/index.asp?page=g20#6

The "semantic web" -- which is in reality the "syntactic web"! -- http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-archive/2002Sep/0114.html --
is certainly a help too, as are all text-analytic resources, including citation-based search, navigation and ranking http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/2237.html  http://citebase.eprints.org/cgi-bin/search
and google-style inverted full-text boolean search: http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/3169.html
which the next release of the Eprints software provides (and google-scholar can already provide, if it is restricted to the OAI subset of google-space).

So once we reach 100% OA, the full-texts of all the 24,000 journals, across all disciplines and languages and years (2.5 million articles per year) will be as efficiently searchable and navigable as just their abstracts and metadata are today, in databases such as PubMed, Inspec, Chem Abstracts, Scirus, Scopus and ISI's Web of Science -- but augmented also by google-style full-text search.
   http://www.openarchives.org/service/listproviders.html
   http://oaister.umdl.umich.edu/o/oaister/

The only thing that's missing is those 2.5 million annual articles, most of which still remain to be self-archived: The ball is in the research community's court! http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Temp/self-archiving_files/Slide0052.gif
and it is already clear who has to pick it up and run with it: Researchers' institutions and funders. They need to extend their existing publish-or-perish mandates -- which are already weighted by the research impact of the publications -- to further mandate that the impact of all published journal articles must be maximized by self-archiving them in the author's own institutional OA Archives, so as to make them accessible to all would-be users worldwide, even ift their institutions cannot afford the TA version.

Researchers themselves have already stated that they will not self-archive till they are required by their institutions and research funders to do so -- but then the vast majority say they will do so, and do so willingly. In other words, it is the same as with requiring them to publish (or perish): Incentives are needed; the prospect of one's findings being read, used and cited is not enough, unless accompanied by carrots and sticks! http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/JISCOAreport1.pdf

References

Harnad, S., Brody, T., Vallieres, F., Carr, L., Hitchcock, S., Gingras, Y, Oppenheim, C., Stamerjohanns, H., & Hilf, E. (2004) The Access/Impact Problem and the Green and Gold Roads to Open Access.
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http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Temp/impact.html

Cox, J. & Cox, L. (2003) Scholarly Publishing Practice: The ALPSP report on academic publishers' policies and practices in online publishing. Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers. http://www.alpsp.org/2004pdfs/SFpub210104.pdf

Harnad, S. (1995) Electronic Scholarly Publication: Quo Vadis? Serials Review 21(1) 70-72 (Reprinted in Managing Information 2(3) 1995) http://cogprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/archive/00001691/00/harnad95.quo.vadis.html

Harnad, S., Carr, L., Brody, T. & Oppenheim, C. (2003) Mandated online RAE CVs Linked to University Eprint Archives: Improving the UK Research Assessment Exercise whilst making it cheaper and easier. Ariadne 35 (April 2003). http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue35/harnad/

Hitchcock, S., Woukeu, A., Brody, T., Carr, L., Hall, W., and Harnad, S. (2003) Evaluating Citebase, an open access Web-based citation-ranked search and impact discovery service http://opcit.eprints.org/evaluation/Citebase-evaluation/evaluation-report.html

Kurtz, Michael J.; Eichhorn, Guenther; Accomazzi, Alberto; Grant, Carolyn S.; Demleitner, Markus; Murray, Stephen S.; Martimbeau, Nathalie; Elwell, Barbara. (2003) The NASA Astrophysics Data System: Sociology, Bibliometrics, and Impact. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/~kurtz/jasis-abstract.html

Kurtz, M.J. (2004) Restrictive access policies cut readership of electronic research journal articles by a factor of two. Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA http://opcit.eprints.org/feb19oa/kurtz.pdf

Lawrence, S. (2001) Online or Invisible? Nature 411 (6837): 521. http://www.neci.nec.com/~lawrence/papers/online-nature01/

Shulenberger, D.E. (1998) Moving With Dispatch to Resolve the Scholarly Communication Crisis:  From Here to NEAR. Association of Research Libraries. http://www.arl.org/arl/proceedings/133/shulenburger.html

Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004) JISC/OSI Journal Authors Survey Report. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/JISCOAreport1.pdf http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/3628.html