Open Access ‘at any cost’ Cannot Support Scholarly Publishing Communities

Open Access ‘at any cost’ Cannot Support Scholarly Publishing Communities 970 470 Open and Universal Science (OPUS) Project

Kaitlin Thaney highlights the growing momentum for “no pays” academic publishing models and the establishment of “reasonable costs” of publication, presenting opportunities to address the inequities, costs, and power dynamics that have arisen from the push towards Open Access “at any cost” over the past two decades.

The EU Council’s recent call for immediate and unrestricted access to publicly funded research has elicited strong reactions from commercial publishing giants. These companies argue that without clear details on who will cover the current publishing costs, the shift towards more equitable systems could dismantle the existing framework. This argument is not new.

Similar concerns were raised by commercial publishers following the US National Institute of Health’s 2007 mandate for federally funded research to be openly available one year after publication—a move that mirrored the open access policies and recommendations of the Canadian Institute for Health Research and the European Commission. In March 2008, PNAS convened a summit at the National Academies in Washington, D.C., where publishers expressed fears that immediate access to research would undermine their revenue models and disrupt the publishing landscape.

Despite claims that open access threatens the viability of both small and large publishers, the movement has become a significant business. During her time at Creative Commons, advocating for common use licensing practices for research, the opposition from commercial and society publishers—outnumbering open access advocates nearly 10 to 1—was intense, focusing on potential financial disruptions. The argument that taxpayer-funded research should be freely accessible to taxpayers was largely ignored.

History shows that the publishing industry can adapt to change, and fear of change should not hinder the necessary recalibration of our knowledge production and dissemination systems. Now is the time for publishers to support the communities and infrastructures that drive their profits and invest in their success.

Open Access has grown into a lucrative business, but the benefits have not fully extended to the research communities that produce and fund the research. The Budapest, Berlin, and Bethesda Open Access declarations in the early 2000s envisioned free-to-read scholarship, but the cost of publishing remains high, often unaffordable. Questions persist about what constitutes “reasonable cost” for making publicly funded research available and who should bear these costs. Ensuring equitable and inclusive access to publishing without imposing unsustainable pricing on the global research community is crucial.

The recent EU Council conclusions, along with the G7 communique, the Nelson memo from the US Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, emphasize rebalancing cost and access to promote open science. These policies aim to explore more affordable scholarly publishing avenues, addressing cost and responsibility issues that were overlooked in earlier mandates for free and open access to scientific research.

The past three decades have shown that open source adoption can support community health and vibrancy. Examples like Anaconda’s commitment to reinvest 1% of their annual revenue back into open source communities, GitHub Sponsors, Open Source Collective, and Tidelift, as well as public utilities funding models, demonstrate how businesses can share profits with the communities they rely on.

At Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI), they are researching models that shift from extractive practices that burden researchers and institutions to those promoting accountability and reinvestment, fostering a vibrant open research ecosystem. Clear terms for “reasonable cost” and publisher contributions to supporting research communities are essential for equitable access to scholarship globally. Their upcoming research on reasonable costs for publicly funded research and our 2024 Fund aim to support researchers and institutional leaders in adopting and implementing necessary infrastructure and services for open science.

It’s time to move from preserving outdated structures to building sustainable and equitable futures. Enterprises profiting from open knowledge and research must invest in and share profits with the communities and infrastructure they depend on.

Photo via Information Matters

Original text from LSE Blog

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