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Open Access Publishing in High-Energy Physics [100016]

thread works:127_elpub2007 triggered this discussion:
  Harnad:Open Access Publishing in High-Energy Physics
from Harnad
subject Open Access Publishing in High-Energy Physics
message It is a tautological fact (and a relevant one in principle) that a global "flip" -- from (F1) the current annual commitments (called "subscriptions"), on the part of institutions worldwide, to buy-in the journals they are currently buying in for their users, at current prices, into (F2) annual worldwide institutional commitments to keep paying the same amount to the same journals, but now in exchange for publishing their own outgoing articles, rather than for buying in journals -- would balance out. There is already enough money "in the system," changing hands, so it does not matter what we call the transaction (subscription costs or publication costs).

It is pre-emptive, piecewise, local flips that do not balance out.

Pre-emptive flipping means flipping before universal Green OA has prevailed across all institutions, disciplines and journals to cause unsustainable cancellations, thereby releasing the money for the flip.

Piecewise local flipping means flipping for some rather than all journals and/or institutions.

Pre-emptive global flipping would mean all institutions and all journals agreeing jointly to flip. This would require not only price and quantity coordination among all (competing) vendors (journal publishers) but quota and share coordination and commitment across time among all paying clients (institutions).

I think this sort of global consumer/vendor agreement is so wildly improbable that it is not worth even speculating about. If anything like this were (mirabile dictu) possible, I would sooner speculate about it as a means of solving global health, food-supply, climate-control and conflict-resolution problems rather than just 30,000 universities jointly agreeing on an N-year commitment to keep paying for 25,000 journal in their current proportions, but dubbing the payment "publication fees" instead of "subscriptions fees" in exchange for universal OA.

Hence both the concept and the pragmatics of pre-emptive global flips are too far-fetched to be taken seriously. The only relevant principle (which should indeed be mentoned as often as possible) is (as Peter Suber often puts it) that there is indeed already more than enough money "in the system" changing hands to make a hypothetical "flip" balance out in principle.

SCOAP3 is an attempt to do a piecewise, non-local, pre-emptive flip -- across all subscribing institutions, but only for a small, related subset of journals -- in a field (high energy physics) that has already reached 100% Green OA, but has not yet had any hint of spontaneous unsustainable subscription cancellation as a consequence.

It remains to be seen whether SCOAP3 can succeed in getting enough institutions and publishers to agree to a pre-emptive flip that balances out and is sustainable. The reckoning is being made at the national rather than the institutional level, though it is hard to see how this can work out, since university library budgets are not a centralized, national matter. It is also unclear whether institutions will be happy for very long "sponsoring" journals for peer-reviewing their institutional research output at about the same price they were formerly paying to buy in the research output of all other universities, in the form of journal subscriptions.

However, there is reason to believe that opt-outs from SCOAP3 (in favor of payment based on current individual institutional output, rather than former institutional buy-in) may not come very soon, if they come, because High Energy Physics (HEP) already has 100% OA, and has had it for over a decade, because of Green OA self-archiving. Institutions are currently continuing to subscribe to these same journals, despite the 100% Green OA via self-archiving, so there is no reason to believe they will not continue paying if their subscription fees are renames "sponsorship fees." (They are probably doing it partly because they still want the print edition; it is not at all clear who pays for or gets the print edition under the Gold OA cost-recovery model!)

What seems certain, though, is that this case (HEP) is unique, and would not scale to the vast majority of fields that do not self-archive, and whose journal subscriptions have hence not been peacefully co-existing with 100% Green OA for years. Nor is it likely that the institutions and publishers in other fields could or would agree to a pre-emptive flip, at current prices -- though if they could and did, this would indeed be functionally equivalent to immediate 100% OA -- but Gold OA from the publishers rather than Green OA from the authors.

The reason I think it is unrealistic to imagine that all fields, institutions and publishers (30,000 institutions, 25,000 journals) could or would agree to a global pre-emptive flip is that it would amount to freezing in all current subscription contracts (for how long?) at current prices, in exchange for renaming them "sponsorship contracts" for peer-review and global Gold OA. It does not require much imagination to see that individual institutions would want to adjust their own payments according to their own peer review needs once everyone was enjoying universal OA. And it does not take much imagination to see that publishers could anticipate this tendency toward local opt-outs and accommodations in an adjustment process over which the publishers would have no control.

So in all likelihood either publishers would not agree to the pre-emptive global flip to Gold OA at all (on the grounds that it is bound to lead to an uncontrollable downward spiral in their revenues), or they would agree only on a provisional, conditional basis, so that further OA could be curtailed if too many institutions opted out. (They could do this if they retained control over the OA provision.) This would make this pre-emptive "flip" to global OA into just a temporary sales gimmick, good for another round of subscription contracts (in a "Really Big Deal").

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