A response to Elsevier’s insights into making the transition to open access possible.

Waiting for Godot Tree. Publisher: Wikimedia Commons Source: http://dighist.fas.harvard.edu/courses/2016/HUM11c/exhibits/show/comparative-readings/item/123

In Elsevier Connect, Gemma Hersh, Elsevier’s VP, Policy and Communications, shared Elsevier’s insights to make the transition to a gold open access possible. To Gemma and the “ world’s second largest gold open access publisher”, here are some thoughts for your consideration and a suggestion for some further reading.

You are quite correct, there is no international consensus for which open access model is best. However, waiting for consensus and taking an approach where “structural challenges need to be worked through by all stakeholders together” brings to my mind Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot because, if the past two decades since Budapest are anything to go by, waiting will only result in more pointless bickering, no definitive conclusion and open access will arrive, but only tomorrow.

Your suggestion that a regional approach to gold open access might be a way forward pains me as much as Lucky’s soliloquy does the protagonists in the play. If there is one industry that is truly global in nature, it is scholarly publishing. This won’t be news to you, but if scientific articles are increasingly co-authored on an international basis and these papers tend to be more highly cited, then surely it is a nonsense that an article could be open in Europe but closed in Australia. A regional approach would also prolong inequality between the haves and haves not, which must be unacceptable at a time when digital has opened the way to bridging divides at almost no cost.

Talking of cost, your arguments suggest you think scholarly publishing is a zero sum game: there is x in the subscription pot today, so in ‘swapping hats’ to gold open access, there must also be x in the APC pot tomorrow (plus, of course, annual increases for inflation and growth in authors). Really? Is the streaming pot for the music industry the same as yesterday’s LP pot? Is the low-cost airline pot the same as the one when traditional carriers ruled the skies?

You are the world’s largest STM publisher, yet the insights you present show a surprising lack of ambition to take a lead in the transition to open access: you seem content to remain by your tree, looking at your boots muttering “is nothing to be done?”. Beckett’s play opens with the protagonists waiting and closes with their agreeing to move on, but neither do. It is as if they are more comfortable with the status quo . . . are you?

Of the play, Beckett is quoted as saying “Why people have to complicate a thing so simple I can’t make out.” I sometimes wonder if, in the pursuit of open access, the scholarly community is over-complicating something that could be done simply and, in waiting and bickering, we are letting pirates and parasites onto the set.

I promised some further reading. It’s there in the link above about pirates. I wrote it in the hope that I could, in some small way, nudge the industry from waiting. I’m also kinda hoping one of the big players will be bold enough to take the lead. If you will, what are you waiting for?

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