The Green and Gold Roads to Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 4 Nov 2003 23:56:28 +0000

On Tue, 4 Nov 2003, Steve Hitchcock wrote:

> [Re: ]
> Here is a publisher adviser on what might tip publishers towards
> open access:
> Alastair Dryburgh, Open access -- time to stop preaching to the converted?
> "First, if a significant number of funding bodies decide to insist on
> open access publication, this could tip the balance. Alternatively,
> it could be technology which does it. Systems for metadata harvesting
> such as ParaCite offer a way to be directed to a free version of
> a published paper on an author's website, institutional website or
> institutional repository where this is available. If this starts to
> work for a significant proportion of the literature then subscription
> attrition will turn into a rout and the open access will become the
> only viable model for publication of primary research."

Several points:

(1) It is certainly true that as open-access grows, whether in
OAI-compliant archives or (thanks to tools like Paracite) even in
arbitrary websites, it will be gathered and made available to those
who seek toll-free access. That is undeniable and a good thing. It was
made possible by the medium, and it's about time researchers derive
its benefits.

(2) It is not at all clear how soon any of this will have any effect on
toll-access sales and revenues. Remember that the open-access literature
-- inasmuch as it grows through self-archiving rather than open-access
journals -- is growing anarchically. No particular journal's contents
are being made openly accessible en-bloc, so to speak, so it is not at
all clear when it would be safe for an institution to cancel any journal.

Who or what is there to "blame" for what might eventually happen? (Note
that this is hypothetical, as it is not at all clear whether or when
there will be any significant cancellation pressure):

First, blame researchers, for always, without exception, wanting to
give away their research, so they could maximize its usage and impact,
rather than sell it so they could make royalty revenue.

Second, blame the advent of the online medium itself (digital texts and
networks), for at last making it possible for researchers to do what they
have always wanted to do with their research: make it freely available
to all would-be users, everywhere.

Third, blame the OAI-protocol, which has made such giveaways far more
useable and useful, by making them interoperable.

Fourth, blame ingenious tools like Mike Jewell's Paracite, for getting
software to do the obvious.

Then give thanks for the fact that -- as "white" publishers go "green"
(i.e., make it official that they are not trying to prevent what is best
for research and researchers, by formally supporting their authors'
desire to make their own work openly accessible by self-archiving it)
-- the anarchic growth of open-access through self-archiving will be
gradual, allowing time both for adjustment and for the money that is
already changing hands in the system now to be redirected to continue paying
for the essentials (if and when, after we already have open-access
thourgh self-archiving, toll-revenues shrink and institutional
toll-savings should grow). For then we are all in a position to make a
transition from "green" to "gold", with institutions using their
own annual windfall toll-savings to pay for their own research output
to be refereed rather than paying to buy in the refereed research output
of other institutions institutions through access-tolls.

If instead of this slow, smooth anarchic transition to open-access,
with the support of the green publishers and self-archiving, publishers
had tried instead to resist, then the conflict of interest between
researchers and their publishers would have been out in the open and
confrontational, and researchers would have bolted directly to competing
"gold" journals as the white journals crashed, relatively abruptly.

Green publishers can take further comfort from two interesting facts:

(i) In the field that is most advanced in open access and self-archiving
-- physics, and especially high-energy physics -- even after 12 years of
self-archiving, which has reached 100% open access in some areas (such
as HEP), there is still no cancellation pressure; and one born-"gold"
journal (JHEP) has lately even managed to make a transition *backward*
from gold to green, even though that area enjoyed and still continues
to enjoy 100% open access (via self-archiving) throughout.

(ii) Even with 55% of journals already green, we are still far from
having 55% open access. I hope this will change. But it is another
aspect of the gradualism of the "green" road to open access.

So onward along the road from white to green. No need to yearn for pure
gold, for those who cannot afford the toll-access will already have
open-access long before there ever needs to be 100% conversion to gold!

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: Complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
    Posted discussion to:

Dual Open-Access Strategy:
    BOAI-2: Publish your article in a suitable open-access journal
            whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1: Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable toll-access
            journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Tue Nov 04 2003 - 23:56:28 GMT

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