Open Choice is a Trojan Horse for Open Access Mandates

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2006 14:34:17 +0100

Dear OA advocates:

This is a note of caution about the spate of publishers currently
announcing that they are offering Open Choice -- i.e., the option for
authors to buy OA, at various asking prices, for their individual article.

On the surface, this sounds like a positive development: Publishers experimenting
widely with OA publishing at last.

But please don't forget the OA mandates that have been proposed and are pending in
the US, UK, EC, Australia, Germany, France, Norway.

Those are all OA self-archiving mandates, and they are already long-delayed,
mostly because of opposition from the publishing lobby.

Please be aware that the publishing lobby will now be using the paid-OA
option that they are offering as yet another means of trying to delay
or divert the adoption of the OA self-archiving mandates.

If the US, UK, EC, Australia, Germany, France, Norway felt they had the
extra money to mandate and fund paid OA instead of self-archiving today,
and promptly did so, that would be fine.

But that outcome is highly unlikely, for many reasons (the chief of which
being that 100% of the cash for funding publication is currently tied
up in paying subscriptions, so the extra money would have to be found
from elsewhere, in advance!).

Moreover, a consensus on a policy of mandating OA via self-archiving,
at no extra cost, even though it has been so long in coming (mainly
because of publisher opposition) is far less likely, and likely to
be far longer in the coming, if it instead becomes a paid-OA mandate,
conditional on finding and agreeing to invest all that extra cash
in advance -- particularly at a time when all publication costs are
being paid, hence there is no call for extra cash.

The publishers' promise that as paid OA catches on they will scale
down subscription prices is a hollow one: It is tantamount to saying,
to an individual customer: "Buy more of my product and the effect will
trickle down in the form of a lower price for everyone, including
you." Nonsense: individual authors, if they paid for the OA option for
their own articles, would simply be subsidising an infinitesimal reduction
in the price of subscriptions for institutional libraries the world over.

And the research community and public need 100% OA now.

I think Open Choice is a Trojan Horse, and that we should be very careful
about our reaction to it, as it risks eliciting years more of delay for OA
(under the guise of "preparing the way").

 From publishers who do not oppose the self-archiving mandates, Open Choice is
fine: it is an indication of good faith, and willingness to test the waters of
Open Access Publishing. But from publishers lobbying against the adoption of
self-archiving mandates, and touting Open Choice as an alternative -- or, worse,
pressing for the mandating of paid-OA rather than self-archiving -- it is a
clever, but somewhat cynical way of delaying still longer the immediate
mandating of OA, as now proposed all over the world.

Stevan Harnad
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Received on Wed Jun 28 2006 - 15:16:03 BST

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