Open Access: Time for Action

This is the last in our recent series of posts this week on open access. Pablo covered the big questions and rationales for open access; Colin explored the potential consequences of the current policy direction; David raised serious questions about its fit for social sciences; Nivi highlighted the implications for early career academics and Nathan extended the discussion to the broader problems of academic precarity.

What do we do now? I will not labour over diagnostic points made eloquently and at length elsewhere on this blog (and also in the comments sections). In part, because there just isn’t time. At least in the UK, right now, we are facing a critical juncture where open access policy is being solidified by the Finch ‘Implementation Groups’, and solidified in the wrong direction. Indeed, there is a Academy of Social Sciences Conference in London on 29th and 30th November on the implementation of OA policy, which will likely further reinforce the direction of travel laid out by the Finch Report. Dame Janet Finch is the keynote on the first day, and the second day is ‘aimed at’ publishers, learned societies and their representatives. I am also somewhat concerned at the speed of travel on this, which suggests that Government have not taken the time to seriously reflect on it, and that most wider academic ‘stakeholders’ are being left behind on discussions and decisions which seriously affect all of our futures.

Briefly, though, my concerns around an endorsement of Article Processing Charges mirror questions raised by Colin. Having said that, I am rather more certain/pessimistic than him that these pose a very substantial threat to academic freedom and the overall integrity of the journal system. I am also concerned that they will increase the costs of research without increasing its quality, and waste a lot of academic time as Universities and Departments try to administer them (as will have to happen for most Arts/Humanities/Social Science research which is not funded by grant-money). Finally, I am highly disappointed that nowhere does the Finch Report seriously reflect on possible Government action to further protect copyright over the Version of Record.

So, what is to be done?  Below are collected some immediately practicable areas for individual and collective action, some of which are already underway in other disciplines but very weakly in arts, humanities and social sciences. This is certainly not to argue against the broader rethinking of the entire journal system, of which I would be in favour, nor the desirability of new models of publishing. There are longer-term issues such as funding for learned societies which need to be thought through at a collective level, and this list is of course not exhaustive. But we need to act urgently to resist the wider pressure towards APCs, and to use all existing avenues to their utmost to promote change.

Journal Editors

  • When renewing contracts with publishers, do not sign new long-term deals where the author’s right to immediate Version of Record repository is not offered. 60% of commercial publishers, including many of the big ones, offer this already – it is a successful business model in the medium to long term, and the best way to discharge a public duty to open access immediately and cost-effectively.
  • Make your authors aware of their rights in this respect.
  • Push for transparency in publishing costs and competitively tender for publishers’ services.
  • Also, negotiate for the lowest feasible APC where applicable – APCs will likely become a barrier to the best work being submitted, and the actual price will matter.
  • Do not make any editorial decisions based on the payability of APC funds. Authors will either implicitly or explicitly signal a willingness to pay if there is the faintest chance it will affect editorial decision making. This is a very serious threat to the fundamental integrity of the journal publishing system.
  • In the longer term, think seriously about alternative hosting models. Open source software for example can now provide equivalent services and platforms to Manuscript Central.  There are possibilities for institutions themselves absorbing some costs of hosting and editing if shared across many publications.


  • Put your publicly funded Version of Record work in open personal or institutional repositories where legally possible. Journal copyright can be researched here: For example, IR people, look at this.
  • Pressure the top journals in your field to allow immediate self-archiving of Version of Record articles.
  • Raise awareness in your Departments and University structures about the situation and likely effects of current open access policies. Collectively mandate your Vice-Chancellors and Directors to speak up on these issues at representative bodies, and to lobby Government directly.
  • Push your institutions for clarification and protection on a) the use of repositories, and b) the likely administration practices of APCs.
  • Refuse any proposal under which non-experts in your field (either committees, Heads of Department, Heads of School) decide whether your work will be published or not. Insist that you are the only person in your institution best-placed to assess whether your work should be placed in a journal, and if so which one.
  • Look for ways to diversify incomes for learned societies. They provide important collective goods to academic life and should ideally not be dependent on income which is earned through restrictions on either public knowledge access or APC payments.
  • Work closely with your libraries to see what they are buying for you, and whether it is the right stuff.


  • Develop policies that mandate all academics to deposit VoR work in institutional repositories as soon as legally viable. Harvard, amongst others, has done so.
  • Develop policies on the administration of APC funds that protect, and are in line with statutes on, academic freedom.
  • Lobby against real-terms cuts to research budgets necessitated by the payment of APCs.


  • Raise cost issues with academics and ask for academic choices to be made over purchases of subscriptions and books.
  • Resist the purchase of publisher ‘bundles’.
  • Increase awareness of institutional and personal repositories to users.


  • Have a very serious think about how to prioritise things which need protecting in promoting public access to academic publishing. One order of priorities might run: academic freedom, academic research quality, value for money in the higher education sector, the work of learned societies, the development of technological innovation in journal publishing software. Then have a look at the way the various options for public access to publicly funded research match up. As things stand, the list of priorities implicit in the Finch Report is the exact reverse of this.
  • Look at options for restricting copyright restrictions over publicly funded work. Explore the possibilities for opening access via ‘fair dealing’ provisions in copyright law.
  • Do not think about Open Access policy in isolation from wider Higher Education Policy and pressures on research funding.
  • Do not think about Open Access principally in terms of STEM disciplines.
  • Encourage the publishing market, which is providing publicly funded goods, to be more competitive, efficient and transparent.


  • Be more transparent about exactly what the value-added services provided are, and their cost structure.
  • Offer different packages with differing levels of service provision and copyright so journal editors can choose levels of income in relation to their public mandate for open access.
  • Unbundle the sales of journals and books to libraries.

One thought on “Open Access: Time for Action

  1. Pingback: Open Access: Time for Action « The Disorder Of Things | Open is mightier |

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