Open Access: The Rainbow Connection

by Rose Petralia

OA journals pay their bills very much the way broadcast television and radio stations do… The costs of producing OA literature, the savings over conventionally published literature, and the business models for recovering the costs depend on whether the literature is delivered through OA journals or OA repositories. ~Peter Suber, Open Access Overview

Though open-access publishing has been around since the 1990s, hot debate among OA supporters and detractors continues. While it’s true that the open access movement is gaining ground in fits and starts, it has hardly replaced traditional models, and the fallacy that zero subscription revenue necessarily means higher author fees persists.

Proponents promote OA as an alternative, lower-cost publishing model designed to increase access to information by removing end-user—library, researcher, student—fees, not as a way to stick it to the established publishing world. Still, it is difficult to dismiss the timing, as journal subscription prices jumped four times higher than the rate of inflation between 1990 and 2000 (Economic analysis of scientific research publishing. 2003).

What potential open-access authors should know when making the decision to publish in OA or traditional journals is that there are two basic categories of OA: gold and green.

Gold OA refers to publishing and distributing research via peer-reviewed open-access journals, whether these operate on a for-profit basis or not. As OA champion Peter Suber states in his Open Access Overview (there’s a more succinct version as well),  70% of OA journals do not charge author fees at all, compared with 75% of conventional publishers who do, and the majority of open-access publishing fees (88% according to Suber, 83% according to a 2011 Study of Open Access Publishing survey) are paid by sponsors or universities and not authors themselves. Yes, the money to publish even OA journals has to come from somewhere, but eradication of the overhead involved with subscription management, rights management, license enforcement, and legal fees associated with violations of all sorts of rights may lower costs such that even smaller university budgets can afford OA publishing subsidies for their researchers.

Green OA refers to sharing publications in open-access repositories, which, depending on publishers’ guidelines, can contain pre-prints, post-prints, or publisher PDFs. This means that even if research is published in a non-open-access journal, guidelines may permit free and open distribution of work under certain conditions. Also, depending on the repository, information that is not typically even published, such as datasets, theses and dissertations, reports, and white papers, may also be archived.

SHERPA RoMEO, a searchable database that lists publishers’ self-archiving guidelines, adds a few stripes to the rainbow of OA with its green, blue, yellow, and white indicators of publisher archiving policies. According to the UK organization, 30% of indexed publishers allow archiving of pre- and post-prints and publishers’ PDFs (green), 33% allow post-print and publisher PDF archiving (blue), 8% allow pre-print archiving only (yellow), and 30% don’t support archiving (white). Search the database to find out which of your own published works you can archive, or contact Holly Miller, Evans Library’s Director of the Research Collection, for help.

Supernumerary rainbow image by Andrew Dunn [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.


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