UK Government Mandates Open Access- Publishers Laugh on the Way to the Bank

Posted on July 18, 2012


Sorry, I have not been blogging as much, summer field work season is keeping me busy.  Most of you have probably heard that the UK government is now mandating Open Access for the research it pays for. Their funding councils have even come up with a new OA policy. Sounds great does it not? I know I was really happy when I saw the titles …… and then I read the details. This radical shake-up of higher education and publishing, not so radical. Do not get me wrong, the press for OA is great but the actual policy is …. well s#^$.

There is a huge emphasis on Gold Open Access and in fact the funding councils are now putting funds aside for gold OA. That means more money away from research and more money aimed at publishing. Now if this OA was something along the lines of Ubiquity Press, with 100 GBP per article, that would be great but it is not. This OA is the 2000 GBP per article type.

The policy says “Criteria which journals must fulfill to be compliant with the Research Councils’ Open Access policy are detailed within the policy, but include offering a “pay to publish” option or allowing deposit in a subject or institutional repository after a mandated maximum embargo period”. The key word is OR, not AND, which means publishers do not have to let someone deposit their article in a OA repository if they have an author pays option. Basically, we switch who pays for the publishing but we still have the problems of 30-40% profit margins for big publishers and prices rising at 5-10% annually for journals, neither of which is sustainable.

Several people have mentioned what happens if you can’t pay the price so I will not go into that problem but I will highlight some other problems I see with this policy.

  1. The UK makes up only a small portion of the total research in the world. This policy does nothing for everyone else and all other published papers. Basically, libraries will still have to fork out money for journals because 95-99% of the articles will still be behind a paywall. Thus the mandated OA is actually a huge boon for publishers profits. They can now collect multiple fees from us. Once, from libraries to access the majority of the material and also the OA martial as well (print is print so even if you can reach it online those paying for print still will be paying for the OA article. Online access? The total prices of journals has NEVER dropped because an author pays for part of the journal to be OA. They will still charge the same price for subscription) and twice when the author/government pays for the publication.
  2. How are the research councils paying for this? Through block grants to universities and research institutes. In the words of John Stewart “that is a cluster f%#$&”. Hi university staff, oh this was a particularly good year for publications and research, that is great. Sorry, we don’t have the funds to publish everything and yes, your career will suffer for it. Block grants will miss-allocate funds so that there will be shortages at some universities (I would be willing to be all but that is a different post). I can just see the in fighting now between physics and history about who deserves more of the funds to publish. Academics sharpen your knives as you are about to fight over another underfunded pot of money.
  3. Anyone who is British reading this have you ever heard of Hulu or Pandora websites? No, that is because they are blocked in the UK. I would ask anyone who is Chinese if they have heard of x, y, or z website but they can not actually read this blog as is block in China. Sure you can mandate OA in the UK but you can not do it everywhere else. Pretty sure publishers are already thinking of ways to keep their OA articles behind the paywall in other countries.
  4. Licensing- well with an author pays model the publishers can mandate any sort of license they want. Guess which license they are going for…. CC BY-NC, the non-commercial derivative of CC BY. Basically, someone can see an article but if they want to use it for anything else e.g. use a image from it, put the article up on a website, etc. they will still have to pay for that privilege. The publishers are still finding ways to get money out of the mandate.

Stop what you are doing right now and google search (insert publisher name Elsiver, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, Maney, etc.) response to the UK mandate. Can’t find one? The reason is because their CEOs are too busy  laughing their way to the bank (and they don’t want to draw attention to the fact they are about to make out like bandits). The UK government has bungled their OA policy and now the publishers are going to be able to rank in even more money than before. Instead of mandating a UK wide repository in which they would have control over what restrictions could be placed on OA, in a sop to the publishers they have now put themselves on the hook for more money. Well done, well done. It takes a special type of government to screw themselves over.

Posted in: Publishing