Paying for Publishing: A Reflection on One Approach to Opening Up Hybrid Journals

by Crystal Hampson
Services to Libraries, University of Saskatchewan

Sometimes I like to think “what if?” Lately, I’ve been thinking about a particular “what if” to do with open access, how it affects our institutions’ researchers as authors, and how could the publishing system make OA better (easier, more practical) for them. Basically, I don’t want researchers to have to put their time into administrative work like negotiating author rights, keeping track of embargo periods and article versions for each article for deposit into an IR, finding funding to pay OA article processing charges, keeping track of differing funding agency mandates, etc. etc. I want researchers to put their time into research. I also want them to be able to publish in whatever journal is best for them in terms of audience and timeliness. Researchers want that too (Solomon and Björk, Nariani and Fernandez). I also don’t want to see institutions deal with sorting out all these details for every individual article one-by-one. There are too many articles, too many variations, and ultimately too much administrative process. Keeping track of all the many varied results is impractical.

I’ve therefore been musing about “what if” we had a different model to cover OA publishing charges for currently hybrid journals, something other than a model that used details to calculate an offset to subscription cost, or some type of discount to OA APCs that still have to be paid, but a model that includes all author charges (why not include all types, while we’re at it: OA fees, page fees, etc.) so that our researchers can just publish articles OA, with no charge or administrative process for them and minimal process altogether.

In the course of my reading, I recently came across Jan Velterop’s notion of the “New Big Deal.” Velterop is the co-creator of the Big Deal model for selling journal packages. He theorizes a national approach to purchasing not only toll content but also what is essentially gold OA publishing services. Velterop notes that an individual library does not have enough leverage to negotiate such a deal well (and I would add that an individual researcher has even less leverage for any negotiation); such negotiation needs to be at a national level. I would argue that “open” is open to the world, so not only a national but internationally coordinated approach will ultimately be necessary, not necessarily one global license, but national licenses that amount to global access. Though Velterop discussed this idea in 2012, it is not in place today. I like the fundamental simplicity of this idea though, but I realize it is not simple to enact.

Would this approach save money? I recognize that publishers provide value to the scholarly communication system and I don’t object to a reasonable margin of profit for their services. It seems to me that trying to save, or make, a lot of money through the switch to OA is just holding up “open.” What if we made it open first, at current price and distribution among participants (institutions, journals and publisher)? What if then multiple publishers could ingest the open content and then truly compete, without monopoly over content, and costs could become lower over time through competition and reduced complexity? What if we started with current contribution levels and contributing institutions negotiated over time a fair distribution of costs among themselves?

I admit I usually see the good elements of a “what if” idea at first. The flaws appear to me later, like where such a model leaves independent OA journals. And certainly, “what if” only goes so far until we hit the political and business realities. On the other hand, a completely new model with too many unknowns becomes something that we can’t realistically, practically, and quickly implement, and further holds back the transition to open. Certainly models involving myriad micropayments and varied author rights terms are also not viable on a large scale. So the idea to take a model that presents less of an unknown, that has less financial uncertainty for the parties involved, and develop it from there has a certain appeal.

Nariani, Rajiv, and Leila Fernandez. “Open Access Publishing: What Authors Want.” College & Research Libraries 73.2 (2012): 182-95. HighWire Press. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.

Solomon, David J., and Bo-Christer Björk. “Publication Fees in Open Access Publishing: Sources of Funding and Factors Influencing Choice of Journal.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 63.1 (2012): 98-107. Wiley Online Library. Web. 24 Jul. 2013.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.