More on Money…OA Publishing Fees and Value

I was talking to a friend this weekend (all his recent publications are open access), and he was saying that he still gets emails from people requesting PDFs of his work. So his question was – is it worth it, economically, for him (or his funder, or institution, or whoever is paying the OA fee) to make his work OA – at the individual article level (we are talking gold OA here as his funder requires deposit in UKPMC). Are the numbers of people who are actually making use of the free OA version enough to make it worth paying $1500? Is this per person/access charge reasonable? How many people would have to access the article to make it worth it? – and we have to subtract out the people who would already have access because they are attached to a subscribing institution (for hybrid journals).

Typically we speak about financial value at a much larger level – economic value for the institution or for the country, but what researchers may want to know is value at their level, the individual – or the individual article even. For him, or his funder, or institution – is it economical to make every paper OA – or should he just make the best papers (the ones that the most people will actually want to read) OA?  Clearly the value of the research has played a role in the past – think about Genome data / publications – much more likely to be OA (see here for the latest issue in that area – NPG making what is supposed to be OA,  “accidently” hidden behind a toll).

All this talk of cost per use, etc., of course made me think back to the PIRUS project I heard about a couple weeks ago. This conversation really made it relevant. With accurate usage statistics researchers could have data on how many times an article has been downloaded and where – which may demonstrate the value of OA (of course we would need some way to tag that the article is OA). This might help demonstrate (at the level of individuals) what OA can do for them (add in a little data about IP addresses and you could possibly even demonstrate that the article has been downloaded at locations unconnected to subscriber institutions – this would be really interesting – and could really demonstrate the moral reasons to academics, and you could even calculate how much you paid in OA fees for each access).

Of course putting your article in a repository (for free) would get around the whole discussion of cost per OA use – but in some instances funder mandates that require deposit into UKPMC make repository use slightly irrelevant for some academics (though of course I think funder mandates are positive – some, although working for OA, make work against the growth of repositories – who is it say if this is for better or worse).

You might also say that, morally,  paying $1500 to have one single person, that wouldn’t otherwise have access, gain access – would be worth it. But unfortunately not everyone’s money to morals equation works the same.

Image credit: -Renegade- (very busy)

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About Willow Fuchs
Willow is based at the Centre for Research Communications at the University of Nottingham, where she works as an Open Access Adviser on the NECOBELAC and OpenAIRE projects. She has previously worked on the JISC funded Repositories Support Project and JISC funded Research Communications Strategy project.

6 Responses to More on Money…OA Publishing Fees and Value

  1. Peter Suber says:

    Making these papers *green* OA (that is, OA through repositories) is the easiest and cheapest solution. You raise this possibility but I don’t understand your objection to it. Authors publish in the peer-reviewed journals of their choice, as usual. If the journal is TA, then the author should deposit a copy of the peer-reviewed manuscript in an OA repository. This costs the author nothing. More than 60% of TA publishers and 90% of TA journals already allow author-initiated green OA. If the manuscript is already in (say) UKPMC because of a funder mandate, then the problem is already solved. When readers ask for a copy of the text, send them the link to the OA copy in UKPMC (or the relevant repository). Requests from readers for copies of TA articles are signs of unmet demand. The authors needn’t send out individual copies as email attachments (serving one reader at a time) and needn’t pay publication fees at fee-based OA journals. Deposit in a repository, serve all readers at once, and pay no fees. Publishing in OA journals is still desirable for many reasons. But it’s not the only way to deliver OA, and it’s too late for work already published in TA journals,

    • Willow Fuchs says:

      I don’t at all object to “green” OA, I am merely trying to think about a few things from one academic’s perspective.

      My friend currently makes his work OA, typically by paying for the OA option because his funder requires immediate (within 6 months) deposit into UKPMC (and the journals he wants to publish in do not allow this without opting in to pay OA). We have been tossing around this 90% for some time, but we do have to realise that in many subject areas academics are not comfortable making preprints available, so the number may unfortunately be closer to 60% for these individuals. And because he is paying to put his work into UKPMC, (from his perspective) why would he bother putting it into the repository? This is fine, as the article is OA, but this does promote “gold” rather that “green” OA, which may not be the best way to move OA forward (as you have made reference to).

      His other comment was that he still gets requests for PDFs even though he makes his work OA. Now this may just mean people need better training on searching and finding, and OA needs to be better publicised (clearly some people don’t even realise that the work may be OA so they are going straight to the author). But the question my friend, an academic, had, was how many people are actually making use of the OA to his articles (that wouldn’t already have access through a subscription, and that wouldn’t have emailed the author for a PDF), and is it financially worth paying for it.

      I think it is fantastic that he is asking these questions, because these are the questions that turn people to “green” OA instead of “gold”. Currently his funder, paired with the journals he prefers to publish in, is driving him to use “gold”. I know this is just one individual’s experience…but it is an interesting one nonetheless.

      But don’t get me wrong, I am all for “green” OA, but that doesn’t mean that every academic sees it the same way we do.

  2. Peter Suber says:

    Hi Heather. First I should admit that since I posted my comment, I’ve learned that your 60% is closer to the truth than my 90% (for journals allowing postprint archiving, not preprint-or-postprint archiving). Note that the numbers on the SHERPA stats page to which you link refer to publishers, not journals.

    It’s interesting that your colleague still gets email requests for his OA articles. At least the response is easy: just send the URL. If your friend is paying for gold OA, then the email correspondents are to blame here, since *both* the journal and repository copies are OA.

  3. Peter Suber says:

    I meant Willow! Apologies.

  4. Steve Hitchcock says:

    Willow, In the digital environment access is free but there is a cost to publication. The £1500 your gold OA author is paying is for publication. If you want to question that cost on the basis of the value of access, you have to compare it to providing green OA in a repository at no cost to the author. But the green OA author still seeks to publish, and typically pays for that by relinquishing rights (so long as that doesn’t include rights for green OA). Thus, the key question in your post, about the value of gold OA fees in terms of access, is framed incorrectly. It is strictly about the value of publication rather than access.

    • Willow Fuchs says:

      Steve,
      Yes, you are right, the comparison should be made to no cost green OA, generally.
      Perhaps what we should be asking is why are some funders forcing authors to pay (or the funders are paying themselves) for gold OA (so the articles can be put on UKPMC) when in many cases authors could make the same papers OA for free through repositories? Why not mandate that instead?
      Unfortuantely some publishers are getting wise to this idea (even before the funders have) and we can only hope that we don’t see more changes in funder policies (see Elsevier’s) that will prevent “mandated” deposit.

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