Lost over Call for Open Access for all Scientific Papers

I’m at a loss over the recent reports on the requirement for all research publications to be open access by 2020. Open access means that the research papers are accessible openly without a fee. There are plenty of confusing if not outright wrong statements in the press, but I’m not so much concerned with poor journalism than with the actual proposed policies.

Sadly, I couldn’t find more than this one sentence on page 12 of the report linked to from the meetings website:

Delegations committed to open access to scientific publications as the option by default by 2020.

I’d like to understand what this means and then how this is supposed work. Specifically, I’d like to know how this is not going to either break free enterprise or make predatory publishers like Elsevier laugh all the way to the bank.

The most probable interpretation of the statement is that come 2020, all new research publications should be published as open access by default, and that funding agencies will enforce this by making it a requirement in grant proposals.

One might think that open access as default might apply to existing published research but I think it is unlikely that the funding agencies will buy-out existing publishers to free their content. Publications currently locked up will remain locked up.

The problem: It will make predatory publishers like Elsevier even richer, because open access means author pays for the publication. The current crop of open access publication fees range from US$ 500 to EUR 2000 and beyond, even at such well-reputed publishers like PLoS. A few budget publishers have sprung up, like peerj with a US$ 99 all-you-can-publish buffet, but even peerj is a for-profit enterprise.

[[Update 2016-06-09: It appears peerj recently changed their pricing structure from a $99 one-time fee to an annual or one-time fee (not clear) of $399 for its all-you-can-publish solution. Too bad.]]

Moreover, with all the existing content locked-up in the electronic vaults of Elsevier and the likes, the public will still have to pay for digital library access. Without retroactive action, it will take many years to not have to. Thus, the public is paying twice: For the author to publish open access papers (paid for by public funds) and for digital library access (paid for by universities, typically also public funds). Truly a losing proposition.

I don’t have a ready solution for authors. As a conference chair, if it wouldn’t require me to work with TeX, I’d use Dagstuhl Publishing, in particular their LIPIcs program.

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