Paul Rudd Information Professional

expertise gained through experience

Open Access: Going for Gold

Open Access: Going for Gold (Imperial College London)

This event aimed to inform the attendees about recent developments in open access publishing and also explain the RCUK’s new position on the publication of UK government funded research. This event was well timed after the release earlier in the year of the Finch report, (‘Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications‘) which offered up recommendations on OA publishing of UK government funded material.

The panel consisted of the following:

  • Mark Thorley (NERC) (RCUK)
  • Professor Stephen Curry (Imperial College)

It was chaired by Richard Van Noorden (Nature News)

Current UK Government’s Position (RCUK)

The current government’s position is that government funded research should be available as open access and in the main it should be made available via the gold route to open access. Although the idea and move to make government funded research easily available as open access is not a new one, the preference for the gold route to OA is.

The Gold Route to OA

Articles published via the gold route would essentially be organised by publishers and each new article produced would be made freely available to anyone with an internet connection and a viewing device. Nobody would need to pay for access to articles published in the this way in the future. (At least that is the theory). So there would not be a requirement for anyone to pay to access this material in the future (therefore there would be no requirement for anyone to pay a subscription fee to access this material) So this all sounds good or at least it all sound okay – but what is the catch . Well for publishers to publish articles via the gold route (and via other routes too) they would want an article publishing charge (APC) to be paid and this fee would differ dependent on the publisher and on each journal title. (This fee also would differ in comparison with the APC required for articles published via the green route to OA).

The Article Processing Charge

This article processing charge appears to be something that would differ dependent on a variety of reasons, such as the impact factor or standing of the journal title, the publisher and what they believe to be a reasonable charge, and potentially a host of other factors that may we all may not be aware of as we do not exactly know what criteria each publisher will be using to set their prices. If you do a quick search on the web an example of charges can be easily found. So for example if we look at a selection of the charges being asked for by the open access publisher BioMed Central as listed below we can get a general idea: (although this is a bit vague as we are only looking at one publisher)

  • Veterinary Research £680 €850 US$1105
  • Human Genomics £1250 €1565 US$2035
  • Critical Care £1230 €1540 US$2000

What are these charges for?

In the case of BioMed Central their charges are listed on their website together with a list of what their charges pay for. This list from their website can be seen displayed below:

  • Immediate, worldwide open access to the full article text
  • Developing and maintaining electronic tools for peer review and publication
  • Preparation in various formats for online publication
  • Securing inclusion in PubMed as soon as possible after publication
  • Securing full text inclusion in a number of permanent archives such as INIST (France), Koninklijke Bibliotheek (The Netherlands) and (USA)
  • Securing inclusion in CrossRef, enabling electronic citation in other journals that are available electronically

So from this list it appears that the publisher is doing a fair bit to account for the charges and for charges in the region of up to and just over a thousand pounds maybe these can be justified. (Although some people may disagree). However, as we currently do not know the amounts every publisher will be charging we cannot be precisely sure if they will offer any kind of value for money. Therefore, for the time being I will have to reserve judgement on the article processing charges.

The reasons to aim for the gold route to OA

There are many a varied reasons to support the gold route to OA and a selection of these reasons can be seen below:

  • The green route to OA publishing relies on the author of the article keeping a suitable copy to self-archive (or where possible having a copy archived by an information professional) and this is often not carried out by the author. leaving no copy of the article available as OA. Whereas, the gold route to OA, which is managed by the publisher it would in the majority of cases always be made available
  • Embargo periods generally exist for the green route to OA publishing, which means that the articles will may take six months or more to become available using the green route to OA. Whereas, via the gold route all articles would become available immediately.

How will this affect Institutional Repositories

Many questions asked at this event revolved around how the RCUK’s policy will affect archiving articles to IRs. These questions were justified as the general impression from Mark Thurley and others at the event was that IRs did not effectively tackle the problem of getting articles published as OA, and that the types of content IRs contained were potentially confusing for users. These aspects of potential confusion are summarised below:

  • The type of documents in repositories are confusing due to the range and type of documents and their classifications,  such as preprints and post-prints.
  • Repositories do not always contain the definitive article so for the general public it was a confusion as to what type of article they were viewing.

These a fair comments on IRs but no system is ever perfect and in defence of IRs they have been making an attempt at publishing content as OA and they do seem to be performing a purpose. From attending this event it was not completely clear to me that archiving into a IR was a requirement of the new policy. It appears that the policy lists that the publisher must allow for immediate deposit of the Version of Record in other repositories without restriction on re-use. But will authors archive their articles in IRs if most of the content is made available by publishers via the gold route anyway. Furthermore, even if the RCUK did require deposit into an IR what mechanisms would be in place to check that was being carried out. My main point here is a simple one to grasp and that is if I were an author of an article and I knew that the publication was going to be made available by the publisher as the gold route to OA it would make it less of an incentive for me to archive my article in an IR.

Potential Problems with the RCUK’s New Policy

So if the new RCUK’s policy with its preference for the gold route to IR leads to fewer articles being archived in IRs what problem could that create? One event attendee pointed out an obvious issue, posing the scenario that what if a publisher went out of business would we still have access to these articles? There are more problems than that though. What happens during the period (that could be a long period) where new articles are being published via the gold route to OA in journals that also contain articles that are non government funded (and non gold OA) When you pay for subscription fees for journals you generally will be paying for access to the journal and not the individual articles within the journal. So will there not be a long period where libraries and researchers will be paying twice as it were for access to articles. As they will be paying the APC charges for gold route OA articles, and they will also be paying for subscription charges for access to journal titles containing gold route OA articles.

Final thoughts

The biggest question that I fail to understand revolves around this continual reliance on publishers to provide solutions to all our problems. I am completely shocked that in order to make journals available as OA the UK government would seek to get this performed by publishers (which would be the result of the RCUK’s preference for the gold route to OA). Why did they not think of another solution. Is it literally that they are just not bold or imaginative enough to make more radical changes. Furthermore, even though the Finch report makes the point that green OA has not worked, could they not have sought to rectify the problems with this route instead of leaning on a preference for gold OA.



Written by Paul Rudd Information Specialist at the Fire Service College in Moreton-in-Marsh (Capita)