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The rude health of Open Access Publishing.

Posted on: 03 October 2011 in conference, open-access, publishing, coasp

TL;DR OA publishing is maturing with a scalable business model that all the big publishers are jumping all over. Money will be made (but less than before), and more content will be more open. The poor lamentable nay-sayers who carp on unheard in the darkness will be forgotten, and their Cassandra-like predictions will fade to be recalled as little more than the mutterings of fools (OK, that last bit is probably opinion).

Just over a week ago I had the great pleasure to present some thoughts alt-metrics to the 3rd Conference on Open Access Publishing. The talks were recorded and my talk will be posted in time.

I wanted to write up a few thoughts that spun up out of my experience of meeting with that community and seeing what's going on there. It seems like there is a upswell of coverage on open access right now. In the week that was in it Princeton asked it's researchers not to hand over copyright (statement), a call to not publish with IEEE got picked up by Hacker News and the Times Higher Education posted a call for academics to not peer review for non-OA journals.

One could be forgiven for thinking that something is afoot.

Open access also got picked up in some national press, a fact that was lamented by the Scholarly Kitchen (What's up with the Scholarly Kitchen anyway? I've had to be moderately careful about what I wrote in this paragraph to not stray over into mocking or insulting, but the core of my feeling on the topic is that when it comes to discussing open access publishing they are, and specifically Kent Anderson is, disingenuous about their coverage of OA in a highly negative way. I've met some of the contributors and they seem like nice intelligent people, so this continuos editorial stance makes me think of them as somewhat akin to the Daily Mail in the UK).

The main sentiment from the conference was that OA publishing as an industry is flourishing. There were representatives form many traditional scientific publishers, and the discussion was all about revenues, peer review models and the enormous growth that all of these titles were seeing in submissions. The biggest point of discussion over the few days of the conference was about the rise of the megajournal, more of which in a subsequent post.

What as also very clear was the diversity of philosophical approach to what OA meant from a publisher point of view. Plos focussed on their ethical standards, Hindawi talked about their scale at creating titles and running peer review over those titles in a scalable way.

Some of these trends were raised by Phil Bourne in his keynote. It's clear that the academic has a different view from the publisher. There is still a desire to see more use of CC0 licences, and to allow wide ranging data mining on the artefacts that Open Access can produce. Phil again called for a more integrated eco system of derivative objects created on top of the literature. It's not clear whether publishers will be in a position to do this, but OA objects should allow a competitive market place of these kinds of things to emerge. (Of course the great promise is that they should and it is by no means a given that they will).

Phil had been involved in a summer workshop on moving beyond the PDF and some of their output can be seen at the FORCE11 site. Slowly we move in the right direction, slowly, slowly, but surely.

Pete Binfield was busy telling everyone that within three years up to 50% of all content that is freshly published may be open access. Heady predictions, but form the submission figures that he showed for PloSONE not a prediction that is impossible to believe in.

Overall there was a feeling that we will see a continued and strong growth in OA published content. Back of the envelope figures were being mentioned as if they were the accepted norm and people felt that the academic publishing industry might reduce in global value from it's current nine billion in turnover per year to a more modest two to three billion, with savings coming from the more sane cost structure that comes along with Open Access publishing. Of course the only way to tell if a change like that is going to happen is to wait it out and see.

It seems like enough traditional publishers are willing to get a toe in the water.

In the end, over the past couple of weeks the best comment I've seen on the current state of the OA movement has come from the inestimable John Willbanks who pointed out that it's no longer a question of religion but of infrastructure.