Open Access means free, unrestricted access to research results. A comprehensive switch to Open Access („transition to open access“) is set as a political goal, but the different ways, varieties, and models of Open Access meet the requirements very differently. In many cases, access is not universal, is hindered by restrictive licences, subsequent use is made more difficult, and the costs are very high – for libraries and authors or their institutions. The Open Access debate continues to focus on journals. Running Open Access journals in a fair, sustainable manner will be an essential part of the transition to open access (although not the only one).
Developing „fair“ Open Access models is not easy. There are many stakeholders involved and some of them earn a lot of money with scientific publications: through expensive subscriptions, through double dipping at additional costs for Open Access and through expensive APC-based Open Access models. Whose interests dominate a „fair“ model? The Fair Open Access Principles presented here pursue a concrete approach that focuses on the interests of authors and readers.
Fortunately, many of the limitations are not necessary: without any problems, free licenses can be implemented that allow re-use (by people and by machines) and long-term archiving, and academic publishing is possible at a much lower cost than the expensive commercial APC models suggested so far. It does not cost several thousand euros to publish a journal article. Nevertheless, there are costs that have to be paid. Fair solutions must be found for costs as well as for usage rights.
Fair Open Access Principles
The Fair Open Access Principles published on the homepage of the Fair Open Access Alliance are as follows:
- The journal has a transparent ownership structure, and is controlled by and responsive to the scholarly community.
- Authors of articles in the journal retain copyright.
- All articles are published open access and an explicit open access licence is used.
- Submission and publication is not conditional in any way on the payment of a fee from the author or its employing institution, or on membership of an institution or society.
- Any fees paid on behalf of the journal to publishers are low, transparent, and in proportion to the work carried out.
These issues address key aspects of Open Access models for journals. Journals should be under the control of their communities, and in particular the rights to their names should not belong to a publisher (this is the reason why journals that are to be continued as Open Access journals often must look for a new name). Authors should retain the copyright to their articles (in line with the positions for creating an Open Access publication market appropriate to science, for example). Of course, all articles should be published Open Access and under a free license (I would have liked a more precise definition or a recommendation for CC BY as part of the principles).
The last two criteria are essential: the publication does not depend on payment by authors or their institutions, neither per article nor in the form of membership. All deterrent aspects of APCs are avoided and the wrong incentives to increase revenues through a higher number of published articles are avoided. And finally, the payments made to publishing service providers are low, transparent and commensurate with the value of the consideration. This is more difficult to assess than the other aspects, but thanks to transparency it is at least a subject of discussion. This transparency should be urgently included in all subscription and Open Access contracts with publishers: What kind of service does the publisher receive money for? (See the position paper cited above).
For further background information I recommend the FOAA homepage, an article by Alex Holcombe and Mark C. Wilson: Fair Open Access: returning control of scholarly journals to their communities and Martin Paul Eve/Saskia de Vries/Johan Rooryck: The Transition to Open Access: The State of the Market, Offsetting Deals, and a Demonstrated Model for Fair Open Access with the Open Library of Humanities.
Fair Open Access Alliance
The Fair Open Access Alliance is a foundation under Dutch law that serves as an umbrella for a number of similar initiatives to convert journals to Open Access along the lines outlined above. These include LingOA (linguistics), MathOA (mathematics), PsyOA (psychology). The example of Glossa, a linguistic journal whose editors have left Elsevier and rebuilt their journal, has been a much-noticed prelude to LingOA. The journal is now published with the support of Ubiquity Press.
FOAA’s goals include extending the Open Library of Humanities to other disciplines and disseminating the Fair Open Access Principles in all areas of academia. On the financial side, the idea of collective financing (by library consortia) is being propagated, as already practiced by the Open Library of Humanities.
Presumably, there will continue to be a large number of journals in the future which operate without library payments and which operate almost without a budget, only on the basis of voluntary work. Many of the DOAJ’s journals are such journals. However, initiatives such as those under the umbrella of FOAA can point out ways to implement business models (if necessary) that do not involve switching to a commercial publisher and an APC model.
A first mathematical journal changes
The editors of the Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics wanted to convert their journal to a fair Open Access model. As this could not be done at Springer Nature, the entire Editorial Board have terminated their activities at the end of 2017 and founded a new journal: Algebraic Combinatorics. The journal is now published with the support of the Centre Mersenne and uses Open Journal Systems as a submission platform. Shortly after the announcement of the conversion, the new journal has almost 50 submissions, some of which have been withdrawn by their authors from the Springer journal and submitted here anew. The conversion is based on the Fair Open Access Principles and is supported by MathOA.
Other mathematical journals will switch to fair Open Access models under the umbrella of MathOA. The results of a survey in the mathematical community can also be used: Cameron Neylon/David M. Roberts/Mark C. Wilson: Results of a Worldwide Survey of Mathematicians on Journal Reform.
TIB supports FOAA
The Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB) – German National Library of Science and Technology has agreed to support the Fair Open Access Alliance. For 2017, it was agreed to support the further conversion of mathematical journals. For the following years, the TIB is striving for continuous cooperation and would like to work together with the communities in its subject areas to discuss issues related to the Open Access conversion of journals.
APC models are expensive, but still dominate the discussion. This is certainly due in large part to the fact that they are easy to implement. They are also sufficient, for example, to define an alternative definition of „fair“: the polluter pays principle. Those who publish a lot should pay a lot. However, these models are very difficult to scale, and all kinds of costs charged to authors can hinder science and publishing (and have certainly contributed to prejudices against Open Access). They also provide false incentives for profit-oriented publishers. Collaboratively lump-sum financed Open Access models are suitable for overcoming the APC disadvantages with lower overall costs.
The conversion of established scholarly journals is a tried and tested way of achieving a comprehensive conversion to Open Access. However, this depends largely on the specific conditions: Are the Open Access models financially sustainable, do they scale in the event of a universal conversion, do the manage without additional effort for authors, do they prevent a lock-in with a single service provider, publisher or single software – and finally: What are the added values that a journal offers when publication platforms and pre-print servers can now place the individual work in the foreground much more strongly and publish faster and at a lower price?
These questions have to be answered, and the answer is probably not always the same. The Fair Open Access Principles provide a good guideline for assessing Open Access models for magazines and preparing decisions.