Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Pipe-Dream Believers: Opinion

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Pipe-Dream Believers: Opinion

Article excerpt

Open-access advocates are utopian thinkers whose ideas work only if you ignore the costs of journal publishing, argues Richard Hoyle.

A recent issue of Times Higher Education featured a journal editor's view of open access. The author, Gabriel Egan of De Montfort University, is all for it ("Green-eyed, no monster", Opinion, 6 June). Indeed, he looks forward to one of the journals he edits, Theatre Notebook, becoming "an online-only, open-access offering". Egan's future is entirely digital. For this journal editor, however, this is an entirely implausible prospect.

At the moment, journals are confronted with the prospect of one of two options if they publish work that comes from the UK university community. They can accept article processing charges in return for which papers will be made available for free online from the moment of publication. Or where the charges are not forthcoming, they will be compelled to publish under the "green" open-access route, in which case papers will be made available for free online after an embargo period elapses.

Most papers will come to us under the green route and this is what journals should fear, especially if a short embargo period is forced on us: why subscribe if it is all free? However, as most British journals publish work from outside the UK university community, a proportion - perhaps a high proportion - will not be covered by the rules. The journals will be entitled to make these papers available on their own terms.

So the only way for readers to see the whole contents of a journal at the point of publication will be to take out subscriptions, the very thing that open access is intended to make unnecessary. This is why university libraries seem to expect their spending on periodicals to remain the same in the future.

Journal subscriptions will be with us for a long time: this is why open access worries me less than it does other editors. But let's leave this point and pursue Egan's argument. He wants everything to be green whether it is a government requirement or not.

"Some will say that by promoting the green route we will ultimately put ourselves out of business by undermining readers' incentive to subscribe," he adds. I am one of them.

Egan continues: "But what do we need an income for when the editors and peer reviewers of the journal receive no payment for their labours and when online dissemination costs nothing? …

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