In his recent A faster path to an open future, Steven inchcoombe, Chief Publishing Officer at Spring Nature, describes the publisher’s ideas for “the fastest and most effective route to immediate open access (OA). He wants commercial publishers to become drivers of the transition to OA. Comically, we are invited to give feedback on this statement on a LinkedIn post, for which we have to sign up, not only to comment, but to even see the comments. I’ll put my reply here instead.

Let’s get down to brass tacks:

  • Inchcoombe is not talking about OA. He’s talking about a transition to a world in which commercial journals are supported by author processing charges (APCs) rather than by subscription fees. This is not open access. It merely moves the barrier to access from one end of the publishing process to the other. Instead of reducing the number of diversity of who can read scholarship, it reduces the number and diversity of those who can publish it. Commercial publishers have been trying for years now to define APC as OA, and OA as APC. We can’t let them own that conversation. Open is open, full stop.
  • Inchcoombe argues that the transition to OA is too slow, not because there is insufficient supply of OA options by commercial publishers, but rather because there is insufficient demand from scholars. Let’s get this straight: Open Access is not a product. It is a philosophy and a practice. There is no supply or demand involved, which means, inconveniently for commercial publishers, that there is no price-point. Either there is commitment to OA from scholars and from public funders, or there isn’t. Either we, both as scholars and tax-paying members of the public, believe in making publically funded scholarship publically available, or we don’t. I hope we do, and I hope we do what it takes to make it happen, individually and collectively.
  • Inchcooombe suggests that the way to increase demand for OA is to sell it to scholars by highlighting its advantages for their individual career development, by showing that OA (by which, remember, he means APC) articles are more highly cited and have greater impact. Commercial publishers such as Springer Nature and Elsevier constantly and cynically try to capitalize on the worst aspects of academia’s prestige economy to protect their market and grow their profits. I believe that most of my colleagues are capable of understanding that making their publically funded scholarship available to all, benefits all. I sincerely hope we don’t need citation counts and other careerist metrics to help us understand that.

It is not up to commercial publishers to convince us to transition to OA, by which, and I keep hammering on this, they mean APC. It is up to us as scholars to commit to OA. We should do this because it is the right thing to do for those who fund us (the public), because our work has a significant impact on society, and because it increases participation in the scholarly process and broadens the circle of inclusion both in the production and the consumption of scholarship.

We should do this not by transforming public funds into private profits through APCs for careerist purposes, but by our every day decisions about how we disseminate our scholarship and how we structure our disciplines.

This last plea is aimed more specifically at my senior colleagues who make admissions, hiring, and funding decisions. When you review an application for funding, employment, admission, or promotion, don’t even look at where something is published. Look at what is in it. Is a Cerutti Mastodon in Nature worth more than twenty excellent and innovative analyses posted on a blog?

When disseminating your scholarship, don’t look at the impact factor or the prestige of a journal. Look at whether the venue is accessible to all, whatever it may be. Participate in the dissemination of your own work. Make it known. Put solid, impactful work in places where it will be accessible, no matter what the venue. Make it so that the decoupling of impact and venue cannot be ignored. Lead by example, and make your OA values known by your actions.

Participate in post-publication review of work published in any and every venue. Participate in the real-time work of selecting and refining the ideas and results that will generate the future of scholarship in your discipline.

And if commercial publishers can find a way to participate in our activities without reducing and controlling access to scholarship, whether for authors or readers, if they can provide services that clearly add to the value of the scholarly enterprise, and if they can do it without diverting unreasonable amounts of public funding into private hands, let them. But we’ll be in the driver’s seat, thank you very much.

One thought on “The transition to Open Access is not up to publishers, it is up to scholars, a reply to Inchcoombe

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