Monday, December 18, 2006

Transitioning to open access: beyond fear of change

Some of the opposition to open access appears to stem simply from a very human, and very natural, fear of change.

In a recent very well-written post to Liblicense, Sandy Thatcher, Director of Penn State University Press, expresses the viewpoint that a critical mass of self-archived articles will cause sudden, nonlinear change, "a point at which major disruption to the system could occur, with at least very harmful short-term consequences". Sandy is concerned about the possibility of "a real "tipping point," which would lead some major publishers to abandon the field of STM journal publishing in the belief (however erroneous) that they could not sustain their expected profit margins under the new regime thus legislated".

Sandy goes on to point out that an exodus of a few major publishers from the system, due to perhaps erroneous beliefs about cancellations, would cause major disruption in the scholarly communications system. Sandy worries that journals would not be able to find new homes, because "smaller publishers, especially university presses, simply do not have the capital to launch the kinds of sophisticated systems that these major players can provide..."

What Sandy is overlooking is the fact that if a few large, highly profitable publishers were to suddenly decide to go into other businesses - there would suddenly be large amounts of capital available from library budgets, to support university presses such as Penn State. So if, in such a scenario, there are "plenty of professors, administrators, and librarians appealing to us to expand our journals program", as Sandy predicts - no worries, they will have lots of cash!

Then again, it is always possible that the publishers who are making hefty profits from scholarly publishing will stay in the business after all.

Many thanks to Sandy for openly sharing this viewpoint. This kind of honest discourse will help us all to find the smoothest possible road through the transitional process.

This post is the fifth in the series Transitioning to Open Access.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

1 comment:

  1. Self-archiving and other forms of fully open access will co-exist and thrive with the traditional system for some time I think. There is a lot of inertia there. Tivo still has not killed advertisement driven television.


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