ACLAIIR Seminar: Open Access – the future of academic publication?

2014-06-17 13.03.28On Tuesday 17th June I headed over to Cambridge University to attend a seminar organised by the ACLAIIR (Advisory Council on Latin American & Iberian Information Resources).  While only a few hours in length it was an engaging afternoon, which I used mostly to spur me onwards in my current thesis writing and also to bring myself up to date on one or two things in the OA world.  The afternoon was split into 2 halves, with 3 speakers in each section – so it was a pretty packed agenda.  It was also well worth the 4hrs+ of driving (thanks to diversions on route) it took me to get there and back, and I’m very grateful to the ACLAIIR folks for pulling it together.

Some brief notes and reflections follow*.

Panel 1:  Perspectives from the world of publishing

First speaker was Ellen Collins (who I swear I’ve met before but couldn’t 100% place where) from OAPEN UK.  She explained that among the thing OAPEN is doing is seeking to understand the issues and challenges in scholarly book publishing relating to OA, an area where it is believed there is very little real world data  It’s a 5 year project (spanning 2010-2015) with two main strands, and she stressed they are agnostic about OA.  The project is very much focused on AHSS (arts, humanities & social science) scholars, who as noted elsewhere have very different usage patterns and priorities when it comes to research dissemination.

The first is a matched paired pilot where working with publishers they seek to find similar book titles, one of which is sold as normal and the other of which is also made available as OA at the point of launch.  Sales and citations of the works are tracked, to see what is the impact for publishers and the research community’s use of the text.  She stressed however that this was only a small number of monographs (~45 made OA), and that the visibility of these works may not be sufficient for real world usage as of yet.   The other side of the work is a piece of qualitative work with dissemination stakeholders exploring what changes need to come about in the existing monograph world where OA monographs to become more common.

Early findings seem to focus on four areas.  the first seems to indicate that the systems and processes used by publishers and vendors are not set up to deal with OA texts, with ICT sometimes being unable to cope with items with a zero-rated price mark or DRM being set to allow temporary rather than permanent usage of an eBook.  In terms of cultures and priorities, many stakeholders are open to openness but needs to work in ways that fit into their existing world views; for example HEIs like OA monographs…but not if they have to subsidise them.  The third stems from this, and is the issue of money, as many UK publishers are not open to discussing the real costs of producing an academic text -with figures from £11k – £150 being quoted demonstrating a real variance.  Ellen did note the project hadn’t really considered green OA for monographs, and the impacts here could also be significant to the publishing sector.  The final issue was around diversity and choice, again focusing on how to fund OA monographs – library based models, research funded models or even crowdsourced models (e.g. UnGlue.It)

The second speaker was one I was very keen to hear, given my personal research interest in research dissemination actors. Daniel Pearce from Cambridge University Press (CUP) for whom is OA still a very small but a growing aspect of their business which they are excited to see if grows over the coming years.  The idea of increasing of accessibility chimes with CUP’s mission.  CUP works he noted with green, gold and hybrid aspects of OA.  CUP are also trying to publish books under a freemium model (e.g. get an OA copy for free, or purchase an enhanced eBook).  However as a traditional publisher he expressed are concerns about the OA models, and the needs of different stakeholders.  For example given their importance to their various disciplines, the reliance many Learned Societies have on journal sales for their funding streams, is something CUP acknowledges.  Hence at times the publisher has equal levels of excitement and trepidation round OA.

Daniel did note that in total they have published 1072 articles through OA routes in their titles to date, with 50% of these coming in 2013; and so he expected this level to grow.  Currently it represents only 2% of their publications output however.  One cautionary tale around APC funded gold route OA, was in disciplines with a lot of images in their articles.  These often required expensive clearance (either in time or funding) and thus risked putting up APC levels to a much higher degree than in some disciplines.  However in terms of green OA, he was happy that CUP more than satisfied most mandates and in many cases went beyond the base requirements.

While Daniel’s talk was in part a bit of a sales pitch, it did represent a publisher who seemed to be as on board with the concepts and practice of OA as I’ve heard in quite some time; and his acknowledgement that OA was no longer exceptional practice was particularly interesting to hear.

The final talk for this section was the very engaging Rupert Gatti, who as well as being the co-founder and Director of Open Book Publishers is also an economics professor at Cambridge.  OBP solely published AHSS monographs in OA, and are primarily funded through selling print editions (60%) and some grants (25%) and donations forming the rest of their funding stream.

He opened his talk by stressing that OA is the future of publishing is no longer in question, but rather should be phrased as what is the future of OA publishing?  He considered the three things he needs as an academic from dissemination: access to other people’s ideas, a way to distribute his own ideas and a means to gain recognition for his contribution.  He talked for a considerable amount of time about dissemination platforms, and the dominance in the legacy (traditional) model of publishing by publishers.  This dominance means that they were monetising the process at this point, so readers were the ones paying and it made economic sense to increase the amount of content uploaded (published) via the controlled platform.  The publisher monopology control has been challenged by OA and introduced competition in terms of where you can disseminated your research.

While OA had opened up the kinds of platforms available, there is still a risk that commercial entities will seize this opportunity to reassert their control [personally I wondered how much the commercial CRIS companies are playing a part in this, as they offer repository-like functions].  In the same way Facebook offers a free platform for social dissemination, but then can use your content to monetise; so too could publishers.  Libraries, he stressed, as a community needed to be aware of these platforms and think/act to prevent the resurgence of commercial monopolising and control.  In terms of platforms that exist for OA he had 3 models. 1) Pre-publication/pre-peer review sites like arXive and OAIRs; which he said he believed were not in a good state in terms of discoverablility of their contents – and hence there is scope for significant development here.  2) Post-publication/peer review suites like SciELO or DOAJ, where publishers submit to these.  3) Publisher platforms, which is perhaps where the greatest risk of control and monetisation comes in – even PLOS if it monopolised could end up charging whatever it wanted for APCs.

He finished by looking at some of the particular challenges, the fact that there are far fewer (or less well developed) OA monograph platforms.  That publishers’ control of the peer review process was an issue where academics needed to take back more control, but needed to maintain it in terms of ensuring a quality assurance in research discourse.

A Q&A session for the three speakers followed, with the most interesting point being around concerns over copyright and plagiarism as a result of OA.  After stressing the time honoured remark that plagiarism is easier to detect via online OA resources; there was a brief discussion about how these concerns are now ingrained in the HE environment within teaching and learning, and hence academic praxis.  What isn’t are issues around licences and what is acceptable or not, and these are things that should be taught to students so it becomes common knowledge for them.

Panel 2: OA and its impact on research and teaching

First up after the break was University of Lincoln (and future Birkbeck) academic Martin Eve.  I’ve heard Martin speak before, and if like me you’ve read the entire transcript of his oral remarks to the House of Lords inquiry on OA, then you’ll know he’s a very knowledgeable and engaging speaker in this field!  He certainly didn’t disappoint (even if he admitted being unable to remember my real name when we were chatting – Your Llordship is a fine address in future Martin 😉

Martin had been asked to talk about peer review and OA but had decided to discuss what’s wrong with the research dissemination system as it stands, and how do quality issues and economics intersect.  As a PhD student he had witnessed three problems with the system:

1) Inequality for researchers – publishers profits are frighteningly high, even inside a recession indicating a market dysfunction.  Hence while researchers don’t have access to all they need there must be sufficient money in the system to publish, but it’s locked into a demand cycle which needs to transition to a supply side system. Given the 300% increase over inflation since 2006 in journal prices, and when even Harvard says their subscriptions are not sustainable it is clear the system is broken.  However researchers have no price sensitivity so economics are divorced from universities.  Scholars publish based on prestige where its the journal and publishers whose brands that are used as measures; whereas it is the article level metrics that should really matter – not the average of every scholar in a title.

2) Lack of public access – he stressed that the Humanities should think about how and what they write and where they publish.  Given that we have a [mass] HE system today, we have a much more educated general populace who are likely to want to continue to access the literature for life-long learned once they leave academia – which is unlikely via traditional routes given the prices charged for academic texts and articles.  Hence scholars are not reaching the broader audience that could read our work.

3) Inability to do things differently due to restrictive rights – he stressed the gift economy approach is tied up in current academic dissemination practice, which means the vastly expensive CLA licence is required to recover access for teaching purposes.  Hence research dissemination that cleaves to traditional routes, does impact adversely on teaching.  Martin was pleased to report that the Hargreaves recommendation for allowing text-mining of work is now permitted by default, but that this still wasn’t perfect as some techniques remain prohibited – e.g. derivatives are prohibited so line by line critique of a literary text is not allowed without further (c) clearance.

Hence Martin said that OA was very much a solution to these kinds of problems, and that with the rise in national mandates (and internationally like Horizon2020) 2013 represented a tipping point towards this.  Green OA is well developed and successful in the UK, but doesn’t solve some of these problems in that it leaves the model as it stands; working within the current model more than seeking to challenge it.  He also explained how a green pre-print for many humanities scholars isn’t any good as some publishers require page numbers to be quoted directly from referenced texts.  Gold OA he said met many needs, but APC costs means it is not affordable for all scholars who may face a restriction in their ability to publish.  He then looked at the drivers for OA, which led him to conclude that whatever form is eventually adopted mus have a lean operating model and be able to rapidly gain prestige in contrast to established forms of dissemination.

To this end he discussed the Open Library of Humanities (OLH), a mega or multi-journal which uses a collective funding model, and which will have a system of overlay journals underneath allowing individual titles to be developed from the collections.  By sourcing 120 initial articles from across the academic spectrum they hope to ensure sufficient prestige from the start.  They have also brought in academics, librarians, publishers and Learned Societies from the start to help shape the OLH into a form that will serve their communities effectively.  He stressed the funding model means that currently 350 organisations paying only $1,000 was sufficient to fund the infrastructure, as well as giving the funders control over the governance; something that publishers certainly don’t offer in return for subscriptions.

Next up was another familiar speaker, and in this case friend of mine, City University academic Ernesto Priego.  Ernesto is another passionate and wonderful speaker to listen to, and brought some very interesting and personal insights into his talk.  He focused on his journey from his student days in Mexico, where the practice of copying entire books may breach international copyright but is essential in a nation where the cost prohibits sufficient copies from being made available.  This illicit practice made him long for a licit manner in which this kind of material could be made available to scholars;.  He also discussed publishing his first article…and being unable to share it with his mother, since it was locked behind a paywall barrier.  Hence this spurred his involvement in OA, saying that academics should remain in control of what they produce [e.g. not be such an exploited knowledge/learning regime labour force, said the proto-Marxist scholar in my head].

He also talked about the online OA journal The Comics Grid which he founded, in part as a reaction to the dis-empowering experience he had from peer review.  This was set up now via Ubiquity Press, which was as a researcher-led publisher very much gelled with his own vision of how research dissemination should actually function.

Finally UCL academic, and archivist, Jenny Bunn spoke about OA from the perspective of setting up MOOCs.  As an archivist she explained her role was all about allowing access, and that she was unhappy with narrow definitions of OA as focusing solely on journal literature and raised the issue about the usage and concept of the term openness itself.  She took us through the experience of producing a MOOC, including issues around rights management – showing us material from the UCL training manual for MOOC producers.  The level of confidence in obtaining rights was still a new area for many academics, who would often fall into what UCL referred to as the zone of copyright angst; and thus most would link to extant resources rather than seeking permission from the original rights holder.  This was a very different experience to producing lectures, which being closed allowed academics to skit (and at times ignore) copyright issues in preparation of their material – taking the low risk that no-one would ever know they used them.  With MOOCs this risk is elevated as through being open, it was far more likely that your reuse would be discovered.

As before the session concluded with a series of A&A discussions.

One interesting question was raised to Ernesto about aspects of copyright piracy in Mexico, and how this related to OA in Latin America/the developing world.  He explained that while there isn’t a Mexican mandate for OA, there exists an official invitation from legislators and funders for academics to deposit their work.  He also highlighted issues for the National Library of Mexico, who are digitising and sharing PDFs of books that previously were locked away under (c) terms.  PDF might not be ideal for re-use or text mining he said, but at least people were now more able to access these texts.

Jenny also made a statement that made me smile in reply to a question about discoverability and openness – in that she said how social media are increasingly the routes through which academics access the most important (and up to date) research.  Martin also highlighted the #ICanHazPDF twitter hashtag which researchers are using on twitter to demand help to obtain PDFs of documents that they otherwise can’t find or access.  I thought this was a great idea, and certainly one I’d not run into before!

And with that, I made my exit into the fine summer sun and long walk back to my car (some 2miles away).  A very useful day, with plenty to think about – and plenty of ideas for a line or two in my currently under development chapter.

*And I suspect some of the speakers may well add or clarify what I’ve recreated here from my rapidly typed notes!

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