The Green Model: a Business Model for Open Access Content

On: March 9, 2013
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About Crispijn Sleeboom


   

In Alaska, it is illegal to give beer to a moose, even if it is a light beer. In Alabama, it is illegal to drive while blindfolded. What I find interesting about these laws is not necessarily that they are odd in a self-evident way, but, rather, that they exist. Obviously, something has to have happened, otherwise these laws would not have been passed: in the past, somebody has to have done something quite monumentally stupid, forcing such a peculiar law into being. Because we do not know the whole story and only see the result – this funny little law – it strikes us as quaint, odd, obsolete.

In texts defending the Open Access-model for academic publishing, there is this same strange, invisible force guiding the text, when supposed critiques against the idea of Open Access are being deflected. Again, we get only a part of the story: it is like only hearing one side of a telephone conversation. This mechanic is, for example, visible in Manon Ress’ spirited ‘Open-Access Publishing: From Principles to Practice’, where Ress outlines some guidelines to Open-Access publishing and goes into detail how things like the author’s copyright would not be threatened by on-line publications (483 – 486) and how open-access is not a threat to peer review, one of the pillars of academic research (486 – 487). To a younger, more digital-savvy public, these rebuttals already feel a little archaic: of course an author’s copyright does not cease to exist once an article goes viral (it’s just harder to make money off your copyright) and of course a digital, open-access journal is able to maintain high standards of peer review. So what’s the big deal? Her next point is.

You see, the Open Access business model does not make any money off subscriptions, which means that the money needs to come from another source. If Open Access journals start charging money for their services, the whole ideal of ‘free information’ is sacrificed, meaning that poorer countries and institutions still will not be able to access the latest research.

 

Traditionally, Open Access works with the ‘Author Pays’-model, where the author pays to be published. In sciences like Medicine, this model is not much of a hurdle: scientists are independently financed and can therefore account their publication costs into their overall funding. (Note that this not an unchallenged model: in ‘Open but Not Free – Publishing in the 21st Century’, Martin Frank states that no funds should be diverted from research in order to fund open-access publishing.) For the ‘smaller’, less flashier sciences (like, say, the humanities) this model is a problem, however: a study mapping out a nearly extinct Aboriginal language or an experiment figuring out the emotional responses of Galapagos tortoises simply does not have enough budget to let the author pay, while this sort of research might very valuable in the grander scheme of things. So, what are these schools of science to do? Ress suggests getting government funding or support from charitable foundations – yeah, good luck with that – or asking universities for a small stipend, which sort of defeats the purpose of the Open Access-model since it would still be the public that pays (487 – 489). Essentially, the question of appropriate funding remains unanswered.

Perhaps the so-called ‘green model’ can offer a solution for Open Access funding in the humanities, a model which is outlined in ‘Open Access and the Author-Pays Problem’ by Peterson et al. Sure, the most ideal solution is the gold model, a business model where the reader does not have to pay anything. There are several Open Access journals that operate like this, only 26% of which use the Author Pays-model. Others get by on private funding. In comparison, the green model is less ideal and more practical. Here, articles get published in journals supported by reader subscriptions, and, after a limited amount of time, they become Open Access. The green model is used by scientific journals, where this is a relatively safe option because research in fields like Medicine and Physics is quickly outdated – even if the embargo is only a year – meaning that to stay entirely up to date, one still has to subscribe to journals.

According to Emma Bennett in ‘The Future of Learned Associations in the Humanities’, the humanities are resistant to this model, arguing that their research may stay relevant for many years, meaning that this embargo-method would not be economically viable. However, by dismissing the green business model, the only other option for the humanities to get involved in the Open Access movement seems to be to not get involved at all. The realities of money might be tough to overcome, but can we consider that a valid excuse? Rather than griping about the costs and clinging to the rapidly archaic Closed Access model, would it not be better for the humanities to ride the wave and get involved, even if it is only by adopting the green model? To work at an ideal future, rather than fearing it? To use the green model to eventually arrive at a better business plan for Open Access publishing in the humanities? Perhaps then, in a few decennia, we can look at the green business model the same way we look at that old law forbidding moose to imbibe, and we can think: how weird this is, this old model, how strange that Open Access was so limited back then – how quaint, odd, obsolete.

 

Literature:

Emma Bennett, ‘The future of Learned Associations in the Humanities’, in Learned Publishing, vol. 26, no. 1, 2013, pp. 32-41.

A.T. Peterson, A. Emmett & M.L. Greenberg, ‘Open Access and the Author-Pays Problem: Assuring Access for Readers and Authors in a Global Community of Scholars’, in Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communications, vol. 1, no. 3, 2013, pp. 1-8.

Manon A. Ress, ‘Open Access Publishing: From Principles to Practice’, in Gaëlle Krikorian and Amy Kapczynski (eds) Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property, New York: Zone Books, 2010, pp. 475-498.

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