Predictions for 2005
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #81
January 2, 2005
by Peter Suber
Last year, I made 14 predictions for 2004.  How did I do?  I'd say that each came true at least in part --but you be the judge, since I won't take time to review them here. 

Predictions for 2004

Here are my predictions for 2005: 

* The NIH public-access policy will inspire similar policies in other funding agencies --in the US federal government, in US state governments, in other national governments, and in private funding agencies around the world.  There won't be a domino effect, because different countries and disciplines really do face different circumstances.  But the NIH policy will help change the default, or the burden of proof, and it will do a lot to spread the OA meme to researchers and policy-makers who haven't been paying much attention to date.  As the policy spreads, we'll see some funding agencies go further than the NIH in promoting the public interest, or make fewer concessions to publishers, for example (1) requiring rather than merely requesting deposit in an OA repository, (2) allowing deposit in any repository that meets certain conditions, rather than requiring deposit in a central repository, (3) shortening the delay between journal publication and mandated OA, (4) lifting usage restrictions to permit more than "fair use" or "fair dealing", and (5) extending the policy beyond literature to data.

* Even before the NIH policy has produced much new free online literature, we'll see at least one journal claim that the policy is causing it to lose subscribers.  The claim will trigger a difficult disagreement about how much of the loss is due to the NIH policy and how much is due to the antecedent rate of attrition, rising prices, and other causes of cancellation.  It will also trigger a second, deeper disagreement about how far the loss, even if attributable to the NIH policy, justifies revising the policy. 

* As more OA journals are launched, we'll start to see OA journals in the same research niche compete for submissions.  When that happens, some will lower their processing fees, in order to undercut the competition and attract submissions.  Others, especially those with higher prestige or impact, will raise their processing fees because they will find that they can do so without deterring submissions.  Taking a few steps back, what this really means is that processing fees will not be closely tied to publishing costs but will float according to usage, prestige, impact, and what the market will bear.  OA proponents will disagree about whether this is regrettable, because it raises fees above necessity, or desirable, because it creates a significant form of competition for submissions to replace a dysfunctional competition for subscriptions.

* Subscription-based journals will continue to experiment with OA, in familiar and unfamiliar ways.  We'll see many more full and partial conversions to OA, many more hybrids and variants of OA, and much more creativity in coming up with business models that pay the bills without charging for access.  Some journals will try to meet the demand they perceive from authors and readers.  Some will be persuaded of the viability of new models by the data emerging from earlier experiments.  Some will see OA as an alternative to exclusion from the big deal.  Some will be playing catch-up with other journals that offer some form of OA.  Some, of course, will have more than one of these motivations.

* One result of the many new OA and hybrid-OA journals will be that the converting journals will stop objecting that OA business models compromise peer review.  Like existing OA journals, either they will see firsthand that the objection is untrue or they will take steps to insure that it is untrue.  Journals resisting pressure to convert will continue to press the objection in order to show that they are being wronged.  But they will be answered by a growing number of formerly non-OA journals and publishers, not just by traditional defenders of OA.

* OA will continue to expand in well-funded fields.  But new attention and effort will focus on OA in less-well-funded fields, extending the OA campaign from low-hanging fruit to higher-hanging fruit.  Scholars in these fields (not just the humanities and social sciences, but some STM disciplines like field biology) will take inspiration from the fields where OA is established and growing, but will be frustrated that the policy arguments and business models do not always transfer easily.  In these fields, OA archiving will make gains faster than OA journals, but even OA archiving will be impeded by society publishers who have greater weight in many of these fields than they have in the well-funded STM fields.

* OA literature is a spectacular inducement for coders to create useful tools, e.g. for full-text searching, indexing, mining, summarizing, querying, linking, alerting, and other forms of processing and analysis.  Conversely, useful tools optimized for OA literature create powerful incentives for authors and publishers to provide OA to their work.  In the early days of OA, shortages on each side created a vicious circle that stymied progress (the small quantity of OA literature provided little incentive to develop new tools, and the dearth of powerful tools provided little incentive to make work OA).  But we're rapidly approaching a critical mass of OA that will trigger a cascade of useful tools, and a critical mass of useful tools that will trigger a cascade of OA.  The vicious circle is becoming virtuous.

* Similarly, in the early days of OA, there was a vicious circle that aborted many OA journals:  journals need prestige to attract excellent submissions, and need excellent submissions to generate prestige.  But we're rapidly approaching the time when this vicious circle too will be broken.  With every passing month, the general momentum for OA, the growing volume of OA content, and the conversion of already-prestigious journals to OA, is making it easier for OA journals to recruit eminent scholars to their editorial boards and to attract first-rate articles.

* OA to new journal articles will vastly outpace OA to new books.  But OA to sufficiently old books (books in the public domain) will start to surpass OA to sufficiently old journals (journals past the publisher's moving wall).  Despite that, we'll see new progress toward OA to new books (because it triggers a net increase in sales) and OA to past journals (because it will serve the field and spread the brand without depriving publishers of significant revenue). 

* Journals that try to limit postprint archiving to personal home pages or institutional repositories will find that this restriction is arbitrary and unenforceable.  When copies find their way elsewhere, journals will find that to be harmless, or no more harmful than what they expressly permit.  Because the restriction is arbitrary and violations are harmless, some journals will lift it.  Because it is unenforceable, other journals will see no harm in leaving it in place.  The strategy question for journals will shift from whether wider archiving permission will undercut subscriptions to whether arbitrary archiving restrictions will deter submissions.

* Very few journals, if any, will rescind their permission for postprint archiving, even if they decide that the policy harms their subscription base.  One reason is that rescission will hand a competitive advantage to other journals that continue to offer this benefit to authors.  Another is that postprint archiving will not threaten subscriptions until authors start to take advantage of it in large numbers.  But when authors do start to take advantage of it in large numbers, then journals will not risk alienating them.

* Large commercial publishers will continue to diversify through mergers and acquisitions in order to reduce their exposure to the OA challenge, or to survive a loss of profits in their journal divisions.  But only publishers large enough to afford to diversify will diversify.  This will help the commercial giants, not the society publishers.  However, it will not directly boost their fortunes in the journal business; on the contrary, it will function as insurance against the risk that their fortunes in the journal business may decline. 

* OA proponents will have to cope with success.  Or to be more precise, we'll have to cope with partial success.  That means preventing universities from using OA as an excuse to cut library budgets.  It means dealing with the fact that open-access content will co-exist with toll-access content, reducing the efficiencies of some OA models and enticing smart and energetic people on both sides to continue borderline skirmishes.  It means clarifying the large and growing family of kindred forms of enhanced access.  It means extending the OA campaign --beyond OA in prosperous disciplines and countries to OA in less prosperous disciplines and countries, and beyond publicly-funded research to privately-funded and unfunded research.


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This is the SPARC Open Access Newsletter (ISSN 1546-7821), written by Peter Suber and published by SPARC.  The views I express in this newsletter are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of SPARC or other sponsors.

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