Predictions for 2006
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #93
January 2, 2006
by Peter Suber
In looking over my predictions for 2004 and 2005, I see many more hits than misses.  But in almost every case where my predictions were unfulfilled or only partially fulfilled, I don't believe that I misjudged what was coming so much as the timing of when it would come.  I may still be proved wrong, of course, but I believe those predictions picked out real trends that are still emerging.  Call this stubbornness if you like, but I call it another prediction.  One of my present predictions is that my past predictions will continue to be fulfilled.

Predictions for 2005

Predictions for 2004

Here are some new ones:

* The rapid recent growth in knowledge of OA, deposits in OA archives, submissions to OA journals, launch of new OA archives, and the launch and conversion of new OA journals, will all continue.  In 2006 our trajectory will still be up, not down or even levelling off.  There's a lot of ignorance still to conquer and many individuals and institutions hard at work to conquer it.  If 5-10% of scholars publish 80% of the papers (a guess on which I'd like to find good data), then the important crossover target for OA is to get the attention of the most productive 5-10% of scholars.  We're not there yet, although we're way beyond it for scholars in general and by the end of 2006 we'll be even closer.  Note that this is not progress toward a simple finish line, but progress toward a new equilibrium with its own dynamic possibilities for further change.  When we reach the crossover point, OA will be the default and progress will accelerate even further.

* 2006 will be a major year for funding agency OA policies and in at least three ways.  First, nascent policies will take effect.  The RCUK policy, drafted in 2005, will be finalized and take effect in 2006.  If the Ukrainian government ministries comply with last month's directive from Parliament to mandate OA to publicly funded research, their policies should appear in 2006.  Second, weak policies will be strengthened.  The NIH's own Public Access Working Group recommended strengthening the NIH policy and the CURES Act now before the Senate is one way to do that.  A second bill to be introduced shortly will also have this effect.  Recent signs suggest that the final form of the RCUK policy will be weaker than the draft released last June, and it isn't hard to predict strenuous efforts to strengthen it.  Third, other governments will start to adopt their own OA policies for publicly-funded research, at least in countries with strong local support for OA.  I expect to see movement in Australia, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, India, Italy, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa, and Sweden --not to mention the US, UK, and Ukraine.  Many public funders around the world have been waiting to see how the pioneers fared and in 2006 this will be much clearer.  (In an upcoming issue, I plan to summarize what I think are the main lessons from the pioneering policies.) 

In fact, OA to taxpayer-funded research will have such momentum and buzz that OA advocates will have to remind people that there are also compelling arguments for OA to non-taxpayer-funded research.  The Wellcome Trust and university policies show that OA policies don't depend on public funding, but we'll find that more and more people will need this reminder.

* Many of the publishers who agreed to permit postprint archiving had two beliefs, one of which was false at the time (that repositories are ghettoes where content is hard to find), and one of which is becoming false (that authors will not archive their postprints in large numbers).  The first belief underestimated OAI interoperability and crawling by Google and Yahoo, and the second underestimated the incentives and mandates from funders and universities.  Because these beliefs are giving way, some publishers will look for ways to revoke their consent to postprint archiving.  If they can't bring themselves to ban postprint archiving, or to retreat from blanket permission to case-by-case permission, then they may put embargoes on it, as Nature has done.  Unfortunately, many publishers will feel pressure to move in this direction because of a third belief that is either false or so far contradicted by the evidence (that OA archiving will undermine subscriptions).  If publishers do not scale back their permission for postprint archiving, it will be because of two countervailing pressures:  fear of alienating authors and fear of handing a competitive advantage to journals that continue to offer blanket permission.  I hope but do not predict that a third factor will carry weight:  the growing evidence that OA archiving in physics is harmless to journals or even helpful to them (see OA in 2005, above).  These competing pressures will net out differently at different journals and responses will be far from uniform.

* Different publishers will continue to take just about every conceivable position in the landscape, from strong support for OA to strong aversion.  (This is worth noting if only to help us get past the view that publishers are monolithic or that there are just two "sides" in this evolving array of options.)  Some will experiment with scaling up OA, trying out author-choice hybrid models, sponsorships, and even full conversions of individual titles.  Some will experiment with scaling down OA, trying out embargoes on self-archiving or resistance to funder OA mandates.  Some will stick with subscriptions and continue to raise prices rise faster than inflation and faster than library budgets.  Even if they believe their price increases are necessary to meet rising costs, some will and some won't publicly acknowledge the harm this causes to their customers and the long-term survival of their business model.  Some will look for ways to reduce prices and some will put short-term profits (or surpluses) ahead of long-term survival, and continue accelerating into a brick wall.  As subscribers drop away, some journals will acknowledge the role played by exorbitant prices and oppressive licenses, and some will continue to scapegoat library budgets, exchange rates, and OA archiving.  Some will continue to ask for government hand-outs in the form of increased library budgets for public universities, even while they call on governments to "let the market work" and end public access to publicly-funded research.

* It will start to sink in that fewer than half of OA journals charge author-side fees and that many more subscription-based journals do so than OA journals (first documented in the October report from the Kaufman-Wills group).  What will this mean in practice?  People will stop talking about "the OA business model" for journals as if there were just one.  People will talk less about how OA journals might exclude indigent authors and compromise on peer review and talk more about how toll-access journals do so.  We'll start to document the range of models actually in use for OA journals and learn as much about them as we now know about the model that charges author-side processing fees.  We'll get more creative in finding models that suit the range of niches, which differ significantly by discipline and by nation.  We'll see OA journals use multiple sources of revenue or subsidies, allowing even those that charge author-side fees to lower their fees. 

* In the November SOAN, I predicted that we'll "see the curve for OA public-domain books, starting about now, rise more quickly than the curve for OA journal articles.  The public-domain book curve could cross the journal curve in less than a year, keep climbing, and reach roughly 100% ages before the journal curve reaches 100%."  I reaffirm this prediction.  This upsets the expectation that journal articles are the low-hanging fruit of OA and that books hang higher on the tree.  It forces us to distinguish books on which authors earn revenue (copyrighted books with sufficient sales) from all other books (low-sales research monographs and all public-domain books).  Above all, it gets us thinking about the staggering possibilities of a world in which all or even most public-domain books are OA.  The consequences for research and education will start to be felt quickly, more in the humanities than the sciences.  Policy-makers and other important non-academic stakeholders will learn much more than they ever knew or would have known about OA and its benefits, which will boost the campaign for OA to journal literature.

* The book-scanning projects will highlight OA business models that depend on advertising, institutional subsidies, and philanthropy.  Although variations on all three themes already exists in the world of OA journals (as well as the world of TA journals), there will be renewed interest in how they work, how they can be improved, and how they can be extended to other niches and fields where they are currently scarce.

* Open file formats (primarily the Open Document Format or ODF) will enter the conversation about OA.  I doubt that anyone will insist that OA be redefined to require open file formats, but we'll hear arguments that OA with open file formats is "better OA" or more conducive than OA with proprietary file formats to author freedom, reader freedom, interoperability, long-term preservation, and cost savings. 

(My position in a nutshell:  open formats are superior for scholarship and OA for all the reasons listed and I hope we move toward them.  But the definition of OA should be agnostic about file formats just as it's agnostic about methods of peer review and journal business models.  OA is a kind of access, not a kind of file format, and OA to a PDF or DOC file is still OA.)

* We'll see far more serious scholarly use of blogs, wikis, RSS, P2P, and folksonomies --all of them OA.  This is just a case of a more general phenomenon that we've seen with cell phones, wifi, and the internet itself.  Truly useful technologies migrate from the margins to the center as they outgrow the stigma of being trendy.

* From the start, the web has been vastly more convenient than print.  But for serious scholarship, the web has also been much less adequate in volume and average quality.  Over time, however, the volume of serious scholarship online has steadily grown and its average quality has increased in proportion (diluting the drek).  The web's convenience is attracting more and better content to the web.  We often forget that it could have been the other way around:  the superiority of brick and mortar libraries could have kept serious researchers and serious research away from the web.  It will be very hard to say when crossover occurs, that is, when the volume and quality of serious research on the web (free or priced) matches that of the best print libraries.  But it's clear that some disciplines will get there before others.  If there's a gray zone when it's arguable that we're there, then most disciplines are already in the gray zone.  But during 2006, this judgment will be less and less controversial and more and more conventional.  That will be the beginning of a new awakening.  The web is not an upstart newcomer racing to catch up.  The web has arrived.  The web and libraries will each be superior to the other in some valuable respects, and only people who deny half of this two-sided truth will be behind the times --and needlessly hampering their research.

* The new micropayment experiments at Random House and Amazon will trigger more talk about affordable rather than free ejournals.  The talk will trigger familiar responses:  yes, affordable is better than expensive, but free is better than affordable.  Low prices can make individual journals affordable but they cannot make the full range of journals affordable because they do not scale with the explosive growth in published knowledge.  Low prices, just like high prices, require DRM and password protection to exclude unpaying visitors, and thereby exclude search engines and other software that mediates serious research.  Finally, micropayments for microcontent is a scam if it induces people to pay for fragments that they could use for free under fair use.  But despite this, voices from different camps will talk about micropayments as an alternative to both OA and high-priced journals.

* More journals and publishers will offer free services, like current awareness, email alerts, or RSS feeds returning results of user-customized keyword searches.  This will be useful, of course, but the reverse of what's needed.  These journals will give users a free service to draw attention to priced articles rather than a priced service to help cover the costs of OA articles.  But which would users actually have, free services and priced articles or free articles and priced services?  Fewer journals than in the first set, but more journals than in the past, will try the experiments we really need to see:  giving away the peer-reviewed articles (cheerful even in the face of high-volume OA archiving) and charging for new kinds of added value.

* If there is another catastrophic terrorist attack, then another objection to OA will emerge from the dark corners where it has lurked since September 11, 2001:  that the free circulation of knowledge, like other formerly basic freedoms, is a luxury that we can no longer afford.  Friends of OA will point out studies showing that OA helps security-related research (like every other kind of research), helps mitigate the harmful consequences of disasters, and doesn't reveal more than determined attackers can learn by other means.  But this will have no effect.  One reason is that the new objection will not be limited to OA circulation but will include toll-access circulation and print library access.  Friends of knowledge (OA and TA proponents in coalition) will argue that the attempt to suppress knowledge erects the apparatus of censorship and hurts ordinary citizens without effectively blocking knowledge to aggressive inquirers, whether they are benign researchers or malign attackers.  But this argument will be equally ineffectual.  Panic will have its day, again, and it will be years before judicious policies take its place.  The free circulation of knowledge will take a hit, not as collateral damage or from friendly fire.  It will be deliberately targeted by officials who say they are defending our freedom.

* Postscript.  Here are some related predictions for 2006 by others.

Heather Morrison, The Dramatic Growth of Open Access: Dec. 31, 2005 Update & 2006 Predictions, Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics, December 31, 2005.

Carmen Holotescu, Predictii 2006: eLearning, tehnologii Web, IT, eLearningBlog, December 30, 2005.

John Blossom, Investing in Users: 2006 Forecast Preview, Shore Communications Commentary, December 26, 2005.

Jeremy Frumkin, Digital Library predications for 2006, December 27, 2005.


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