Open access in 2004
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #81
January 2, 2005
by Peter Suber
2004 was the biggest year yet for open access.  We saw important new OA policies from universities, publishers, foundations, and governments.  At the same time, the volume of OA literature grew significantly, as did support for OA among researchers, policy-makers, and the public.  Here's a review of the year.

* If 2003 was the year when research funders decided to pay the processing fees charged by OA journals, then 2004 was the year when funders started to mandate --or consider mandating-- OA archiving for the results of the research they fund.  In July, the US House of Representatives called on the NIH to mandate OA archiving, but in September NIH softened the requirement to a request.  Also in July, the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee recommended that all UK government funding agencies mandate OA archiving, but in November the government refused to adopt the policy.  However, the UK funding agencies themselves (RCUK) are now considering whether to do so on their own.  In the wake of the US and UK recommendations, scholars, newspapers, and government agencies called on other governments to mandate OA archiving for taxpayer-funded research.  Such calls have so far appeared in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, India, Japan, Norway, Scotland, and Switzerland.  In October, a major study published by EPIC and Key Perspectives recommended mandated OA archiving by both public and private funding agencies.  In November, the Wellcome Trust announced its decision to mandate OA archiving for all Wellcome-funded research. 

* Universities have also started to mandate OA archiving for their research output.  Queensland University of Technology adopted a general archiving expectation in late 2003, to take effect on the first day of 2004.  The University of Minho adopted an explicit mandate last month, to take effect on the first day of 2005.  At least one university (so far not wishing to be identified) is considering a policy to mandate OA archiving for all research reports and publications arising from grants administered by the university.

* The high profile of the US and UK recommendations made 2004 the year in which the "taxpayer argument" for OA became the single most effective argument for OA for a growing number of taxpayers and public-interest organizations.  This is a textbook case of coalition-building.  Just as researchers and librarians desire OA for different reasons, but can agree to work together to pursue it, in 2004 we saw groups that benefit from research, but without themselves conducing or curating research, start to use the taxpayer argument to demand OA to publicly-funded research.  Now the patient-advocacy and taxpayer groups are an active, effective, and permanent part of the OA coalition.

* 2004 was the year that a significant number of subscription-based journals started turning green.  Many that had required case-by-case requests to permit postprint archiving changed course and gave blanket permission, in advance, for all their authors.  Elsevier, Springer, and SAGE are among the major publishers to take this turn in 2004.  It was also the year in which many society and non-profit publishers who refuse to refuse to go green or gold endorsed several other kinds of free online access through the DC Principles.  The "new normal" is wider access than before, through author self-archiving, delayed free access from publishers, or hybrid OA models.  This isn't the last stop for the train, but it's already a success.

* In 2004, OA moved steadily from the periphery to the mainstream.  It's still the case that only a minority of journals are OA and only a minority of new articles are OA, whether through journals or archives.  But a significant majority of journals now permits OA postprint archiving.  2004 was the year in which a significant number of OA journals got ISI impact factors (which were very good, thank you).  More and more funding agencies, public and private, encourage some form of OA, even if too many still limit grants to researchers who have published in the same-old set of conventional journals.  More and more universities have launched OA repositories, even if very few have adopted policies to encourage or require faculty to fill them.  Most researchers (in one survey) would accept an OA archiving mandate from their funding agency or employer, even if most senior faculty (in another survey) knew little or nothing about OA.  Our forward strides took us further than ever in 2004, but we are still dogged by the shadow of error and confusion.  Misconceptions about OA journals and OA archiving are still widespread, even among stakeholders who ought to know better.  It's still true --as I've been saying for at least three years-- that the largest obstacles to OA are ignorance and misunderstanding.  But we're no longer the uninvited guest at the party.  OA is now a topic in any serious discussion of the large issues facing research impact, libraries, publishing, or scholarly communication.

* 2004 was the year in which we reached the kind of critical mass of OA content to attract profit-making companies.  Google and Yahoo began crawling OA content, including OAI-compliant repositories, for self-interested reasons --to increase their own usefulness, hence their traffic, hence their ad revenue.  Google went a lot further than this with Google Scholar and Google Print.  ProQuest/Bepress and BioMed Central began selling services to universities wanting to outsource the job of launching and maintaining institutional repositories.  Microtome offered the safety of print archiving for OA content.  These trends should continue as the body of OA literature grows.  There are unlimited opportunities for businesses to enhance the free primary literature and sell the enhancements. 

(There is an interesting pattern here, beyond the obvious one of an emerging market for priced products to enhance the experience of something free, like kayaks and snowshoes, sunglassses and TiVo.  The history of scholarly communication in the last half-century or so shows an alternation between scholarly control and outsourcing.  The pricing crisis followed the first large wave of outsourcing.  Since then scholars have resolved to retake possession of scholarly communication in order to reduce prices and offer open access.  Now we're seeing a new generation of outsourcing options emerge, this time fully compatible with OA.)

* 2004 is the first year in which all three of the major public definitions of OA (Budapest, Bethesda, and Berlin, or the BBB definitions) were behind us.  There were many important new OA declarations in 2004, but nearly all of them cited one or more of the BBB definitions instead of crafting new ones.  This had the effect of solidifying the authority of the BBB definitions and classifying the new statements more as enlistments than new starts or commencements.  We are past the stage of self-definition and well into the stage of exuberant growth.

* 2004 was the year in which non-OA providers looked for ways to support free full-text searching even if they weren't ready to support free full-text reading, copying, or printing.  We saw this in a range of initiatives from CrossRef Search to Google Print.  (Elsevier's Scirus was an early pioneer in this category; Amazon Search-Inside-the-Book was launched in late 2003.)  Conventional or non-OA publishers are experimenting with free online content as a way to increase sales.  They also show that there is money to be made in standing between readers and publishers, say, with sophisticated search tools, and therefore that there are motivated entrepreneurs asking publishers to open their files, and in some cases paying them to do so.  Finally, they show the continuing evolution of business models that generate revenue while giving users some kinds of content free of charge.  As publishers start to accept that some kinds of free online access can increase net sales of priced editions, they will start to investigate which kinds these are.  Evidence permitting, this could pave the way to fully OA books and reduce the opposition to OA archives and journals.

* 2004 was the year in which the U.S. Treasury Department applied trade embargoes to editing.  U.S. journals could publish articles by citizens of Iran or Cuba, but editing the articles (for example, correcting a misspelled word) added value, "traded with the enemy", and violated the embargo.  In December the Department largely reversed itself, but not until it faced lawsuits from publisher groups (AAP/PSP, AAUP), author groups (PEN), and the 2003 Nobel laureate for peace.  Opposing the embargo was a patch of common ground between OA proponents and non-OA publishers.  (I have more details on the December news in the Top Stories section, below.)

* 2004 was a breakthrough year for OA to data.  The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued the Declaration on Access to Research Data From Public Funding.  Groups representing patients and doctors called for OA to clinical drug trial data, and drug companies began to comply.  The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) announced that ICMJE member journals would not publish research articles based on unregistered drug trials.  Five U.S. Senators introduced the Fair Access to Clinical Trials Act to solidify and extend these gains.  A group of biologists called for OA to microarray data as a condition of publishing articles based on those data.  A panel of the National Research Council looked closely at the dangers of genomic data on pathogens, and concluded that the benefits of OA outweighed the risk of misuse by terrorists.  The World Conservation Congress launched the Conservation Commons to provide OA to conservation data.  The U.S. government decided to provide OA to weather and GPS data. 

* If 2003 was the year in which many publishers shifted from belligerence to skepticism, and called for data, then 2004 was the year in which the data started to flow.  There were important studies of OA journals, OA archives, OA impact, author attitudes, and publisher policies --for example, from ALPSP, EPIC and Key Perspectives, ISI, JISC, the Kaufman-Wills Group, the Open Society Institute, the Southampton Group, and the Wellcome Trust.  This is gratifying and will only continue.  OA topics don't have nearly the literature as, say, drug prices or the digital music industry, but we've already reached the point at which only specialists have mastered the literature on the microeconomics of OA.

* However, 2004 was also the year in which some publishers chose instead to jack up the belligerence.  While on one front, civility and empiricism were in the ascendant, on another front publisher nastiness and misrepresentation reached new heights.  Was it desperation as the NIH public-access policy moved closer and closer to adoption?  Was it an attempt to "mobilize the base" of society members who didn't know enough to see through the misrepresentations?  Was it a concession that they could not attack OA itself but only a straw-man version of OA?  If the mantle of "religious ideology" ever fit the OA movement, then it was thrown down long before 2004.  But this year it was picked up by the handful of publishers who withdrew from debate and inquiry in order to fulminate.  (The most venomous and inaccurate pieces tended to be journal editorials and newspaper op-eds without the benefit of peer review.)

* Finally, the volume of OA-related news continued its rapid growth, making it more and more difficult to gather and digest.  More than a year ago I had to stop tracking neighboring topics like copyright reform and academic freedom in order to focus narrowly on OA.  In the middle of this year I had to stop recapitulating all the OA news of the month in the newsletter and cover only the month's top five stories.  I'm already feeling pressure, even in the blog, to cover only the primary OA-related news and omit the secondary.  I have to keep reminding myself that this is a sign of progress.

* Postscript.  For comparison, see my review of OA developments in 2003.

Before your memory of the past year fades, have a look at my timeline.  Let me know if I've omitted anything significant from the section on 2004.


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