Predictions for 2008
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #116
December 2, 2007
by Peter Suber

This year I decided not to take on a large number of small topics.  I did that in an article in the May 2007 issue ("Trends favoring open access"), which I revised and enlarged later in the year for the Fall 2007 issue of CT Watch.

To avoid repeating the earlier piece, I'll hold myself to just ten topics and say a bit more about them than I would have said otherwise.  My review of OA in 2007 will appear in the January issue.

(1) First, I'll be quick with the easy predictions:  In 2008, there will be more new OA journals, more journal conversions from TA to OA, more OA repositories, more deposits in OA repositories, more OA to data, more OA to books, more OA to ETDs, more OA to courseware, and more OA policies --including OA mandates-- at funding agencies and universities.  These are not just easy; they're central.  We'll see steady progress on all these important fronts. 

In particular, I predict new OA policies from public funding agencies in Brazil, the European Union, France, India, Ireland, Pakistan, South Africa, the United States, and at least one country in the Gulf-Maghreb region.  If these policies are mandates, they will nearly double the number of nations with national-level OA mandates, and will far more than double the number of research articles covered by OA mandates.

Despite this progress and its centrality, however, the next two sections predict specific kinds of non-progress.  I could have predicted them in any previous year, but they would have been trivial then.  We've made so much progress that the exceptions are becoming more significant.

(2) The rate of spontaneous author self-archiving --without intervention by funder or university policies-- will only increase slowly in 2008.  In one sense, this doesn't matter much if funder and university policies increase, which I'm also predicting.  But the more we can supplement mandated green OA with spontaneous green OA, the faster and more securely we can reach our goal.

Lots of good people are working to increase the spontaneous deposit rate through some combination of author education, author incentives, human assistance, and automation.  I support all these methods and don't have any others to suggest.  I'm not a pessimist; these methods work, even if the progress is currently slow.  Moreover, progress won't be slow forever.  I predict that the rate of spontaneous self-archiving will start to rise significantly when the volume of OA literature on deposit in repositories reaches a critical mass.  The mass will be critical when researchers routinely search repositories, or routinely find what they seek in repositories.  Only by using repositories as readers will they appreciate the value of using them as authors.

For now, this critical mass exists for the largest disciplinary repositories, such as arXiv and PubMed Central.  We shouldn't expect it to exist for any single institutional repository, since researchers search for literature by topic or field, not by institution.  But we can expect a critical mass to develop for the network of institutional repositories.  For this purpose, OAI interoperability and crawling by popular search engines like Google and Microsoft are equivalent:  they allow scholars to search across institutional repositories, explore a larger corpus of literature (including repository literature), and disregard institutional boundaries. 

The bottom line is to be patient.  The current build-up, even if slow, is bringing us to the critical mass.  The spontaneous part of the build-up will continue to be slow for 2008, but the policy-driven part of the build-up will accelerate.

If there's a practical lesson here, apart from patience, it's that scholars who find articles in repositories must be led to realize that they are finding them in repositories.  They need to see and credit the role of the repositories, not just the role of Google or OAIster or the search engine that brought them there.

(3) All stakeholders want to know whether OA mandates will cause libraries to cancel journal subscriptions, at least outside physics where we already know that high-volume OA archiving does not cause cancellations.  The good news is that we're already more than a year into a wide-ranging natural experiment.  Five of the seven Research Councils UK now operate under OA mandates, and most of them took effect more than a year ago (October 2006).  Together they go well beyond physics to astronomy, biology, medicine, environmental science, economics, and the social sciences.  There are also multi-disciplinary OA mandates in Australia (December 2006), Austria (October 2006), Belgium (March 2007), Canada (September 2007), France (April 2004), Germany (January 2006), Scotland (January 2007), Switzerland (August 2007), and the UK (Wellcome Trust, October 2005). 

But we won't see decisive results in 2008.  There are two reasons.

First, if there's an effect, it will take more time to show up.  Authors must receive their grants, do their research, write it up, shop it around, and get it published.  Then the funder-permitted embargoes (generally, six to 12 months) must run before the articles become OA.  Then we must wait for enough new OA articles to accumulate to have an effect, if any, on library renewal decisions.  And at any given point on this curve, we must wait for the next cycle of library renewal decisions.

Second, even if subscriptions fall as OA archiving rises, it will be difficult to disentangle the cancellations caused by OA from the cancellations caused by natural attrition and librarian triage.  Some part of the cancellations will be due to unbearable prices and onerous licensing terms, at least when not outweighed by high impact and high local usage.  The disentangling problem will be aggravated by the fact that journals respond to cancellations by raising their prices, triggering new cancellations, and we already know (from the ALPSP study in March 2006) that high prices cause many more cancellations than OA archiving. 

NB:  Despite the lag time and the inevitable disputes about interpreting the evidence, the ongoing natural experiment will be faster and more decisive than any later, smaller, or more artificial study of the effect of OA archiving on journal subscriptions.  Funders and governments considering an OA mandate should understand that calls for another study of this question are just delaying tactics.

In 2008, if we do see increasing cancellations, we won't be able to tell whether they are due to rising OA or rising prices; and if don't see cancellations, we won't be able to tell whether their absence is due to lack of effect or lack of time.  So I can confidently predict that we'll keep arguing about whether OA mandates will trigger cancellations.

Note that I have no prediction on whether mandated OA archiving will cause journal cancellations outside physics.  I can imagine it going either way, or going different ways for different disciplines.  Instead of pretending to have more confidence than I can honestly muster, I prefer to (a) point out that high-volume OA archiving has not caused cancellations in physics; (b) acknowledge that other fields may not turn out to be like physics in this respect; and (c) argue that if other fields do turn out to differ from physics in this respect, then mandated OA archiving is still justified. 

(4) The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) will mandate OA for NIH-funded research.  If the mandate doesn't come as part of the NIH appropriation for fiscal 2008, then it will come another way.

When the dust settles and the OA mandate has been adopted, some publishers will sue to prevent it from taking effect.  They won't have strong legal arguments, but they will dress up what they do have and try to delay implementation as long as they can.  After losing in the legislative and executive branches of government, a hard core of publishers who oppose government OA policies will keep fighting in the judicial branch.  The Terminator may be reduced to a metal skeleton, but it will keep on coming.

The lawsuit will continue to fracture the coalition of publishers which has been lobbying against government OA policies, just as the AAP/PSP fractured it with the launch of PRISM.  Soon after PRISM launched, nine important presses publicly disavowed or distanced themselves from it and others did so privately.  If the AAP or another group files a lawsuit to stop the NIH policy, other publishers will defect.  It's one thing to lobby against the NIH policy in Congress, where publishers can argue that their private interest coincides with the public interest.  But in a courtroom, they will have to argue that the NIH policy actually harms them.  The question won't be about the public interest, which Congress has the prerogative to determine for itself, and hand-waving about peer review and censorship will be out of bonds.  The question will be about injury to the plaintiffs and the power of Congress to act in the public interest.  When it starts to look like it's all about publisher self-interest rather than science, revenue rather than research, then some publishers will get off the train.

After the lawsuit is resolved and we finally have a working OA mandate at the NIH, much will change.  That's a subject for a separate article, but here I'll just point out three consequences:

First, we'll see OA mandates spread to other US federal agencies.  Some agencies will adopt policies on their own, taking the recent votes in Congress (and the vindication in court) as all the authority they need.  Some will wait for an explicit Congressional directive and eventually get it.  Some will wait for the publisher lawsuit to be resolved but some won't. 

Second, we'll see much more publisher adaptation, willing and unwilling, than we've seen to date.  We'll see more initiatives designed for business and long-term survival, and fewer experiments designed primarily to test the waters and collect data. 

Third, publishers and editors who really hate the NIH policy could refuse to publish work by NIH-funded researchers.  But I predict that very few journals will take this step, whatever their previous rhetoric.  If some do, in biomedicine, it will be for short-term PR value and they will eventually relax their opposition and stop harming themselves by closing their doors to good work.

(5) Publishers will always market their OA projects as boons to authors and readers, which is perfectly justified.  But with or without more OA mandates to force the issue, we'll start to see more OA and near-OA projects designed to help publishers themselves.  These projects may not directly increase a publisher's revenue, but they will prepare it to compete with free.  Already, publishers who can afford to do so are launching projects that fit this description.  See for example Elsevier's sponsored-article journals, Topic Pages, OncologySTAT, DoctorPortal, WiserWifi, and 2collab, or the Nature Publishing Group's OA journal with EMBO, hybrid OA journal with the British Pharmacological Society, free online supplements, topic gateways, open backfiles, databases, blogs, podcasts, news aggregator, and preprint exchange.  We'll see other publishers take steps in the same direction, such as Wiley's decision to convert some priced books from its Wrox Press to free online wikis.  We'll see more conferences (like the ALPSP conference in London, October 5, 2007) in which publishers explore business opportunities that build on, rather than resist, OA repositories. 

When the Nobel prizes were announced in October, the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Physics provided retroactive OA to the articles they published in past years by the new prizewinners.  This will become routine.  When previously published work is recognized as important, more and more publishers will provide retroactive OA.  It's a conspicuous way to advance research and help authors and readers.  It also helps publishers burnish their reputations for publishing important work, and it does nothing to undermine subscriptions.  As this idea takes root, publishers will look for reasons to consider previously published work important, for example, in citation milestones, bibliographies commissioned by independent experts, or peer-reviewed review articles.  (I advocated this kind of selective, retroactive OA in 2004, but now I'm predicting it.) 

Some of these OA projects will be motivated by fear of OA and the desire to prepare for it.  But some will be motivated, in effect, by the decline in fear.  We're entering the post-panic period of the OA revolution, and as panic subsides, more and more former opponents will be willing to acknowledge the virtues of OA and try to benefit from them.  It will be easier see nuance, rather than undifferentiated menace, and recognize that some variations on the theme may fit a given publisher's plans and research niche even if other variations do not.

(6) More publishers of OA journals will report profits or surpluses.  Hindawi has proved that OA journals can be profitable by charging publication fees, and Medknow has proved that OA journals can be profitable without publication fees by offering priced, print editions (sometimes supplemented by advertising, membership dues, and reprint sales).  We'll see more successes at both fee-based and no-fee OA journals.

Because both Hindawi and Medknow have both been profitable for more than year, you'd think that the fact of their success would start to sink in, with corresponding effects on attitudes toward the sustainability of OA journals and interest in their business models.  But well-documented truths about OA tend to sink in very, very slowly, because they have to compete with myths, misinformation, and misunderstanding.  With regret, I predict more of the same. 

In 2005 the Kaufman-Wills Group discovered that the majority of OA journals charged no publication fees at all.  In 2006 I predicted that that fact would start to sink in.  I was dead wrong.  The fact still hasn't sunk in, and I've learned my lesson.

Caroline Sutton and I discovered last month that the OA journals published by learned societies follow same pattern as OA journals overall:  most of them charge no publication fees.  But while 52.8% of OA journals overall use no-fee business models (from Kaufman-Wills, 2005), we found that 83% of society OA journals use no-fee business models, a significantly greater fraction.  However, I'm not predicting that this fact will sink in any time soon.  Likewise, we found 425 societies publishing 450 OA journals, a much larger number than the societies known to oppose OA policies.  But neither am I predicting that this fact will sink in any time soon.  We'll continue to hear the unargued claim that society publishers are intrinsically vulnerable to OA and predominantly opposed to it.

(7) We'll see more publisher-university deals, like the Springer deal with Göttingen and the similar deal with the Universiteitsbibliotheken en de Koninklijke Bibliotheek.  These deals create a new body of OA content --articles by faculty at participating institutions-- for about the same price that institutions currently pay for subscriptions.  They don't make whole journals OA, and hence don't make subscriptions unnecessary, but they do make articles OA.  We'll see more of them because they benefit both parties.  They benefit universities by delivering more bang for the library budget buck and by widening the dissemination of some faculty work.  They benefit publishers by reducing the risk of cancellation.

These deals give universities two goods --access for readers and OA for authors-- for the fee that previously bought just one.  Because they preserve access fees for readers, I view them as suboptimal, but that doesn't change the fact that they are bona fide cases of mutual benefit.  Publishers will benefit from them even if Springer is the only one to notice so far, and universities will benefit from them even if they would benefit more from full OA.  Despite their scarcity to date, it's not hard to see why they will spread.  If other things were equal (e.g. freezing the growth of green OA), we'd see more deals like this than full OA conversions, at least until publishers saw greater benefits for themselves from full OA.

(8) We'll see more funder-publisher deals, like the Wellcome Trust deal with Elsevier, the NIH deal with Elsevier, the deals of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) with Elsevier, Springer, and BioMed Central, and the Elsevier deals with most of the funders in the UKPMC Funders Group.  Some of these deals pay publishers for gold OA when green OA would suffice, and some pay publishers for green OA when publishers don't need to be paid at all.  But we'll see more of them because some funders are willing to pay to have the published edition of an article OA from birth (as opposed to the author's manuscript OA after an embargo) and because many publishers are looking for ways to be paid for any concession to OA.

While funders and publishers have discovered the benefits of direct cooperation, the exact forms of that cooperation will fluctuate as both sides seek out the most advantageous models.  On the one hand, for example, more publishers try to get the same great deal (high fees for no significant work or concessions) that Elsevier got from HHMI.  But on the other, HHMI may retreat from its Elsevier deal and either stop paying for green OA or pay a bit more to get full gold OA.

Funders will struggle with a basic policy question.  It's one thing to arrange for OA to the research they fund, and even to pay more to get it sooner or to get it in certain forms.  That's either self-interest or a simple extension of the original philanthropic purpose in funding the underlying research.  But how far do these deals go beyond the funder's self-interest and philanthropic purpose, and how far do they get funders into the business of insuring publishers against the risks of a changing world? 

(9) We'll see more initiatives expressly designed to redirect money from subscriptions for TA journals to publication fees or subsidies for OA journals.  Some will be multi-party negotiations, like CERN's SCOAP3 (Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics) project.  Some will be unilateral actions by publishers, like Mark Rowse's "flip" model from SOAN for October 2007.  Some will be steps along the way toward redirection, as I've argued (in SOAN for November 2007) was the case with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Springer deals with Universiteitsbibliotheken en de Koninklijke Bibliotheek and the University of Göttingen.

As the CERN project makes further progress in signing up stakeholders, raising money, and converting journals, it will exert a gravitational tug on other fields, where it will be admired as much for its constructive cooperation as for its effectiveness.  Different organizations in different fields will take it up and try to adapt it to their peculiar local circumstances.  University and library consortia will work with selected journals to convert them to OA and use the savings to pay subsidies or publication fees.  Some universities will create funds specifically to pay publication fees at fee-based OA journal, and feed the fund, in part, with the savings from journal cancellations.  Universities concerned to preserve peer review will pledge some portion of the savings from TA journal cancellations to support peer-reviewed OA alternatives.

(10) Universities adopting new OA mandates will shift from the "required deposit" model of the early pioneers to the "required permission" model currently under review at the University of California (and some other institutions not ready to reveal their plans).  This model reduces the demands on faculty and increases the certainty about permissions.  As long as the university is willing to pay people, usually librarians, to make the actual deposits, it could be a faster and more frictionless way to move the deposit rate toward 100%. 

We will also start to see another new flavor of university-level mandate, building on the fact that universities are sometimes funders of research.  We should soon see at least one university mandate that faculty who receive university research funds will have to deposit the result of their work (or permit its deposit) in the institutional repository. 

* Postscript.  Here are my past predictions if you want to see how they turned out.

Predictions for 2007

Predictions for 2006

Predictions for 2005

Predictions for 2004


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