Predictions for 2007
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #104
December 2, 2006
by Peter Suber
This year I'm publishing my predictions in December and will publish my review of 2006 in January.

* The spread of OA archiving policies by funding agencies and universities is an unstoppable trend.  As in 2006, we'll see more mandates than requests, and we'll see more policies from funders than universities.  But we'll see the numbers grow in all of these categories.  We'll see new policies in countries that already have strong OA policies, such as Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, the UK, and the US, and we'll see policies emerge in countries that haven't had national-level policies before, such as Australia, Brazil, China, India, and South Africa.  We'll see pre-policy ferment in Latin America, Africa, and the Arab world, leading to national-level policies the year after.

* The spread of institutional repositories is equally unstoppable.  The number of universities launching them is growing fast and the conviction that they are an obvious, even tardy development is growing faster.  More and more universities will launch them in a spirit of catch-up, rather than as break-out break-throughs.  They will soon be a new fact of life for universities, like libraries or web sites, and the discussion will shift from their utility to the best practices for filling them. 

I'm tempted to predict a continuing tension between the narrow conception of institutional repositories (to provide OA for eprints) and the broad conception of IRs (to provide OA for all kinds of digital content, from eprints to courseware, conference webcasts, student work, digitized library collections, administrative records, and so on, with at least as much attention on preservation as access).  But I have to predict that the broad conception will prevail.  Universities that launch general-purpose archiving software will have active constituents urging them to take full advantage of it.  The good news for OA is that many institutional interests, beyond the OA interests, will converge to fund and maintain the IR.  The bad news for OA is that the project of filling the IR with the institution's research output could, without vigilant stewardship, drift downward on the IR's priority list.

* Funding agencies with weak OA policies (requesting rather than requiring OA, or requiring it but letting publishers set the embargoes) will find, like the NIH, that the policies generate unacceptably low compliance rates or unacceptably long embargoes.  Unfortunately, it will take a year or two to document the failure and then another year or two to strengthen the policy in the face of publisher opposition.  They will lose three to four years of work before they get back on track toward meeting the goals that led them to adopt OA policies in the first place.  We'll see this for the non-mandate or encouragement-only policies in Canada, France, and the UK, and perhaps also in Germany and Austria.  At the same time, however, the many new mandates at *other* agencies in Canada, France, and the UK will start to prove themselves and may shorten the time needed to recognize and remedy ineffectual policies elsewhere.

BTW, I do predict that the NIH will eventually have an OA mandate, but it won't happen until Congress makes it happen.  That could be in 2007.  But if it doesn't come that soon, it's because the NIH is too big for publisher lobbyists to ignore.  Despite this year's halt to its budget growth, the NIH is still the largest funding agency for non-military research in the world; its budget of $28 billion is larger than the GDP of 142 nations.  Its sheer size raises the stakes for both friends and foes of OA mandates.  However, despite determined opposition from publishers, the NIH will get there.  Congress asked for a mandate; the NIH's own Public Access Working Group recommended a mandate as the only way to improve the dismal compliance rate; the National Library of Medicine Board of Regents joined the call for a mandate; and NIH Director, Elias Zerhouni, has admitted that a mandate may be necessary to meet the agency's goals.  Even FRPAA, not yet adopted, is exerting pressure for a mandate, and now Congress is renewing its demand for a mandate.  It's only a matter of time.

* When funding agencies consider OA mandates, the center of attention will be the length of the permissible embargo.  On one side, funders know that when the permissible embargo is sufficiently long, it can persuade publishers to acquiesce, and that when it's excessively long, it can vitiate the purpose of the OA mandate.  Elias Zerhouni, Director of the NIH, talks about finding the "sweet spot".  For some, like Zerhouni, the sweet spot will be defined politically:  the spot that minimizes protests from both sides.  For publishers, the sweet spot will be defined financially:  the spot that sustains enough subscriptions to survive and allows enough OA to attract authors and generate citations.  (To make things more complicated, the sweet spot defined this way will differ from discipline to discipline.)  For authors and readers, the sweet spot is zero --no embargo at all. 

The embargo period will be the center of attention for four reasons:  (1) it really could make the difference between effective and ineffective OA; (2) it really could make the difference between between survivable and unsurvivable cancellations; (3) it's not binary and could always be nudged up or down; (4) and most other issues have already been settled.

* Publishers who don't already consent to author self-archiving are facing increased pressure to go green.  Publishers who do already consent are feeling increased pressure to retract or scale back their permission (say) by adding fees or embargoes or both.  These forces will not neutralize one another and are only apparently in conflict.  In fact, I think both will continue to increase.  We'll see a net increase in the number of publishers who permit self-archiving, although we'll also see an increase in the percentage of them that impose embargoes or other limitations on self-archiving.  (We'll also see some disagreement about whether the latter should be considered "green".)

* We'll continue to debate the question whether high-volume OA archiving will reduce journal subscriptions, and we'll continue to debate it without hard evidence --except in physics where the evidence is in and shows that high-volume archiving does not cause cancellations.  My position has always been two-sided:  on the one hand, there's no evidence that high-volume OA archiving will reduce subscriptions; but on the other, it might really have this effect in some fields and, if it did, it would still be justified.  The first half reflects the fact that OA archiving has not yet reduced subscriptions in any field, not even in physics where researchers have been self-archiving for the longest time (since 1991) and at the highest levels (approaching 100% in some sub-fields).  On the contrary, it has led two major physics publishers (APS and IOP) to host their own mirrors of arXiv.  The second half reflects the fact that, long-term, we'll need the money now spent on subscriptions to pay for the OA alternative. 

On the first front, I doubt that we'll see new evidence in 2007.  To get evidence outside physics we'll have to generate high-volume OA archiving outside physics.  OA mandates can do that, but in the US, FRPAA has not yet passed, and in the UK, the Research Council mandates outside physics will need more than a year to produce the high volumes needed to test the hypothesis.  However, we're probably only a year away from the time when the Research Council mandates stimulate enough OA archiving in biology, economics, environmental science, medicine, and social sciences to give us the first hard evidence outside physics. 

On the second front, I predict explicit new attention to the problem of redirecting funds from toll access to open access (TA to OA).  For journals, as opposed to repositories, this is the endgame.  The most ambitious current initiative is the CERN project to convert all the TA journals in particle physics to OA.  Publishers are fully involved and cooperating, and see the plan as something closer to risk management than risk amplification.  If the CERN project succeeds, and I predict that it will, then it will trigger creative and constructive conversations about how to do the same in other fields --convert journals, keep paying their expenses, save money, remove access barriers for everyone, and see the beginning of the end of the transition to OA.

* Last year I predicted that "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 [2005] report from the Kaufman-Wills group)."  By June I was already admitting that it was the worst prediction I'd ever made.  I still predict that these important facts will start to sink in, but I've been rigging the prediction by shining a light on these facts whenever I can, especially in two lead essays for SOAN (June and November 2006).  I predict more attention for no-fee OA journals, and not just from me, and focused projects to study and launch them. 

We may see occasional friction between proponents of fee-based and no-fee OA journals, just as we see occasional friction between proponents of OA archives and OA journals.  But in both cases it's best to interpret this as division of labor rather than real rivalry.  We need people to explore the no-fee model and make it work wherever it can work, and we need the same for the fee-based model.

* More publishers will adopt the hybrid OA model for more journals.  Because the hybrid model is so risk-free, this is an easy prediction.  If the numbers don't climb quickly, it's only because most large publishers already have hybrid programs.  The question in 2007 will not be whether the hybrid model will spread among publishers (it will) but whether it will appeal to authors.  I predict low uptake at most of the hybrid journals and I predict that at least one publisher will point to lack of author interest in OA as the cause.  But that explanation will be more convenient than true.  Publishers adopting a hybrid model can quickly get past the easy problem --setting fees and copyright conditions that match current levels of revenue and control-- only to get stuck on the hard problem --making fees and copyright conditions attractive to authors.  That's the hard problem because, I predict, it will require many publishers to give up some revenue and some control. 

The big question for publishers is whether they want author uptake badly enough to make it attractive.  Will the existence of subscription revenue as a safety net kill the incentives to make the OA option succeed?  If any hybrid publishers want author uptake badly enough to keep fees low, offer waivers in cases of economic hardship, stop charging authors to comply with their own prior funding contracts, permit self-archiving without embargo or fee, permit self-archiving of the published edition, let authors retain copyright, let authors use OA-friendly licenses, and let authors deposit articles in repositories independent of the publisher, then we may start to see real competition for authors.  Some hybrid programs offer some of these desiderata already, but many offer very few.  The whole industry will be watching to see what it takes increase author uptake.  I predict that the greatest incentive to make OA options attractive will not be competition from other journals with attractive offers but increased pressure on subscriptions.

I'm not predicting that many hybrid OA journals will convert to full OA, though that's what I'd like to see happen.  Full conversion increases the risk for publishers and presupposes that they've already solved the problem of making the offer attractive to authors (hence, that they have the will to do so).  For most publishers there's no reason to give up the benefits of risk-free experimentation until the subscription safety net frays further.

* A few years ago most book publishers denied that free online full-text searching (even without reading) would increase net sales.  Today most believe it.  Today most deny or don't want to believe that free online full-text *reading* will also increase net sales.  But in a couple of years most will believe it and they will seize it as a new and lucrative business model which, incidentally, will help readers, researchers, and purchasers enormously.  In retrospect, it will look a lot like the fuss about distributing movies on videotape --a profitable no-brainer delayed by short-sighted panic.

* Novel copyright problems are coming over the horizon.  Do machine-generated paraphrases of copyrighted texts infringe copyright?  What about databases of facts and assertions gleaned from copyrighted texts, either by human gleaners or by software?  What about data (not itself copyrightable) seamlessly integrated with a copyrighted text? 

In 2007 we'll see an outcome in the lawsuits against the Google Library project.  We'll finally learn whether making a full-text copy without permission, but disseminating only fair-use snippets, is permitted by fair use.  This is very close to the question whether search engines as we know them are legal.  The question is too important to leave hanging, but it's possible that the parties will settle before a judge rules on the merits.  I predict a judicial ruling, however, not a settlement.  I have an opinion on who *ought* to win (see SOAN for October 2005) but I'm not optimistic enough to predict that the courts will agree.  So I'm chickening out and predicting only that the loser will appeal.

* We've used many methods over the years to educate publishing scholars about OA, and for many reasons this work has been slow-going.  The arguments are strong, but it's hard to get the attention of scholars who are overworked, preoccupied, professional anarchists loath to act as a bloc.  Finally, however, one elegant method is starting to work 24/7 without draining anyone's time or energy.  It's simply the growing exposure of existing OA literature.  More and more scholars who know nothing about OA are encountering OA articles, labelled as OA, and delighting in the fact that useful, peer-reviewed, full-text articles are accessible online free of charge.  I haven't seen any studies or surveys on this phenomenon yet.  But in my daily scan for OA-related news, I see a growing number of bloggers and listserv contributors recommending good articles --on every conceivable topic-- and noting with gratitude that they are OA.  OA literature is the best advertisement for OA and we're starting to see a critical mass of it exert its effect.  It doesn't take academic readers of OA articles very long to figure out that this is what they want for themselves as authors.  Since the volume of OA literature is growing in every field, it's easy to predict that this kind of spontaneous author education will also continue to grow.  We've only started to see what this kind of viral self-advertising can do to spread the word about OA and create a tipping point.

* Here are my past predictions if you want to judge for yourself how they've turned out.

Predictions for 2006

Predictions for 2005

Predictions for 2004


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