Paying for green open access
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #108
April 2, 2007
by Peter Suber
Two announcements in March showed that some publishers want to charge for OA archiving and at least one foundation is willing to pay for it.  Neither amounts to a trend, but both could slow the progress of green OA, either by the direct imposition of new and needless costs or by confusing policy-makers about the economics of green OA.

First the American Chemical Society (ACS) re-announced its hybrid journal program, AuthorChoice, and reminded us that authors who wish to self-archive must pay the AuthorChoice fee.  Then Elsevier and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) agreed that when an HHMI-funded author publishes in an Elsevier journal, HHMI will pay Elsevier a fee to deposit the peer-reviewed postprint in PubMed Central six months after publication.  Here's a closer look at each policy.

* The ACS AuthorChoice program

ACS first announced AuthorChoice in August 2006 and re-announced it in March 2007.  I looked for a change in the policy that might explain the second announcement but couldn't find one.  Perhaps the uptake was lower than ACS expected.  Perhaps it simply wanted to remind people of something it feared was being overlooked.  (I know the feeling.) 

ACS press release announcing AuthorChoice, August 14, 2006

ACS press release re-announcing AuthorChoice, undated but c. March 6, 2007

To review AuthorChoice, I'll draw on my nine questions for hybrid journal programs from SOAN for September 2006

Of the nine, the ACS gives a good and welcome answer to just one:  it will let authors deposit articles in repositories independent of the ACS.  It gives unwelcome answers to three more:  it does not let participating authors retain copyright; it does not promise to reduce its subscription prices in proportion to author uptake (hence using the double-charge business model); and it will charge its AuthorChoice fee even to authors who want to self-archive.  It leaves us uncertain on the remainder:  Will it let participating authors use OA-friendly licenses?  Will it waive fees in cases of economic hardship?  Will it force authors to pay the fee if they want to comply with a prior funding contract mandating deposit in an OA repository?  Will it lay page charges on top of the new AuthorChoice fee?

The ACS was not a green publisher before adopting AuthorChoice.  Hence, its current position, disallowing no-fee, no-embargo self-archiving, is not a retreat. 

Nor is the ACS first publisher to charge a fee for self-archiving.  About a week before the ACS announced AuthorChoice, Wiley announced its hybrid program, Funded Access, which has the same effect.  However, the ACS is the second, and so far Wiley and the ACS seem to be alone in this category.

Wiley charges $3,000 for OA archiving and deposits the published edition immediately upon publication.  The ACS charges the same fee for the same benefit, but also offers discounts for ACS members and those affiliated with institutions subscribing to ACS journals.

At both publishers, these fees pay for gold OA, and I should make clear that I have no objection to charging for gold OA.  On the contrary; if we are to have it, we must pay for it (through author-side publication fees, institutional subsidies, or some other way).  However, I do object to charging for gold OA when authors only want green OA.  It's like offering a car with a free bicycle to people who only want to buy a bicycle.

(BTW, by "green OA" I mean OA through a repository and by "gold OA" I mean OA through a journal.  Gold OA includes peer review and green OA does not.  Gold OA begins at the moment of publication and applies to the published edition of an article.  Green OA is sometimes immediate, sometimes delayed, and can apply to any version of an article:  a preprint, the published edition of the postprint, or the peer-reviewed but not copy-edited version of the postprint.)

As the ACS policy is currently worded, it only charges the fee for self-archiving the published edition of an article.  Hence it leaves the door open for no-fee self-archiving of the final version of their peer-reviewed manuscript, rather than the published edition.  On the American Scientist Open Access Forum, Stevan Harnad asked whether ACS planned to charge for that form of self-archiving as well.  Adam Chesler, the ACS Assistant Director Sales and Library Relations, said yes.

Chesler's answer makes the ACS policy even worse than it seemed at first.  It's bad enough to force authors to pay for gold OA in order to get green OA; at least they really get gold OA too, wanted or not.  But under this new wrinkle in the policy, even self-archiving authors who don't get gold OA must pay for it.

Wiley's Funded Access journal program, announced August 6, 2006

Scott Jaschik, Momentum for Open Access Research, Inside Higher Ed, September 6, 2006.  ("Dean Smith, vice president for sales and marketing for the [ACS],...made it clear that while his group is moving a bit in the direction of open access, it doesn't like the movement.")

Stevan Harnad, Trojan Horse from American Chemical Society: Caveat Emptor, Open Access Archivangelism, March 6, 2007.

Adam Chesler, ACS Author Choice Program, a post to the American Scientist Open Access Forum, March 8, 2007.  (Chesler makes clear that ACS does not allow no-fee self-archiving even of the final version of the author's peer-reviewed manuscript

* The HHMI-Elsevier deal

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is similar in many ways to the Wellcome Trust (WT), although it has kept a lower profile in the OA debates.  The WT is the largest private funder of medical research in the UK, and the HHMI is, or was, the largest private funder of medical research in the US.  (I haven't seen recent figures but HHMI might have been overtaken by the Gates Foundation.)  HHMI agreed long ago to pay publication fees at fee-based OA journals, and may have been the first funder anywhere to do so.  With PLoS, it convened the 2003 meeting that produced the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing.  Now it's about to adopt an OA archiving mandate for HHMI-funded research. 

The WT OA mandate requires deposit in PubMed Central (or its UK equivalent, UK PMC) and the forthcoming HHMI mandate will do the same.  However, Elsevier allows OA archiving only through the author's personal web site or institutional repository.  That's why HHMI and Elsevier first sat down to talk.

If neither side revised its policies, then HHMI-funded authors would have to shun Elsevier journals and Elsevier journals would have to shun HHMI-funded authors.  Both organizations would gain from a compromise.  But unfortunately that fact alone didn't determine which side had to budge.  In this case, it was HHMI and it caved.  It's a shame because it had considerably more bargaining power than Elsevier.

Elsevier already gives blanket permission for self-archiving in institutional repositories and could easily have added PubMed Central to the list of eligible destinations.  For this purpose, the distinction between institutional repositories (IRs) and PubMed Central (PMC) is arbitrary.  In openness, interoperability, and visibility to search engines, they are equivalent.  If a PMC deposit hurts Elsevier, so does an IR deposit.  If an IR deposit is harmless for Elsevier, so is a PMC deposit.  Elsevier could have adapted to HHMI without incurring any new costs or risks.  Instead, HHMI paid it to adapt.

HHMI will pay Elsevier $1,500 $1,000 for each article published in a Cell Press journal and $1,000 $1,500 for each article in any other Elsevier journal.

BTW, before anyone writes in, I know that for several other purposes, IRs and PMC are *not* equivalent.  One of the chief differences is that PMC, like arXiv, dominates research in its field and attracts many readers directly, not just through external search engines.  Another is that, unlike nearly every other OA repository, PMC provides extensive enhancements to deposited manuscripts before it disseminates them.  I discussed these enhancements in SOAN for August and September 2005.

What if HHMI had stood firm and said that HHMI-funded authors could not publish in Elsevier journals until Elsevier allowed deposits in PMC on the same terms it used for deposits in IRs?  Even if Elsevier wanted to sweeten the deal, it would have to admit that accommodating HHMI would be a bargain:  it would lose nothing and become eligible to publish the high-quality research produced by HHMI-funded scientists.  If Elsevier bluffed and argued that PMC deposits would increase the risk of journal cancellations above the risk from IR deposits, then it might have won an extra concession from HHMI --for example, delaying PMC deposits until six months after publication.  If Elsevier bluffed again, it might have won yet another concession --for example, depositing only the final version of the author's peer-reviewed manuscript rather than the published edition.  In fact, HHMI gave Elsevier everything:  payment *and* the six month embargo *and* deposit of an unedited version of the manuscript.

Elsevier could have permitted deposits in PMC straightaway; but it seems that HHMI could just as easily have required its grantees to deposit their postprints in their own IRs, rather than PMC.  The snag there, unfortunately, is that not all HHMI grantees work at institutions with IRs.  Hence, HHMI had good reason to call Elsevier's bluff.

HHMI could also have launched its own repository and deposited the articles itself.  That would insure that the deposits took place and save on the expense.  Then HHMI could invite PMC to harvest articles from the HHMI repository.  However, the negotiation and outcome would have been virtually identical.  Elsevier would still have agree to deposits in the HHMI repository; and while it would still face no new costs or risks, it would still have the same array of (apparently effective) bargaining gambits and the same incentive to play them.

HHMI wanted more than deposits in PMC.  It also wanted to guarantee deposit and not leave it to the initiative of authors.  That makes good sense, since authors are all too often overworked and preoccupied. 

However, deposit in a repository is a clerical task whose cost is negligible.  Les Carr and Stevan Harnad studied two months of log activity at a busy repository and found that the average deposit takes 10 minutes.

Alma Swan and Sheridan Brown found that even for authors new to self-archiving, few had trouble with their first deposit and even fewer had trouble with subsequent deposits.

The job is not worth thousands of dollars per paper, or hundreds, or even tens.  If the physical job of depositing papers is really what HHMI wanted, it should have put the job up for bidding.  It could have gotten a much better deal. 

Elsevier will undoubtedly deposit 100% of the papers that HHMI pays it to deposit.  But before PMC provides OA to deposited articles, it reformats them according to its DTD, adds links to various OA databases, and asks the author to verify the correctness of the result.  More than half the time, NIH-funded authors don't respond to these queries, thwarting OA at the final step.  So even after paying high fees for deposit, and getting a 100% deposit rate for its money, HHMI may get a significantly lower final rate of OA. 

WT avoids this problem by insisting that publishers deposit the same XML that produced the print and online editions, making it unnecessary to verify correctness with the author.  But for HHMI to adopt the same solution, it would have to insist that Elsevier deposit the published edition, not just the final version of the author's peer-reviewed manuscript.  Imagine that:  two birds with one stone.

It matters that there's slippage between PMC deposits and PMC OA.  The only upside to the HHMI-Elsevier deal is more OA peer-reviewed articles reporting HHMI-funded research (even if embargoed and even if not the published editions).  But how much more OA will HHMI actually get from this deal?  The rate is likely to be worse than 100% and better than the background rate of spontaneous author self-archiving.  But beyond that, no one knows.

If HHMI uses its internal OA mandate to ensure that its grantees work with PMC to validate the final form of the text, it could certainly improve the overall rate of OA and perhaps raise it to 100%.  But if it's willing to exert itself in that way, it could deposit the papers itself or ensure that authors deposited them.  Then it could save the money it's now paying Elsevier.

Under the HHMI deal, Cell Press will reduce its permissible embargo on OA archiving from 12 months to zero six.  That's a real concession and gave Elsevier a bargaining chip in the negotiation.  But Elsevier journals outside Cell Press already permitted immediate self-archiving and the HHMI deal will lengthen the embargo to six months (for HHMI-funded authors), moving the bargaining chip back to HHMI.

WT and Elsevier struck a deal last September for the same reasons that HHMI and Elsevier struck one now.  WT agreed to pay Elsevier higher fees than HHMI is paying ($3,000 per Elsevier article and $5,000 per Cell Press article), but it got more for its money.  WT got immediate OA, while HHMI is getting embargoed OA.  WT got OA to the published edition, while HHMI is getting OA to an unedited edition.  WT got a Creative Commons license or equivalent; while HHMI could use CC licenses on deposited, unedited manuscripts, the published editions will remain under Elsevier's copyright with no significant reuse rights. 

The WT-Elsevier deal from September 2006

The CC-style licensing WT requires

Because WT wanted immediate OA to the published version, Elsevier bargained for, and won, compensation for the costs of peer review, as if it were providing gold OA.  But the HHMI payments don't cover peer review, don't buy access to the published edition, and can't be construed as buying gold OA.  HHMI is paying for green OA.

Elsevier's press release last September said that the WT payments would "help offset the cost of peer review and other publishing costs".  The Elsevier-HHMI press release makes no similar claim.  But perhaps we could justify the HHMI fees if we construed them as paying for peer review.  That's a possibility, since all the articles in question have already been peer reviewed.  But I just can't make this fit.  Here's the problem:  either the fees cover peer review or they don't.  If they do, then HHMI really ought to get gold OA for its money, since peer review is the chief expense distinguishing journal publication from self-archiving.  But gold OA ought to be immediate, not embargoed, and cover the published edition, not merely the final version of the author's peer-reviewed manuscript.  Hence, if HHMI is paying for gold, it's not getting it.  But if the fees don't cover peer review, then we're back where we were and HHMI is only paying for green OA.  Either way, I have to conclude that HHMI was ripped off.  Or if that's too negative, Elsevier got a fantastic deal.

By my count, HHMI is paying Elsevier for three specific concessions or services:  Cell Press is shortening its embargo period; Elsevier is adding PMC to the list of eligible repositories for OA archiving; and Elsevier is undertaking the labor of depositing articles in PMC.  Only the first has any bargaining significance.

In sum, what's wrong with this picture?  HHMI is paying a fee for green OA.  Despite its fee, HHMI is not getting immediate OA.  Despite its fee, HHMI is not getting OA to the published version of the article.  Elsevier (beyond Cell Press) is even lengthening its embargo period.  Elsevier is permitting embargoed deposits in PMC, but it already permits free and unembargoed deposits in IRs.  Actually making the deposits is a semi-automated clerical task that doesn't come close to justifying these fees. 

Thomas Cech, President of HHMI (and a Nobel laureate in chemistry) told the Chronicle of Higher Education, "There seems to be an emerging consensus that this is a viable business proposition and to some extent a fair price, to the extent that one can really know what a fair price is."  But he seems to have been thinking of the price for gold OA, which includes immediate access to the published edition.  There is no precedent, let alone emerging consensus, for pricing green OA.  Nor is there precedent or consensus for pricing OA to embargoed access to unedited manuscripts.

The same Chronicle article added, however, that "Mr. Cech acknowledged that the terms of the agreement may need revision in the not-too-distant future, given the pace of evolution in the publishing world...."

* Overall

I'm not saying that the distinction between green and gold OA is immutable.  Of course the two types can be blended.  One blend --the best for researchers-- would charge no fee to the depositor and provide immediate access to the published edition.  Another blend --the worst for researchers-- would charge a fee, impose an embargo, and limit access to the final version of the author's peer-reviewed manuscript. 

The problem with the HHMI-Elsevier deal is not that it blurs the distinction between green and gold but that it needlessly adopts the worst blend for researchers.  The problem with the ACS deal is that it artificially clamps green and gold together and forces anyone wanting green to pay for gold to get it. 

Elsevier is collecting fees for permitting embargoed green OA, and for making the deposits, when all its publishing costs are already covered by subscription fees.  ACS is collecting fees for green OA, and for providing gold OA, when all its publishing costs are also already covered by subscription fees.  (ACS has not yet said that it will reduce subscription prices in proportion to author uptake of the OA option.)

The ACS program will have low uptake.  The price is high and very few authors who only want green OA will pay for gold OA.  Elsevier will have uptake from each of its HHMI-funded authors.  That's a larger class, but it's bounded and smaller than the class of HHMI-funded authors itself.  I can't see that other funding agencies are likely to follow HHMI's lead, especially after studying the details of its deal.  Even those who are tempted to pay publishers for their cooperation, or who have money to burn, will see that the Wellcome Trust is got much more for its money, and an outcome much more beneficial to research, than HHMI.  But even if the direct damage is limited, these policies have let loose a dangerous new meme suggesting that publishers need compensation merely for permitting deposit in an OA repository, even if the OA edition is an unedited manuscript, even if the OA is embargoed, and even when all the publisher's costs are already covered by subscriptions.  That's the real danger here.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)

HHMI's plans to adopt an OA archiving mandate for HHMI-funded research (Nature, October 26, 2006).

HHMI and Elsevier Announce Public Access Agreement, the press release from the HHMI, March 8, 2007.

Mark Chillingworth, Elsevier agree Open Access terms with Howard Hughes Medical Institute, IWRblog, March 8, 2007.

Rick Weiss, Health Findings From Institute To Be Free Online, Washington Post, March 9, 2007.

Richard Monastersky, Hughes Institute's Deal With Elsevier Will Open Up Access to Its Researchers' Work, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 9, 2007.

Stevan Harnad,  Double-Paying for Optional Gold OA Instead of Mandating Green OA While Subscriptions Are Still Paying for Publication: Trojan Folly, Open Access Archivangelism, March 13, 2007.

T. Scott Plutchak, Taking Time For Conversation, T. Scott, March 13, 2007.

Jim Till, Paying a fee for Green OA, Be accessible or be obscure, March 21, 2007.


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