Open access when authors are paid
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #68
December 2, 2003
by Peter Suber
In November, I was in Croatia speaking on OA and talking about OA issues with scholars, librarians, and government officials.  In preparing for my talk, I learned that some Croatian scholars are paid for their journal articles and some are not.  After I arrived, I learned that Croatian journals typically pay for articles in law, economics, agriculture, and the humanities, and typically do not pay in medicine and the natural sciences. 

In most countries and most disciplines, scholarly journals never pay authors for journal articles.  In the countries where the OA movement arose, OA to journal articles is compelling in part because authors are giving them away and looking for ways to disseminate them to the widest possible audience.  We stop short of calling for OA to books partly because authors can earn royalties from their books.  OA is about giving readers barrier-free access to what authors are giving away, not about taking from authors what they are not giving away.  OA works best when it requires no sacrifice from authors that they are not already making. 

So how do we advocate OA for journal articles in countries and disciplines where authors are paid for them? 

Fortunately, in Croatia a second scholarly tradition offsets the tradition of paying authors and makes this question easy to answer.  Authors of journal articles typically retain copyright. 

If an author is paid for her article and also retains the copyright to it, then she can let a conventional journal publish it and then deposit the postprint in an OA archive.  She has the best of both worlds --payment and permission.  She also has the freedom to publish in conventional journals without giving up the possibility of OA. 

So far, postprint archiving is rare in Croatia, but that is changing.  It's possible that as this practice grows, journals will reconsider the tradition of paying authors for articles or the tradition of leaving copyright in the author's hands.  It's too early to tell. 

What about countries that pay authors for journal articles but also ask authors to transfer copyright?  (Are there such countries?  I don't know of any, but I can try to answer in the abstract.)  Authors in these countries are still free to deposit their preprints in OA archives, since that requires no permission from the publisher.  But postprint archiving will be more difficult.  OA journals might exist, but the processing fee might be neutralized by the author payment.  Does that mean that authors would neither pay nor be paid and still have an open-access publication?  If so, most scholarly authors would jump at that deal. 

Even when journals don't pay authors, they have other expenses.  Hence, they still need a revenue stream or subsidy.  If they pay authors, then the revenue stream or subsidy must simply be a little larger.  So the custom of paying authors doesn't break the logic of OA; it merely increases the degree of difficulty. 

The chief danger where journals pay authors is (1) that the payments are large enough to matter and (2) that journals will stop paying authors who provide OA to their articles.  Where these conditions hold, scholarly authors will lose their distinctive immunity to markets and suddenly have the same interests as musicians and novelists.  The size of their payment may not depend on the popularity of their work, but its existence will depend on limiting access to paying customers.

* Postscript.  I understand that in Russia scholars are also paid for their journal articles, at least in some fields.  I'd be interested to hear from readers about other countries and disciplines where this tradition is followed, and how those countries and disciplines are accommodating the growing demand for open access.

* Many people helped me understand the Croatian tradition of paying some scholars for their journal articles and not others.  But I'd especially like to thank Zorana Gajic, Omer Hadziselimovic, and Iva Melinscak Zlodi.


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