Predictions for 2004
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #70
February 2, 2004
by Peter Suber
In the last issue I looked back over 2003.  Here let me look forward to 2004.  It's only fun if you let me be wrong.  So with your permission:

* The major objections to OA journals will be that processing fees exclude poor authors, corrupt peer review, and constitute an "untested" business model.  The major objections to OA archives will be that widespread archiving will kill subscription-based journals and that easy access to unrefereed preprints will endanger public health.  All are answerable, but they won't go away any time soon.  Still, there is progress:  these were not the most common objections we heard three years ago.  The new objections are more specific and more amenable to empirical evidence.

* The need for empirical evidence will be met by a growing number of studies and surveys of OA journals.  There are several already in the works, e.g. from OSI, ALPSP, publishers working with Highwire Press, and a brace of graduate students working on theses and dissertations.  Perhaps even the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee should be counted in this column.

* Large, for-profit, non-academic search engines like Google, Yahoo, and the new Microsoft contender will realize that OA is in their interest and join the alliance fighting for it.  They might even join the ranks of those funding it.  OA will give them a larger and more useful body of content to index for searching.  That means it will bring in more traffic and enable them to sell more advertising.  The only obstacle:  none will want to go first, for all the new OA content they fund will immediately be indexable by the others.

* More journals will experiment with OA, especially through embargo periods, hybrid models, and priced add-ons.  Some will find creative funding methods we haven't seen yet.  We'll see the first OA resource funded by its own endowment.  Most of the journal experiments will be at society and non-commercial publishers, but commercial publishers worried about the unsustainability of the subscription model will start to test the waters.  More journals of both kinds will let PubMed Central digitize and offer free online access to their back runs, realizing that for sufficiently old content they gain much more from the visibility and impact than from the revenue.  Journal self-interest will join author and reader self-interest in fueling new progress.

* We'll see more OA initiatives in the humanities.  The greatest activity will still be in the STM fields, but the arguments, policies, and tools that make OA attractive and feasible in the STM fields will gain new traction in the social sciences and humanities.  (See the story below on OA in the humanities.)

* We'll see more initiatives to provide OA to raw and semi-raw data, not just to articles that analyze or interpret data.  There are many problems to solve if we want OA data files to be viewable through browsers, interoperable, queryable, annotated with metadata, and usefully marked up in XML.  But more researchers and funding agencies will realize that we don't need to solve these problems before we take steps to attain the benefits of OA itself. 

* There will be more struggle over the exact definition of the term "open access".  The intramural struggle will be motivated by actual disagreements, even if minor.  (Success raises the stakes without changing the issues.)  The extramural struggle will be motivated by a growing number of journals and databases using the rhetoric of open access for half-measures and toll-access shams. 

* There will be less unity in the OA movement, or at least less concern to preserve solidarity in every public discussion.  Some friends of OA will criticize PLoS for high processing fees, on the ground that they exclude some authors.  Other friends will criticize BMC for low processing fees, on the ground that they prevent competition from journals that would have to charge higher fees.  More large organizations will embrace practices that we'd all identify as open access, but they will refuse to use the phrase "open access", not wanting to alienate key supporters who fear and misunderstand it. 

* Universities will start to make systematic commitments to open access, not just on institutional eprint repositories but on a wider range of issues such as locally launched journals, locally hosted conferences, and locally approved theses and dissertations.

* Government funding agencies will start to catch up with private foundations in supporting some form of OA, such as paying processing fees charged by OA journals or requiring the deposit of funded research in OA archives.  Private-sector publishing associations will lobby against these policies.  We'll learn whether it's politically safe for legislators to support the public interest in OA over the private interests of publishers.  (In general it has not been politically safe for legislators in the U.S. to protect the public interest in fair use rights, the public domain, limited copyright terms, the first-sale doctrine for electronic content, P2P file sharing, and open-source software.  But there are reasons to think OA is different.  Lobbyists can't hide the fact that taxpayers have already paid for 60% of the research done at universities in the U.S.  It's unfair to make them pay again to see it.  Lobbyists can't hide the fact that legislators themselves approve spending nearly $20 billion a year on university-based research.  Fairness aside, mere bean-counting would want to harness OA to make that research more useful and effective.)

* There will be more cancellations of expensive journals and more defections from the bundling deals offered by major publishers.  Nearly every research library in the world has been frustrated with journal prices, bundling conditions, access policies, and licensing terms --for decades.  Most have been held back by faculty demand for subscriptions.  As more libraries find successful ways to explain the crisis to faculty, and as more universities set courageous examples, we'll see more universities expressing their long-simmering frustration with action.  At the same time, more financial analysts will issue stock warnings on the major commercial journal publishers based on library discontent and cancellations, government inquiries, and the rise of OA through archives and journals.

* The many different wings of the larger information commons movement --open access research, open source software, copyright and patent reform, spectrum reform, anti-filtering campaigns-- will work together more often and more successfully on common interests.  Just as separate groups defending air, water, and wildlife joined to form the environmental movement, and gained clout as they did, a larger and more effective information freedom coalition is emerging of which the OA movement is just a part.

* Amazon's Search Inside the Book will prove that free online full-text triggers a net increase in the sale of books, even if the free access is only for searching and not reading.  This will draw attention to other, earlier proofs, from the National Academies Press to the Baen Free Library, that free online full-text to books triggers a net increase in sales even when the free access extends to reading, printing, and copying.  This will spread the open access movement to books --the first non-giveaway or royalty-based content where OA has a chance of being both lawful and popular with producers.  OA will spread among book authors and publishers faster than among musicians and record studios because fewer people want to read whole books online than want to copy and play music files.

* Finally, the sheer volume of news about open access will continue to grow rapidly.  This is good for OA, but alarming for someone whose job is to track this news, digest it, and offer some perspective on it.  Two years ago I covered OA alongside related topics like fair use, censorship, and priced online scholarship.  But as the volume of OA news grew, I had to narrow my focus in order to keep the task manageable.  As the volume of OA news continues to grow, I'll have to narrow my focus again, and start distinguishing primary OA news from secondary, and omitting the secondary.  We'll all have to remember that this is a sign of success, even if it also marks the end of an era. 

* Postscript.  Here are some 2003 wrap-ups and 2004 forecasts from elsewhere.

The Creative Commons' 10 New Year's Resolutions for 2004
(The fourth:  "Explore Science Commons.")

Stephen Downes, predictions for 2004 especially on open content, from Ubiquity, 1/21/04
(Among them:  further advances for OA journals and other varieties of open content)

Paula Hane's review of open access and related publishing developments in Information Today, 1/2/04

Doug Isenberg's survey of 2003 developments in the legal regulation of the internet for

Peter Jacsó's annual Cheers and Jeers column for Information Today, 1/2/04
(Includes praise for PubMed, PubMed Central, and BioMed Central)

Outsell predictions for the information content industry in 2004
(Prediction #6:  "The Open Access movement in scholarly and scientific publications will gain legitimacy.")

Robin Peek review of recent open access developments for Information Today, 1/2/04

Bill Rosenblatt review of 2003 legal developments in DRM and copy protection for DRM Watch, 1/6/04

Review of fair-use and information freedom issues in 2003, by the editors of

Thoughts from 11 industry leaders, including top figures at LexisNexis, the British Library, OCLC, ProQuest, Chemical Abstracts Service, Thomson Gale, Ingenta, and Outsell, assembled by Lou Andreozzi for Information Today, January 5, 2004


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