Caitlin Taney argues that the current build-up of momentum for “free” scientific publishing models and the establishment of a “reasonable cost” for publishing provide opportunities to rebalance the inequalities, costs, and power dynamics initially driven by the push for open access “at any cost” over the past two decades.
Recent call from the EU Council for immediate and unrestricted access to the publication of publicly funded research, called series of reactions from the commercial giants of the publishing industry. They argue that without further details on who will pay for the cost of publishing in its current form, the transition to more equitable systems will “abolish” the current system. This is not the first time we’ve heard this trope.
Similar concerns were heard from commercial publishers after the US 2007 National Institutes of Health Mandate that a federally funded study be openly available one year after publication (requirement, Canadian Institute for Health Research And European Commission in the transition to open access policies and recommendations). In March 2008, PNAS convened a number of public, commercial, and open access publishers, as well as other publishing representatives, sponsors, and open advocates at the National Academies in Washington, D.C., for its e-Journal Summit. In the Great Hall, the now-familiar fears and claims that more immediate access to research would bankrupt publishers, completely destroy their underlying revenue models, and forever change the publishing landscape for the worse, were repeated in the Great Hall.
For all the talk that openness was at odds with keeping both small and large publishers afloat, the road to open access has become big business.
At the time, I was working to promote the practice of public licensing for research at Creative Commons. The “us” versus “them” dynamic was especially loud and futile: commercial and public publishers outnumbered open initiatives by almost 10 to 1, and they opposed public access for fear of disrupting their financial results. The broader argument that taxpayer-funded research should be available to said taxpayers free of charge has been lost.
History has repeatedly shown that the industry is resilient in the face of change, and fear of change is no reason to fear, slow down, or otherwise avoid the much-needed recalibration of our knowledge production and dissemination systems. If anything, now is the time for publishers to think about how they can support core communities and create infrastructures that bring value to their business and invest in their success.
For all the talk that openness has been at odds with keeping both small and large publishers afloat, the path to open access has become big business, with benefits lagging behind for communities producing and tax-funding research and scholarship. After signing Budapest, BerlinAnd Bethesda Open Access Statements In the early 2000s, progress was made towards a vision of science that is “free to read” but not “free” or even accessible publish, with some arguing that the latter did not matter.
The open access movement continues to generate huge revenues, but questions remain about the extractive nature of many of these business models, what constitutes a “reasonable cost” to make publicly funded research available as intended, and who should bear the costs. Many of these questions relate to how to ensure fair and inclusive access to publications without creating unnecessary barriers for the global research community through unsustainable pricing structures and “transformational” models that proved anything but.
As we have seen over the past three decades with the rise in open source adoption, there are opportunities and ways to focus the communities that businesses rely on for their contributions and ensure they remain healthy, dynamic and well-resourced.
The EU Council’s recent findings are part of a wider string of communiqués and policies calling for a rebalancing of cost and access to further open science, including G7 latest posts, Note by Nelson from the Office of Science and Technology Policy in USA, UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. They seek to explore more cost-effective and accessible opportunities for scientific publications, further detailing issues of cost and accountability for these costs, which may have been missing from previous mandates calling for free and open access to research and fellowships.
As we have seen over the past three decades with the rise in open source adoption, there are opportunities and ways to focus the communities that businesses rely on for their contributions and ensure they remain healthy, dynamic and well-resourced. We consider models such as Anaconda Dividendin which Anaconda committed to reinvest 1% of its annual income back into the open source communities they depend on, and GitHub Sponsors, Open Source Collective, high tide and more. it’s the same examples of utility financing, which rely on a combination of public funding from governments and philanthropic organizations, as well as service providers, private companies and NGOs.
the time has come to require businesses that profit from open knowledge and open research to actively invest and share profits with the communities and infrastructure they depend on
IN Invest in open infrastructure (IOI) we are working to explore models and structures that can change the dynamics from extractive practices that impose unreasonable costs on researchers and institutions, lock up knowledge and privatize data, to one that requires greater accountability and reinvestment to promote a healthy and vibrant open research ecosystem. From a practical standpoint, we need stronger and clearer definitions of what “reasonable cost” means to achieve these goals, and ideally, publishers funnel a portion of their profits back into communities that fund their profits in a way that empowers and ensures more equitable access to and participation in scholarships around the world. We are working towards these goals by conducting an upcoming “reasonable cost” study on publicly funded research, and by collecting contributions to our 2024 Foundation support communities of researchers and institutional leaders to further implement and implement the infrastructure and services needed to achieve and develop open science.
It’s time to shift the dialogue from how to preserve the structures of the past to how to build a sustainable and just future. And the time has come to require businesses that profit from open knowledge and open research to actively invest and share profits with the communities and infrastructure they depend on.
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