OA journals: Definitions and motivations

I feel the need to say a little more about the last portion of this post (the Postscript) and the discussion here that engendered it. I’m saying it here rather than adding to the already extended series of comments (99 at last count!) at that post for various reasons.

First, I’ll repeat my request (which so far has no takers, and I guess it wasn’t precisely phrased as a question):

If you believe that “OA journals” includes “all journals that could conceivably include OA articles,”… If you think that definition of “OA journals” is either correct or common, let me know

Because that’s what David Crotty effectively did in the comment stream: redefine “OA journals” to include all hybrid journals (whether they’ve ever published OA articles or not).

Later, he claims he’s not trying to discredit my work (as does Rick Anderson). I don’t buy it (from Crotty–I do from Anderson), based on these additional Crotty comments:

When a researcher states that they can’t afford to pay APCs, the frequent response is that the majority of OA journals don’t charge APCs. To the researcher, who looks around at their publishing options and sees the majority of journals on the market charging for OA, that’s a confusing statement. To me it suggests cherrypicking, deliberately limiting an analysis to give a desired outcome, rather than accurately stating what’s there.

He’s now calling my work “cherrypicking” and claims I’m deliberately limiting the analysis. And, later:

Regardless, the total number of articles published with an APC in pure Gold OA journals is already higher than that published in purely OA journals that don’t charge an APC, so any hybrid articles, no matter the total number, just adds to that dominance of the APC model. And when one looks on a journal level, including hybrid options would flip the homily that most journals offering OA don’t charge for it.

Cherrypicking, “dominance of the APC model” and “flip the homily.”  Not trying to discredit my work? Riiiigghhht…

The “homily” that “most journals offering OA don’t charge for it” is one I’ve actually never seen, except in shorthand or badly worded statement. The factual assertion is that most OA journals don’t charge APCs–“most” as in about 70% of apparently reputable DOAJ-listed journals in 2014, including thousands from the global south where APCs are the distinct exception to the rule.

But, of course, if you redefine “OA journals” to include all scholarly journals that will make specific articles possibly-OA if they’re paid an outrageous sum (according to Wellcome Trust, hybrid APCs averaged 64% more than OA-journal APCs), then the game’s up: there are more journals that will publish an article with some form of OA for a fee than there are that will do so for nothing.

So, again, if “OA journals” includes hybrids–whether or not they’ve ever published OA articles, and consider that (AFAICT) every Elsevier journal offers an OA option–then I want to know that. I’ll shut up and go away.

Otherwise, there’s a somewhat valid question: to what extent does focusing on OA journals (gold OA journals, that is, and specifically ones in DOAJ) distort the overall picture of the OA market?

The first answer is clear: It’s not knowable.

But I can poke at the edges in a couple of places:

  • The 2015 version of Outsell’s OA report–which focuses entirely on revenue possibilities and says essentially nothing about actual numbers of articles–claims $290.4 million total APC revenue for 2014. (No link because I’m relying on a PDF saved when somebody made the 2015 report available; I have no bookmark for the original source, if it’s still up.) My study yielded $308 million assuming no waivers or discounts, but also excluding hybrids. A generous figure for waivers and discounts appears to be 15%. If you subtract 15% from my figure you get $262 million, which would allow for a little over $28 million for hybrid journals. At $3,000 average APC (actually lower than Wellcome’s figure, and it seems clear that most hybrid APCs are very high), that’s enough for around 9,300 articles–or about 3.3% of the APC-charged articles I counted in actual OA journals. Yes, it increases the size of the universe-but not by much.
  • Wellcome’s own report for 2013-2014 shows about three times as many articles paid for in hybrid journals as in OA journals–and there were about 2,500 articles in hybrid journals. If we assumed that Wellcome’s experience was typical of all OA publishing-an absolutely outrageous assumption!–that would mean that something like 1.5 million OA articles were published in hybrid journals in 2014, in addition to the roughly 300,000 articles in APC-charging journals and  207,000 articles in OA journals that don’t charge APCs. Wow! Two million OA articles: Clearly, OA publishing already dominates peer-reviewed scholarship! (Yes, this is bullshit. It’s projection based on an absurdly small and specialized sample–somewhat like assertions about the average overall APC based on the same tiny set of Wellcome figures.)

The first bullet might have some remote relationship to the actual world. The second is obvious bullshit.

OK, enough of this. I need to refine the book’s outline and get started on the actual processing and writing. (I added my comment because the figures involved are so easy to generate: one derived column–APC times 2014 article count–and a pivot table. The rest is a little more difficult. It helps, of course, to have that master spreadsheet, the result of hundreds of hours of unpaid work. By the way, it sure would help to have some financial support for all this…)


2 Responses to “OA journals: Definitions and motivations”

  1. Thomas Munro says:

    I think hybrid journals are worth a side-note, but a journal that is 95% non-OA is not an OA journal. This distinction is clear to Elsevier, even if David Crotty claims to struggle with it. To quote sciencedirect.com –
    “-View the Open Access journal directory
    -View all publications with Open Access articles”
    Two different directories for two different things. This is no more complicated than hybrid animals. Mules are not horses. Ligers and tigons are not lions. Hybrid journals are not OA journals.

  2. Walt Crawford says:

    Thomas: I think we’re in agreement–but the side-note will, of necessity, be part of my “Caveats & Exclusions” section, since there’s really no way to know how much is actually happening. I found your point on Elsevier quite telling, and should have noticed it myself.