The Gold OA Landscape: Are facts irrelevant?

I’m adding a prefatory wrap to this post, having realized that I was hasty in apparently attacking the statements in a UK factsheet–when what I’m actually questioning is the definition of the universe involved.

I’m not changing the post’s title because that just gets confusing–and I’m not withdrawing “Are facts irrelevant?” because it’s a question that keeps arising when I read various discussions. I do believe that a small sampling operation done by academics or official bodies will be treated considerably more seriously than a 100% scan done by the great unwashed (“independent scholars” like me), and that “facts” can be very fuzzy things, especially when definitions of universes are involved.

And I do believe that it is at best misleading to treat every journal whose publisher says “Sure, if you pay us a huge sum of money we’ll make your article OA, but we won’t lower subscription prices” as being equivalent to a true Gold OA journal in defining the OA market. Misleading, but not technically falsifiable. If it’s true that UK scholars are gravitating toward the double-dipping approach, that’s a shame–but maybe UK universities and libraries are so well-funded that it’s not an issue. I wouldn’t know; poor American universities like Harvard and UC clearly aren’t.

Now that I’ve confused the situation even more, and felt every day of my 70 years in the process, I’ll step away and provide the original post.

The original post follows, with some updates at the end.

First off, a little deal: Lulu will pay for the USMail shipping (or give 50% off ground shipping) if you use coupon code FGA915 now through September 21, 2015. Not a big savings, but something (apparently only one person took advantage of the 20% sale, but that’s 100% of the book sales to date.)

Then this: “Monitoring the transition to Open Access,” a September 2015 “factsheet” from UniversitiesUK, includes this paragraph:

Levels of Article Processing Costs (APCs) vary widely. Most journals charge between £1,000 and £2,000; only small minorities, concentrated in a few publishers, charge either less than £1,000 or more than £2,000.

I don’t find qualifying statements (“most journals that UK authors publish in…” or “most biomed journals that UK authors publish in…”) so I’ll take that at face value.*

My spreadsheet, based on actual visits to every journal in the Directory of Open Access Journals as of June 2015, shows the following (assuming $1,550 to $3,100 as the dollar equivalent of the ranges in that paragraph):

  • More than £2,000 ($3,100): 23 journals publishing 3,091 articles in 2014.
  • Between £1,000 and £2,000 ($1,550 to $3,100): 548 journals publishing 73.609 articles in 2014.
  • Some APC but less than £1,000 ($1 to $1,550): 1,899 journals publishing 198,996 articles in 2014.

I am unsure of the arithmetic system in which 1,899+23 is a “small fraction” of the universe of DOAJ-listed APC-charging journals (2,470 in this count). It looks like 77.8% to me (and 73% of the articles) to me.

Here’s the thing: They’re funded. I’m not. They’re official. I’m not. And that “fact” sheet will get a lot more coverage than my work: count on it.

Am I going to respond directly to them? I’m getting old and tired, and wouldn’t really know who to respond to anyway. And there’s probably some huge unstated asterisk in their paragraph that makes it correct for some set of circumstances.

Anyone wanna bet that it will not be used as though there was no such asterisk?

*UPDATE: OK, I now realize the hidden asterisk: This factsheet is treating “hybrid” journals as part of the overall universe, I don’t doubt that “hybrid” journals typically charge very high APCs–after all, that’s part of their game.

Therefore, what we really have is further evidence that “hybrid” OA is mostly a scheme to make sure that high publisher profits aren’t disturbed by OA.

What I study is Gold OA–journals that immediately make all of their peer-reviewed articles available for online reading. And apparently UK authors are more comfortable with “hybrid” OA.

Second update: 

On one hand, I’m tempted to pull this post as overreacting, since there is a way of defining the universe that may make their assertions correct (if half of subscriptions are actually hybrid–which seems high, and if so impresses me that the UK group was able to determine the status of 20,000+ journals, then, yes, assuming most of those APCs are in the somewhat outrageous £1,000 to £2,000 range, it only takes, say, 6,000 such hybrids to make 1,922 into a “small fraction.”

I simply question whether it’s meaningful to call “hybrid” journals OA journals in any real sense, unless they’ve actually published a significant number of OA articles and stated a clear policy for adjusting subscription prices to reflect the extra income from APCs. To me, double-dipping isn’t OA; it’s a scheme to protect publisher profits.

So I’m going to leave this post up. I believe gold OA is an important part of OA. Serious gold OA–best defined by the contents of DOAJ–is what I look at. You can define the universe in such a way as to swamp that area of study, to be sure.

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