Gold Open Access, Organizational and Discipline-Specific Barriers to its Adoption and Business Model Viability

As the response of the University of Cambridge to the United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) agency indicates, the adoption of Gold Open Access continues to face barriers related to intellectual property rights and business model sustainability.

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For books and articles in visual arts, Open Access is likely to involve inherent barriers, since they can include copyright-protected images with rights held by third parties, limited funds for the acquisition of preferred visual content and insufficient institutional support from national research frameworks. Alternatively, as the report by the University of Cambridge and UKRI suggests, whereas preprint versions of paywall-protected publications can facilitate compliance with Open Access policies, given that not all papers in institutional repositories and preprint servers undergo peer review, their availability does not ensure access to validated scholarly knowledge, while potentially undermining the business models of scholarly journals.

Therefore, not all academic disciplines have equal preconditions for transitioning to various Open Access models, such as the presence of a community-wide, consistent, and border-crossing approach to copyright and licensing issues. Furthermore, for smaller publishers, university presses and research universities, paywall fees are likely to constitute a significant component of their business models, which likely limits the economic viability of embargo-free Open Access. These market agents can be expected to prefer the coexistence of Green and Gold Open Access in addition to innovative, sustainability-oriented models of its implementation.

In addition, research universities with high article publication volumes switching to Gold Open Access models are likely to be also shouldering significant costs due to article processing charges (APCs). Policy frameworks, such as those in the United Kingdom (UK), that favor zero-month embargoes provide the Gold Open Access model with advantages, e.g., grant funding, that Green Open Access does not have without bringing about a wholesale transition to the former model, as the report from the University of Cambridge highlights. Yet, in 2019, the latter organization had secured funding for only up to 50% of its estimated Gold Open Access costs.

In the same vein, for university presses, such as Cambridge University Press, transitioning from subscription-based deals to transformative Open Access agreements has been estimated to entail a decline in revenues of approximately 15%, due to a low expected take-up of pay-to-publish models by academic institutions with article output levels that do not justify the associated costs. Budget limitations also apply to universities with high output levels so that extra expected expenses associated with APCs can act as a deterrent for the adoption of Gold Open Access, regardless of discipline-specific barriers it also faces.

On the side of academic or small-scale publishers, transitioning to Open Access, as a business model, can also require increased investment into advanced technology, labor force and change management, which might reduce their profit margins without enabling them to take advantage of the economies of scale that large publishers are in a position to enjoy.

Thus, transformative Gold Open Access agreements do not necessarily produce win-win results for publishers and universities, since they likely demand capital investment, protracted inter-organizational negotiations, and expertise-related costs. This indicates the likely continued importance of Green and hybrid Open Access for the scholarly publishing market and a significant role for innovative business models in this sector.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: King College’s Chapel (Cambridge), University of Cambridge, UK, August 2, 2016 | © Courtesy of Pablo Cabezos/Flickr.

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Pablo Markin

Community Manager, Open Research Community

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Pablo Markin about 1 month ago

It appears that, for the University of Cambridge, the issues this post describes have largely been in place in 2017 as well, when Open Access costs have not been demonstrated to reduce subscription expenses, Open Access policy implementation and compliance has required multiple internal and external technical systems, such as for manuscript handling, paperwork and repositories, and its Open Access transition would likely not be feasible without external or country-level funding.