August 2007
The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communications & Cyberinfrastructure
Peter Suber, Earlham College

  1. More scholars are posting their articles online even if they don't have their publisher's permission. As long ago as October 2005, Alma Swan found that seven out of eight articles published in the inaugural issue of Nature Physics, which had a six month embargo on self-archiving, were free online somewhere on the day of publication. Regardless of what this shows about copyright, it shows a healthy desire for OA. We don't know whether the volume of OA produced this way is large or small, but already (according to the April 2007 RIN study) readers routinely try Google and email requests to the author before interlibrary loan when they hit a pay-per-view screen at a journal web site. Both trends - posting OA copies, with or without permission, and searching for OA copies - are growing.
  2. Subscription prices are still rising faster than inflation after more than three decades. A March 2006 study by the ALPSP found that high journal prices cause many more cancellations than OA archiving. Rapidly rising prices undermine the sustainability of the subscription model. They undermine publisher arguments that all who need access already have it. They undermine publisher arguments that we shouldn't fix what isn't broken. They undermine the credibility, and even the good faith, of publishers who argue that OA threatens peer review, by threatening their subscriptions, when their own hyperinflationary price increases are far more potent in the same cause. They strengthen the incentives for libraries, universities, funders, and governments to join the campaign for OA.
  3. The cost of facilitating peer review is coming down as journal management software improves, especially the free and open source packages like DPubS, E-Journal, ePublishing Toolkit, GAPworks, HyperJournal, OpenACS, SOPS, TOPAZ, and the segment leader, Open Journal Systems. This reduces the cost of publishing a peer-reviewed journal, improves the financial stability of peer-reviewed OA journals, and multiplies the number of business models that can support them.
  4. More publishers are launching hybrid OA journals, which will make any of their articles OA if an author or author-sponsor pays a publication fee. I've been critical of many of these programs, in part for high prices and needless restrictions that reduce author uptake. But even with low uptake they will (slowly) increase the volume of OA literature, (slowly) spread the OA meme to more authors and readers, and (slowly) give publishers first-hand experience with the economics of one kind of OA publishing.
  5. More journals are willing to let authors retain key rights, especially the right of postprint archiving, and more are willing to negotiate the terms of their standard copyright transfer agreement. More authors are willing to ask to retain key rights and more institutions are willing to help them. More organizations are drafting "author addenda" (contract modifications to let authors retain key rights), and more universities are encouraging their faculty to use them. There are now major addenda from SPARC, Science Commons, OhioLINK, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, and a handful of individual universities. The default in most journals and fields is still for authors to transfer nearly all rights to publishers, including the right to decide on OA for the peer-reviewed postprint. Corrections to this imbalance haven't gone nearly far enough, but the slope of the curve is definitely up.
  6. More and more toll-access (TA) journals are dropping their print editions and becoming online-only. Steven Hall of Wiley-Blackwell predicts that 50% of scholarly journals will become online-only within the next 10 years. As high-quality, high-prestige journals make this transition, scholars who still associate quality and prestige with print will (happily or unhappily) start to unlearn the association. At the same time, the rise of high-quality, high-prestige OA journals will confirm the new recognition that quality and medium are independent variables. TA publishers are joining OA advocates in creating an academic culture in which online publications earn full credit for promotion and tenure. Online publications need not be OA, of course, but changing the culture to accept online publications is more than half the battle for changing the culture to accept OA publications.

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Reference this article
Suber, P. "Trends Favoring Open Access," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 3, August 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/08/trends-favoring-open-access/

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