Myths of Open Access

The Open Access policy debate will continue to dominate academic publishing in 2019 and beyond—and the outcomes will be defining for the sector.

The associated discussion is often framed as us and them. The rhetoric frequently heightened and divisive. Myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings abound and are thrown around carelessly. Here are a few of those most deserving of debunking:

01 Publishers are anti-Open Access. Publishers are all pro-Open Access. And UK academic publishers have been at the forefront of the global movement to open up access to research.

02 Publishers are not digital or innovative. Journals have been digital since the turn of the century. Ninety-two per cent of journal sales are digital or from a hybrid digital and print bundle. New technologies, platforms, services and business models are in academic publishers’ DNA.

03 Publishers are the only barrier to Open Access going quicker, further, faster. Authors, researchers and funders need to be brought on this journey as well. There is also a fundamental need for brands and quality markers. Digital makes that more important, not less.

04 Publishing skills aren’t necessary and their values aren’t commensurate with those of academics. How can a community that is committed to a global approach, high quality, rigour, meticulous preparation and accuracy not be?

05 The UK has so far failed in its approach to Open Access. It has done better than any other country on earth. We should be looking closely at what has worked, as well as the cause of any frustrations.

06 Open Access Policy should be developed in a way that is isolated from other areas of government policy thinking. How can that be right when it has so many interactions and implications with so many other areas of government policy: higher education, exports, Intellectual Property, copyright?

07 An Open Access flip can happen overnight. It is just way too complex for this. This is about the sustainability of the entire academic community, not just publishing. Whatever the frustrations, the solution is to set an achievable time frame and track progress towards it rigorously—not to pretend that it can be achieved quicker than is prudent or possible.

08 The UK can lead by isolation. The UK needs to move at a pace that enables it to bring others with it, not run off so fast that it ends up scaring off international
academics. If it does so, it risks finding itself outside of international norms and frameworks.

09 One size fits all. To suggest that the needs of such a diverse community—with so many different kinds of outputs, subjects and formats—can neatly be bundled up into one set of rules is both hugely risky and fanciful.

10 Policy change equals reduced costs. It isn’t that easy. It is risky, difficult and, if it is achievable at all, requires detailed planning, time and sometimes transitional investments to get there.

Publishing is not just a simple conduit for research, just as journals are not just repositories. Academic publishers stand for quality. They are champions of the disciplines they serve and an integral part of our world-renowned research and innovation ecosystem.

We have made huge progress on opening up access to academic research, but extreme Open Access proposals based on ideological thinking threaten that progress. The UK Research and Innovation review into Open Access will continue throughout this year, while Plan S is also in train. We must ensure that future Open Access is built on a sustainable model that publishers can help deliver.

As an industry, we also have a responsibility to do a much better job of explaining to people the important role that publishers play in academia and the wider knowledge economy. And myth-busting is a vital part of that.