Book review: The Economics of Open Access – on the Future of Academic Publishing

Two decades ago, the world of academic publishing was taken by a storm called ‘open access’. The movement of ‘open access’ advocates for making published content available to the public for free. No fees and no (or little) right-based restrictions to limit access (apparently, the wisdom that authors need financial incentives to create does not apply to scholars who write for pleasure or reputation alone). The aim of open access is [was] to democratize access to knowledge.  In ‘The Economics Open Access’, Thomas Eger and Marc Scheufen investigate whether ‘open access’ strategies have delivered on their promises.

Combined with the rise of the Internet and digital technologies, open access strategies should have made the dissemination of knowledge (via academic publications) cheaper than ever. Instead, we find libraries facing higher subscription fees which forces them to cut back on their catalogue listing and monograph in-take…so what went wrong?

The book offers an economic empirical analysis the impact of ‘open access’ has had on the academic publishing market world-wide. The analysis is based on two different sets of data: an ‘objective’ data set capturing the state of the academic publishing markets (i.e. growth in publication numbers, publishers, levels of open-access practices etc.), and a ‘subjective’ data set which documents scholars’ views on open access policies and how they engage with them in practice. This second set of data, based on over 10,000 responses from 25 different countries, is undoubtedly the most novel and original contribution of the book to the debate.

Go ‘Green’ or go ‘Gold’

Go gold or go green?
In reality, publishing open access is not entirely ‘free’ of charge or free of intellectual property rights. The position currently adopted by publishers, researchers, governments and funders is more nuanced (and restricted) than this. They are two main ‘routes’ to open access which are defined and studied in detail in the book: the ‘gold open access’ and the ‘green open access’. ‘Gold open access’ is practiced and offered directly by the publisher. For example, a journal commits to publishing all of this material in open access. The costs of publishing are not offset against subscription fees but against the sponsors or subsidies of societies, governments or research grants (p. 6, pp. 29-39). ‘Green open access’ operates differently. The authors publish with journals who charge subscriptions to their users, but also publish copy of their work on a second, open, repository (e.g. SSNR) or on their personal website (pp. 6-7, pp. 39-44). The book reveals that both types of open access strategy are practised in almost equal measures overall, but that preferences for one or the other are noticeable depending on the academic discipline.

Bottom Line: is open access …good or bad?

The book concludes that, on the whole, open access policies are supported by the vast majority of academics. With universities, funders and governments on board, open access publication strategies should be a smooth sail for academics and libraries. Except, that it is not. Open access strategies appear to have triggered complicated levels of access, with varieties of copyright claims, licences or fees. Much of this failure does not find its roots in the dream of ‘open access’ itself but is to be found elsewhere. In their introduction, Eger and Scheufen point out two key factors (1) the ‘mini-monopolies’ which structures the academic publishing market (p. 2); and (2) the ability for publishers to use digital technologies to enforce overly restrictive copyright claims over their material. As a result, users are left with “fewer rights than they had with print journals” (p. 5, citing Suber). 

The book is an excellent study, starting much needed research into the future of open access publications in academia based on robust empirical data. This Kat looks forward to follow-on work, notably policy-focused propositions, on the basis of Eger and Scheufen’s contribution. The book will be useful to any practitioner, academic or policy-maker interested in the issue of open access publications, or on the state of the public domain more generally.

Book reviewed: The Economics of Open Access: On the Future of Academic Publishing. By Thomas Eger and March Scheufen. Edward Elgar. 2018. Extent: 168 pp. Hardback Price: £65.00 Web: £58.50. Ebook from £21.40 (here or here). Publication Date: 2018. ISBN: 978 1 78536 575 1.

Book review: The Economics of Open Access – on the Future of Academic Publishing Book review: The Economics of Open Access – on the Future of Academic Publishing Reviewed by Mathilde Pavis on Tuesday, September 11, 2018 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. Ironic that The Economics of Open Access costs as much as £65.00 for just 168 pages sandwiched between hard covers (which, compared with the e-book pricing, suggests that the cost of materials, manufacture and distribution is nearly £45.00).

    Good to see, though, that not all authors are content to give away the products of their labour for free - or worse, considering that many open-access journals make their money by charging authors (or their institutions) to publish.

    The real coat, of course, does not lie in publishing, which anybody can do these days at virtually no cost - as the IPKat well knows. The problem is 'authority', which has traditionally been conferred by reputation (aka branding) and peer review (aka yet another way that academics have worked for profit-making journals without charge). The fact that academic publishing was clearly broken does not mean that any of the so-called open access models are the right fix.

    If this work addresses these issues, it might be worth a read. I'm just not sure I can justify the expense!


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