Gold or green? Elsevier proposes regional open access model

Publisher argues European countries could move to subscription-free approach without international consensus

September 29, 2017
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Elsevier has proposed a shift towards regional models of open access publishing, warning that there is no international consensus over which subscription-free approach works best.

In a blog, the company suggests that publishers could make the same article available under different terms on different continents, according to local open access preferences. Articles would most likely be made available under gold open access terms – freely available to all, in return for an article publishing charge – in Europe, where Elsevier is locked in disputes with several sectors that want to shift to this model.

The same article could be made available under green open access terms – whereby a version of a paywalled article is made widely available after an embargo period – outside the continent, given that other research-intensive countries such as the US, China and Japan have shown greater interest in a green approach.

Gemma Hersh, Elsevier’s vice-president for policy and communications, says that universities and publishers “need to think creatively about how open access can be made to work in practice on a regional scale to cater to different paces and approaches to open access in different parts of the world”.

“In this way [of regional approaches], Europe could move forward to achieve its goals without waiting for international consensus,” Ms Hersh said. “And if this approach could be shown to deliver benefits to Europe, then it would create a persuasive evidence base from which to encourage other regions to follow Europe’s lead.

“At the same time, such a regional approach would have the advantage of enabling different parts of the world to move at their own pace and in line with their own needs.”

However, Elsevier’s suggestion was criticised by some open access advocates, with Martin Paul Eve, professor of literature, technology and publishing at Birkbeck, University of London, accusing the publisher of “redefining” open access on its own terms.

“I do not think that Elsevier’s strategy for gold open access to be only readable within specific regions is viable,” he told Times Higher Education. “For one, it negates the very principle of open access that some readers should be excluded; the core reason that open access was invented.

“Second, I am unsure how Elsevier plans to implement this…if the work is under an open licence, then anyone could transfer this outside Europe legally anyway. This implies that Elsevier intends to license its material differently, once more changing the definition of open access.”

Elsevier says that it is “ready and willing” to help the sector transition to open access, but its proposals come with a warning about the likely cost. Ms Hersh writes that advocates for a global open access model “should be clear that an entirely gold open access system would cost more in some regions and for some institutions – especially those that are highly research intensive and therefore pay more in a ‘pay to publish’ model – and that they consider this a price worth paying”.

In addition, she predicts that 80 per cent of articles around the world will continue to be published under the subscription model, so “any country that moves to gold open access first would need to pay to broadcast its articles while also continuing to subscribe to the rest of the world’s content published under the subscription model if they want to retain access to articles published elsewhere”.

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