Open access will bankrupt us, publishers’ report claims

Publishers of humanities and social science journals could go bankrupt if all academic papers became freely available after six months, a report commissioned by publishers has warned.

June 1, 2012

The report, The Potential Effect of Making Journal Articles Freely Available in Repositories after a Six-Month Embargo, found that 65 per cent of the 210 libraries that responded to a survey would cancel at least some arts, humanities and social science (AHSS) journals if a universal open-access mandate were introduced with an embargo period of six months. Nearly a quarter of libraries would cancel their humanities and social science subscriptions entirely.

Six months is the standard embargo period suggested by advocates of “green” open access, after which authors would be expected to submit their papers to institutional or subject repositories. Research Councils UK’s draft new open-access policy also proposes that period, although it will accept a 12-month embargo for humanities and social science papers as a “transitionary arrangement”.

Only 10 per cent of libraries would cancel all their subscriptions to scientific journals if a universal six-month open access embargo were introduced, while 56 per cent would cancel no subscriptions.

UK libraries would be less likely than the global average to cancel subscriptions, with the libraries of Russell Group universities the least likely of all, according to the report, commissioned by the Publishers Association and the Association of Learned, Professional and Society Publishers.

The report concludes that the impact of a universal six-month open-access mandate on publishers’ revenues would be “considerable”.

“Libraries would be impacted by the collapse or scaling down of academic publishing houses…Most publishers would be obliged to review their portfolios; and a substantial body of journals, especially in AHSS subjects, would cease or be financially imperilled,” it says.

By contrast, the landmark Publishing and the Ecology of European Research (PEER) project announced last week it had found no evidence that the self-archiving of academic papers threatened journal viability.

The project, co-funded by the European Commission and overseen by a group of publishers, librarians and funders, found that self-archiving actually increased the number of times that papers, particularly those in the life sciences, were downloaded from publishers’ websites – although the reasons were unclear.

The PEER findings, announced at an end-of-project conference in Brussels on May 29, also indicated that the vast majority of academics did not self-archive their work even when asked to do so.

Meanwhile, a petition launched last month asking the Obama administration to impose an open-access mandate for all publicly funded research in the US has garnered nearly 23,000 signatures to date. If 25,000 people sign it by 19 June, the White House will be obliged to give an official response.

The full publishers' report is available here.

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