More Fall-Out from Gold Open Access?

Following the Finch Report, the Government’s endorsement of its recommendations and the statement of policy from RCUK, Gold Open Access (OA) and its implications are at the forefront of many minds.

To refresh memories: Green OA is where a pre- or post-print of a traditionally published article is placed in a publicly accessible institutional or subject repository, often with an embargo period of 6-12 months; Gold OA is where the author or institution pays the costs of publication (of the editorial and peer review process, etc.) of an article, known as the article processing cost (APC). Gold is now the preferred option of Government and the Research Councils.

There are currently just over 28k peer-reviewed journals; of these only 3k, or 13%, are open access; some others will of course be hybrid, combining Gold OA with subscription. But the subscription model, which has been with us for 350 years, is still dominant. If the Finch Report’s recommendations are followed, the next few years will see an upheaval in the mechanisms and funding of scholarly communication as we switch to Gold OA. The research-intensive institutions stand to pay far more, the research-light ones to save. Decision-making on where to publish will take account not only of impact factors but also of the new metric of APCs. Provided that universities can gain access to this information, publishers will increasingly be challenged on the combined metric, and not on subscription price.

It is in this context that the recent acquisition of Atira by Elsevier is of such interest. As we all know, Elsevier is one of the major scholarly publishers, which also has Scopus in its stable. It thus has a major interest in two ends of the scholarly publication chain: the citation data on which to judge a journal as a target for publication (Scopus) and the journals publishing the research outputs. The middle link of the chain is the research management system, of which Atira is one of the leading providers.

The acquisition can therefore be seen as a clever, perhaps aggressive, move by Elsevier to offset potential fall in revenue from subscription journals by controlling more of the publication chain and the information it contains, thus influencing decision-making.