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The Fragility and Presence of Government Funding for Open Access Initiatives Redefines the Role Global Publishers Play

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Origin - Investigating the Big Bang, European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Geneva, Switzerland, August 31, 2011 | © Courtesy of Ars Electronica.

In retrospect, the year 2017 demonstrates the staying power of Open Access, despite possible budget cuts, such as in the United States. Likewise, international foundations, Open Access publishing platforms, and European academic institutions have been fueling the transition to Open Access models internationally in 2017, which creates incentives for publishes to redefine their role in the journal publishing market.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


Despite apprehensions to the opposite, in the United States Open Access funding has remained largely untouched in 2017. As important as the free dissemination of scientific knowledge and information may be, without sustainable economic models backing their operations, Open Access initiatives can fold on short notice, if their governmental funding runs out. In many countries, the status quo of Open Access can be more fragile than what meets the eye suggests, since, as is the case in the United States, Open Access mandates may exist in weak form only or lack legal footing that can make them not uniformly binding or unsustainable in the long run.

The implications of this for Open Access journals or platforms is that, if their models do not involve charging fees from either scientific authors or those who access their content, they can be expected to become acquisition targets, such as the purchase of Digital Commons and Bepress by Elsevier in 2017. Developments such as this redefine the role of journal publishers in the Open Access market, as rather than operators of competing, subscription-based models, they become providers of Open Access solutions and negotiating parties in the course of transitions to Open Access, such as Elsevier in Germany.

While the Wellcome Trust and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have continued to be active in supporting Open Access in 2017, it cannot be overemphasized that for the institutional participants, on both sides of the supply and demand divide in the journal publishing market the adoption of Open Access not infrequently involves the prospect of cutting their costs in the long run, even though additional expenses can ensue in the short run, such as due to the launch of preprint servers that became increasingly popular in the last year. This is illustrated by the cancellation of its journal subscriptions by the University of Calgary in 2017, to realize expected yearly budget savings to the tune of 1.5 million CAD.

Though national-level policies for the transition to Open Access, such as that in Switzerland that plans to implement a comprehensive Open Access publication mandate for publicly funded research results by 2024 and those in Finland, represent important developments, they also entail funding commitments that are likely to be met effectively if publishing houses either handle this directly or operate dedicated platforms. Alternatively, university libraries can pool their resources in the form of subscription fees that support Open Access platforms, such as the Open Library of Humanities, which outsources journal publishing services to external providers.

As governmental bodies and national agencies recognize the importance of the policy-level adoption of Open Access, such as in Germany, global journal publishers, e.g., Elsevier, begin to operate in a more regulated journal publishing market, where contribution of Open Access to the public good is brought to bear on the interplay of market forces, where governments and foundations, such as the Swiss National Science Foundation, effectively become market players.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Origin – Investigating the Big Bang, European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Geneva, Switzerland, August 31, 2011 | © Courtesy of Ars Electronica.

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