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University Libraries May Face Budget Constraints and Low Efficiency, Unless Transitions to Open Access are Outsourced

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Grand Reading Hall, Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA, June 23, 2008 | © Courtesy of Catherine Shyu/Flickr.

While universities seek the inclusion of Open Access into their journal subscription deals with large publishers, such as Elsevier, they may underappreciate the market-wide and budget-related impact of consequential transitions to Open Access.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

In their recent report, made public in February, 2018, University of California Libraries have examined possible avenues for transitioning to Open Access. However, the sustainability of Open Access publishing models has not received sufficient attention in this report, as these libraries are both clients and providers of Open Access solutions, such as pre-print repositories. This especially applies to Green Open Access, as journal publishers base their rationale for charging subscription fees for recent content, expected to be unavailable otherwise. However, the online availability of pre-print and post-print article versions undermines this model, which makes it non-viable for publishers and is likely to lead these to dig into their negotiation positions with universities.

With the rise of institutional repositories, academic and research institutions, thus, compete with publishers for a share of the Open Access market, especially since they are likely to already have sufficient digital infrastructures to scale up their server solutions, be in a position to require their scholars to deposit near-identical to the published article versions at these servers and make the submission of these documents near-automatic or highly efficient. In this context, Gold Open Access receives significant attention also because it gives universities and institutes leverage against big publishers, as the momentum in this sector can be exploited to step up the demands for offsetting arrangements for article processing charges (APCs) so that the eventual contracts would cover both access to article databases and the publication of new papers in Open Access.

Universities, therefore, have a vested interest in encouraging scholarly communities to flip academic journals into Open Access, as this is expected to further sink their costs. Yet cash-strapped universities may need to apply for third-party funding to cover APCs or create internal outlays to pay for the associated expenses. While membership in Open Access consortia and touting the benefits of Open Access for the global South can reduce cost pressure through outsourcing, e.g., via funding from globally operating foundations, universities and libraries are likely to end up in the publishing business themselves as institutional repositories can be transformed into publishing platforms in their own right, while increasing their costs.

However, what may get overlooked in these situations is that the cost effectiveness of these Open Access publishing solutions for dozens of journals associated with a single university at most is likely to be significantly lower than that of large publishers managing multi-thousand portfolios of journal titles. This can put upward pressure on APC levels, especially after library budget cuts or the expiration of third-party funding the future availability of which can be difficult to predict.

Therefore, as recent reflections on the transitions to Open Access by Joseph Esposito, published on May 23, 2018, also indicate, in the long term the growing adoption of Open Access can lead to the cementing of the market positioning of large publishers that are likely to exploit their economies of scale to offer efficient solutions, low APCs and comprehensive services for their Open Access offerings, while enabling library budget reductions.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Grand Reading Hall, Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA, June 23, 2008 | © Courtesy of Catherine Shyu/Flickr.

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