As 2021 draws to a close and the global pandemic enters yet another phase, the need for diverse approaches to open science and open access in particular has never been more urgent.
However, there’s an increasing narrative that some commercial publishers are seeking to impose on the open access debate – that only commercial publisher-supported and paid open access is the long term solution. As Steven Inchcoombe, Chief Publishing Officer at Springer Nature puts it in a recent post at the Scholarly Kitchen, that “funders, institutions and consortia should to come with us on this full and immediate Gold OA journey and commit to policies which clearly place Gold OA as the preferred publishing option for the research they have funded”.
This is an alarming and narrow-minded commercial profit-making view of the future of open access. Inchcoombe states [green open access] “is simply not sustainable, relying as it does on the continuation of library subscription fees.” However, the gold open access approach advocated for by Springer Nature and others is not sustainable either, with unrealistic year-on-year increases in article processing charges looking set to replace (or perhaps be in addition to) unrealistic year-on-year increases in subscription prices – thus furthering inequity.
Now, more than ever, as most notably highlighted in the UNESCO Open Science Recommendation, we need to work towards a bibliodiverse world. Bibliodiversity is viewed by publishers as a threat – and for good reasons. Diversity is a complex space and one that resists neat flows of money – which is of course what commercial publishers most need in order to support their businesses. We need to keep in mind that above all publishers are service providers to the research community, and the needs of the research community are both very different to those of commercial publishers and constantly evolving. In this bibliodiverse world, repositories have many roles, most notably as holders and disseminators of institutional knowledge. It would be a dangerous move to cede to publishers the control of academic content. Furthermore, in a world where we can easily distinguish between versions through the use of DOIs and versioning tools, huge usage of preprint repositories and of university repositories such as QUT ePrints directly challenge publisher statements that publisher-branded versions are the only ones that matter or are used. Repositories can also be cradles of invention and nurture initiatives that support locally important priorities, as illustrated by Tuwhera at AUT.
The stakes are rising as the global debate shifts to how we get to open access rather than whether we should have open access. Instead of attempting to force the world into a narrow publisher-centric world, we need a conversation that embraces a truly open, researcher-centric, bibliodiverse and integrated world underpinned by the principles of interoperability and equity.