Developing a Healthy and Diverse OA Market

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For OASPA, having a healthy and diverse publishing market is integral to our mission. We want to promote the development of diverse systems, business models and policies that support OA publishing and encourage a healthy and diverse market for pure OA publishing in the longer term.

In order to shape our goals in this area, we recognised that we need to develop a better understanding of ‘the open access market’. We need to assess the roles of different actors in shaping this market, including researchers, public, private and not-for-profit entities. We also need to acknowledge that in many disciplines and regions of the world open access publishing is not delivered through market mechanisms at all. Finally, we need to identify the influential factors and drivers that can bring about positive change, or are doing so already. 

We’ve therefore commissioned Research Consulting to work with a small steering group of OASPA members to develop our approach to this area, and will be engaging with a wide range of stakeholders on this topic over the next few months. 

Emerging definitions

We have developed a working definition of ‘the open access market’ as follows: ‘the economic system that enables the dissemination of peer-reviewed manuscripts containing original research or scholarship immediately upon publication, at no charge to user groups, without requiring registration or other access barriers, and with minimal restrictions on re-use’. 

A healthy open access market can then be defined as one where publishing services are underpinned by stable and scalable revenues, where authors (and libraries acting on their behalf) can publish their research open access either free of charge or at an affordable price and readers are able to access journal articles free of charge and with minimal restrictions on re-use. Collectively, the market must enable efficient and high-quality dissemination of scientific information. 

Diversity is also an essential characteristic of an optimal scholarly communications system. A diverse open access market is one that successfully accommodates different workflows, languages, publication outputs, and research topics in order to support the needs and epistemic pluralism of different research communities. 

Understanding the problem

Our early analysis of this subject indicates that the current open access market compares favourably to the traditional paywalled market on measures of both health and diversity. However, there are a number of reasons to believe it is becoming less healthy and diverse over time. These include the acquisition of a large number of ‘born open access’ publishers by established players, the growing popularity of transformative (or ‘transitional’) agreements and the wider societal trend for a small number of data-centric platforms to dominate digital markets. 

Can we find solutions?

We’ve found it helpful in our early discussions to conceptualise the creation of a healthy and diverse open access market as a wicked problem: one “whose social complexity means that it has no determinable stopping point“. Our aim is therefore not to come up with permanent solutions that can fix the market, but rather to develop a more nuanced understanding of the issues involved in creating a healthy and diverse market, and the range of possible interventions that can be adopted. 

In particular, we know that in recent years research funders have taken a more active interest in scholarly communication, and specifically the open access market. A key question here is then, what part can funders play in shaping the open access market to be healthier and more diverse, and what part can publishing organisations themselves play in creating such a market, working in partnership with researchers, libraries and other stakeholders?

Next steps

The interconnected nature of scholarly publishing and the actors within it mean that we need a constructive dialogue on these issues that takes account of a wide range of stakeholder perspectives. We are currently preparing an issue brief to review the current state of the open access market, and over the coming weeks will be inviting a broad range of stakeholder representatives to join us in two workshops this July which will dig further into some of these complex issues.

Workshops are by invitation only, purely to keep numbers manageable, but we know this issue is of interest to many. We will therefore be sharing regular progress updates on our blog, and will publish a full report of the workshop outcomes later this year. We do of course welcome and encourage comments from the community here on our blog, or please feel free to contact Claire Redhead directly with any questions.

  • The following brief was issued to participants in the workshops as preparation and a focus for the discussion at those sessions: OASPA Issue Brief_Final 
  • The definitions and characteristics within were debated by attendees in a discussion guided by this slide deck  
  • Please note that neither of these are outputs from the discussions held in the workshops – we intend to share a formal output later in the year.

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