Developing a healthy and diverse OA market: Reflections

Earlier in the year we announced that OASPA was undertaking some work with a wider group of stakeholders to explore the nature of the open access market and the perspectives of different stakeholder groups, with a view to gaining a better understanding of the forces in play and a potential role for OASPA as an organisation in supporting a key area of our mission.

In early July 2021 OASPA and Research Consulting ran two workshops for a broad range of stakeholder representatives on developing a healthy and diverse open access (OA) market.

We created an ‘issue brief’ which was sent to all workshop participants in preparation and we openly shared the issue brief and the slides used at the workshops on our blog at the same time.

We now are pleased to release a report detailing the outcome of the two workshops. This report is a summary of the discussions that took place, together with our subsequent conclusions and reflections.

The workshop content was identical for both sessions and aimed to explore the following questions:

  • What do we mean by the open access market?
  • What are the characteristics of a healthy and diverse open access market?
  • What roles do market forces, regulation and the community play in creating the market?
  • How can different actors collaborate to ‘co-create’ a healthy and diverse market?

There were a number of key takeaways from the workshops, and further details on all of these areas can be found in the downloadable report:

What is the market?

  • The term ‘market’ is highly contested, and in many regions of the world the market fails to meet the needs of researchers.
  • Change in the open access market cannot happen without change in the wider scholarly communications landscape.
  • The market cannot be understood in isolation, but is shaped by the wider cultural and sociotechnical forces at play within academia.

Understanding the problem

  • The shift to immediate open access is complicated, but progress can be made through a process of political decision-making.
  • The creation of a healthy and diverse open access market is complex. We are at a stage of dialogue, debate and innovation, rather than decision making.
  • A key source of tension is whether to prioritise the move to immediate OA and resolve market problems later, or reform the market as an integral part of the transition to OA.

Characteristics of a healthy and diverse OA market

  • There is presently little agreement on the characteristics of a healthy and diverse OA market.
  • Sustainability, quality, diversity and equity are seen as desirable in principle, but difficult to define or implement in practice.
  • A fully-formed vision of a healthy and diverse OA market requires broader consultation, with no guarantee of a consensus being achievable.

The role of the market

  • While market mechanisms dominate many forms of scholarly communication, their use is politically charged.
  • Scholarly communication is a ‘mixed economy’, with some free market elements and some socialistic elements.
  • Open access is changing the locus of competitive advantage, but market forces alone appear unlikely to deliver a healthy and diverse market.

The role of regulation

  • There is good evidence that regulation can be effective in shaping the scholarly communication marketplace.
  • Comprehensive regulation of the global market would require a level of international consensus that looks unlikely in practice.
  • The effectiveness of government and funder interventions are constrained by slow decision making and the limited attention and resources devoted to open access.

The role of community

  • The term community is complex and local context plays a significant role in the differing challenges and circumstances communities face.
  • Communities can and should play a key role in governance, and can drive market demand.
  • Engaging researchers remains a challenge but their support is key. Representatives of the research community have a critical role in ensuring the market meets researchers’ needs.

We are incredibly grateful to all of the workshop participants for making time for these sessions and for openly contributing their opinions and expertise during the discussions. While the issues around the OA market are understandably complex and there remains no obvious neat solution, this work on mapping the current picture has given us an extremely valuable overview which can serve as a jumping off point for further work across stakeholders. Importantly, this is not work that OASPA can or should take forward in isolation.

Areas surfaced by workshops that could be built into OASPA’s future program of work are:

  • Strengthening community representation in the governance of publishing services and infrastructure.
  • Developing norms and standards for responsible behaviour in the OA marketplace.
  • Supporting efforts to transform researcher assessment and evaluation mechanisms.

The report and the workshops do of course have limitations in the diversity of representation and views, both geographically and in terms of the actors within stakeholder groups, and so a critical part of taking this work forward must be to address that and to continue to build up the picture of the OA market and the related perspectives, both within OASPA’s own membership but, crucially, also from the wider community. OASPA will continue to openly share progress on this work and materials that arise from it. We look forward to any initial comments and feedback either directly or via this post.


More Resources

OASPA Open Letter to UKRI

COVID-19 Publishers Open Letter of Intent – Rapid Review

OASPA Response to European Commission Expert Group Report

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