(Gold) Open Access: the two sides of the coin

Image taken from: http://blog.scholasticahq.com/post/100004713143/a-pay-it-forward-approach-to-open-access-publishing

This is the last one of a series of post published, during the last two months, as part of my Open Access visiting scholarship. This visiting at the Institute for Cultural Studies will conclude with an open presentation in a few days at the Faculty of Arts at KU Leuven, entitled: Rethinking open access: alternative forms of sustainability and social impact metrics.

In this post we present some of the virtues and misfortunes of Gold OA. This is a summary of two extremely interesting interviews, which show the two sides of the spectrum. The first one made to Jeffrey Beall who explains how “predatory publishers” are “poisoning” Gold OA. At the other side of the coin, Neil Christensen purposes a new redistributive article processing charges [APC’s] which includes micro-payments for editors and reviewers.

Jeffrey Beall (who created an incredible and scary list of ‘questionable, scholarly open-access publishers‘) explains that predatory publishers are those who exploit the gold open access model simply to make a profit. Adding, journals operate as vanity presses, offering to publish nearly any article as long as the author can pay the fee. They’re very clever, he argued, their job is to get the author fees. So the authors are the customers, and they don’t care so much about the people who read the contents. Their job is to get the money from the authors, so they do everything they can to make themselves look legitimate. Here some excerpts from the interview:

  • One trademark behavior is the use of mass e-mails to solicit manuscripts, editorships, or peer reviewers where unscrupulous entrepreneurs might use the gold open access model to make money from unsuspecting researchers hit the mainstream academic press. It’s a significant problem for the gold open access model itself, which I think is being poisoned by predatory publishers.

A call for higher transparency, accountability and a crowdsource publishing ethic:

  • There’s no objective way to measure new open access journals, especially when the publishers lack transparency and hide their operations. We can’t measure how well they’re doing their peer review or if they’re doing it at all. So the only way to judge them is by gathering all the information you can from their Web sites, from talking to them, from reading e-mails from people who have worked with them or submitted articles to them and combine all of that information and complete the analysis.
  • It’s going to be tough for libraries to filter those out because so many libraries do batch loading now. Academic librarians need to remove metadata for predatory publishers and predatory journals from their online catalogs and all of their discovery systems and library Web sites. By including predatory publishers in library systems, they’re giving these journals a tacit seal of approval from the library.
  • I wish there were a way to crowdsource publishing ethics. I wish there was a way that people could report instances of author misconduct. I think that would help science a lot.
  • What I really like is what I call platinum open access, which is the same as gold open access, except there’s no author fee. That takes away the conflict of interest for the publishers because they don’t make more money the more articles they accept.



On the other side of the spectrum, Neil Christensen from the University of California Press (UCP) explained a work-in-progress new kind of OA journal model (to be launched in 2015), based on article processing charges (APCs) but aiming to give editors and reviewers the opportunity to put their earnings towards their supporting institution’s OA initiatives [read full interview]. Here some excerpts:

The framework:

  • You have all of this research that’s being generated by researchers that publishers are receiving for free, and then to review it you recruit a lot of researchers to do a lot of additional work for free, and then once you’ve received all of this free stuff you sell it back at a premium to the same researchers and their libraries. And that fee just seems to go up year and year and year, prices on journals are continuing to increase and the ability of the academic community to pay those fees is stagnating.
  • Traditionally there has been this notion that the world as we know it would end tomorrow if big publishers had to pay for the services that they’re receiving for free from the academy, and that’s not the case. What’s really unsustainable is the notion that the academic process can uphold the big profit margins that commercial publishing houses are showing—that’s unsustainable.

The vision:

  • There is a systematic issue there with the academy of researchers not being fully recognized for the value they were contributing.
  • The model is grounded on the idea of redistribution where we take a portion of the APC out and put it in a pool of money: We’re saying, “let’s try and do what’s already being done in terms of APCs only do it at a lower price and recognize that the academy has a role there in generating value.”
  • One element is that we want an APC that is as low as possible: we want to be non-profit and help facilitate profit for the academy. The other element is the value: a portion of the APC is going to be paid to editors and reviewers, and editors and reviewers will have the choice of what they want to do with that value.
  • When you look at the open access APCs that commercial publishers offer, they charge three, four, and five thousand dollars to publish. That’s a lot of money, and out of that money not a single cent goes back to the reviewers. Of course the editors of those journals get paid for their work. But the reviewers, none of them see that money, and their hosting institutions who provide the offices and the computers, they don’t see any of that money.

The model:

  • The aim is to create an OA mega-journal (multiple journals with a APCs model) including three sort of wide divisions: the first one is life sciences and biomedical sciences, the second is ecology and environmental sciences, and the third one is social and behavioral sciences. We had people who asked for payments discipline-specific, but we’re not trying to launch something like that. We want something wide, where you pay it forward to the general pool and that will benefit anyone.
  •  If we established an APC of $875, and out of that $875 we are going to pay $250 (micro-payments) to the reviewers and editors, that leaves us with $625 of revenue we need on the publication side to pay the platform partners and transaction partners. 
  • For each peer-review there is a point value. It’s a very simple logic: give people points for activities, look at total sum of revenue, and allocate that sum of revenue according to the points that people have generated. You take the total sum of the money in the pool and then divide it by the total sum of the peer-reviews that have been generated for that period, and then allocate the money based on how many points or value each individual has contributed, but it doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve accepted or rejected a manuscript.

My comment: Evidently Gold OA can be used for a variety of purposes. While it is a great opportunity to enable access to a larger audience, at the same time it diversifies the possibilities to offer dubious dissemination platforms. Probably, the way to go is to increase the awareness, generate community building, enable channels of discussion to explain and crowdsource the opportunities as well as the ethic behind open publishing.


Gold OA is not the only way of making science available,
OpenAIRE’s offers a public repository worth it to explore.


Wilson, Kristen. “Librarian vs.(open access) predator: An interview with Jeffrey Beall.” Serials Review 39.2 (2013): 125-128.

Padula, D. (2014). A Pay-it-Forward Approach to Open Access Publishing: Interview with Neil Christensen of UC Press. Retrieved November 17, 2014.