The prediction that “It is almost certain that within the next few years most journals will become [Delayed] Gold (with an embargo of 12 months)” is an extrapolation and inference from the manifest pattern across the last half-decade:
1. Journal publishers know (better than anyone) that OA is inevitable and unstoppable, only delayable (via embargoes).
2. Journal publishers also know that it is the first year of sales that sustains their subscriptions. (The talk about later sales is just hyperbole.)
3. Publishers have accordingly been fighting tooth and nail against Green OA mandates, by lobbying against Green OA Mandates, by embargoing Green OA, and by offering and promoting hybrid Gold OA.
4. Although the majority of publishers (60%, including Elsevier and Springer) do not embargo Green OA, of the 40% that do embargo Green OA, most have a 1-year embargo.
5. This 1-year embargo on Green is accordingly publishers’ reluctant but realistic compromise: It is an attempt to ward off immediate Green OA with minimal risk by trying to make institutions’ and funders’ Green mandates Delayed Green Mandates instead of Green OA Mandates.
6. Then, as an added insurance against losing control of their content, more and more publishers are releasing online access themselves, on their own proprietary websites, a year after publication: Delayed Gold
The publishers’ calculation is that since free access after a year is a foregone conclusion, because of Green mandates, it’s better (for publishers) if that free access is provided by publishers themselves, as Delayed Gold, so it all remains in their hands (archiving, access-provision, navigation, search, reference linking, re-use, re-publication, etc.).
One-year delayed Gold is also being offered by publishers as insurance against the Green author’s version taking over the function of the publisher’s version of record.
(Publishers even have a faint hope that 1-year Gold might take the wind out of the sails of Green mandates and the clamor for OA altogether: “Maybe if everyone gets Gold access after a year, that will be the end of it! Back to subscription business as before — unless the market prefers instead to keep paying the same price that it now pays for subscriptions, but in exchange for immediate, un-embargoed Gold OA, as in SCOAP3 or hybrid Gold?”)
But I think most publishers also know that sustaining their current subscription revenue levels is a pipe-dream, and that all their tactics are really doing as long as they succeed is holding back the optimal and inevitable outcome for refereed research journal publishing in the OA era for as long as they possibly can:
And the inevitable outcome is immediate Green OA, with authors posting their refereed, accepted final drafts free for all online immediately upon acceptance for publication. That draft itself will in turn become the version of record, because subscriptions to the publisher’s print and online version will become unsustainable once the Green OA version is free for all.
Under mounting cancellation pressure induced by immediate Green OA, publishers will have to cut inessential costs by phasing out the print and online version of record, offloading all access-provision and archiving onto the global network of Green OA institutional repositories, and downsizing to just the provision of the peer review service alone, paid for — per paper, per round of peer review, as Fair Gold (instead of today’s over-priced, double-paid and double-dipped Fool’s Gold) — out of a fraction of each institution’s annual windfall savings from their cancelled annual subscriptions.
So both the 1-year embargo on Green and the 1-year release of Gold are attempts to fend off the above transition: OA has become a fight for that first year of access: researchers need and want it immediately; publishers want to hold onto it until and unless they continue to be paid as much as they are being paid now. The purpose of embargoes is to hold OA hostage to publisher’s current revenue levels, locking in content until they pay the right price.
But there is an antidote for publisher embargoes on immediate Green, and that is the immediate-institutional-deposit mandate plus the “Almost-OA” Request-a-Copy Button (the HEFCE/Liège model mandate), designating the deposit of the final refereed draft in the author’s institutional repository immediately upon acceptance for publication as the sole mechanism for submitting publications for institutional performance review and for compliance with funding conditions.
Once those immediate-deposit mandates are universally adopted, universal OA will only be one keystroke away: The keystroke that sets access to an embargoed deposit as Open Access instead of Closed Access. With immediate-deposit ubiquitous, embargoes will very quickly die their inevitable and well-deserved deaths under the mounting global pressure for immediate OA (for which impatience will be all the more intensified by Button-based Almost-OA).
The scenario is speculative, to be sure, but grounded in the pragmatics, logic and evidence of what is actually going on today.
(Prepare for a vehement round of pseudo-legal publisher FUD about the copy-request Button as its adoption grows — all groundless and ineffectual, but yet another attempt to delay the inevitable for as long as possible, by hook or by crook?)
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______ (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).
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