Jason Schmitt on For-Profit Publishing, Plan S, and Pulling the Band-Aid Right Off

Jason Schmitt
Professor at Clarkson University

The Open Access Week is a yearly event which raises awareness and promotes the free, immediate, and online access to scientific research through Open Access (OA) publishing. For Open Access Week 2018, running from 22-28 October 2018, Eurodoc will publish an article each day on various aspects of OA from international experts.

In this second article of the series, Jason Schmitt, Professor at Clarkson University, discusses his recent documentary and views on OA and the scholarly publishing system.

I’ve spent the last two years traveling 45,000 miles around the world interviewing leading researchers, academics, librarians, and philanthropists about the current publishing climate for my newly released documentary Paywall: The Business of Scholarship. During all of these conversations, not one person referenced the current publishing system, whose aim is to serve humanity and act as a catalyst for our planet’s progress, as healthy, effective, or equitable.

If you watch Paywall, what you will see is a uniform clarity that distinguishes itself very quickly: scholars and the global community need Open Access (OA) to research and data in the future; however, when that will occur is still, unfortunately, to be determined. I’ve heard numerous times that the classification system revolving around our current push toward OA is more akin to a Tiffany’s jewellery display rather than an easy to discern way forward: there are, for instance, ‘platinum’, ‘diamond’, ‘gold’, and ‘green’ models, each bringing unique attributes and concessions. All these methods take some unpacking and a certain cognitive affinity to understand.

It isn’t just the taxonomy of access methods that complicate up-and-coming scholars’ paths forward, but also the multiplicity of voices in disciplines, scholarly society’s reluctance to change, tenure review processes, and general in-fighting by so many different initiatives within the OA community. From my subjective viewpoint: it’s a debacle.

Based upon the prior frenzy, it is no wonder that for-profit publishers continue to succeed with lavish 30-40% profit margins. In fact, the status quo makes it easy for them to do so. The research journal economic model has to be the easiest (and slowest) gazelle the lion ever caught.

But that model will change.

In many ways, our lumbering speed of fleeing from the lion’s grasp is related to the fact that scholarship seems addicted to the status quo. For-profit publishing and cigarette smoking have more in common than you might think. We can always cognitively justify ‘just one more prestige publisher publication’. After all, we crave impact factors’ ease of use and concise nature. It feels comforting, relying on a staff of publisher-supplied publicists, graphic designers, and coordinators, which we know is excessively expensive and not at all healthy. But days turn to years and, then, decades (it was 16 years since the original Budapest Open Access Initiative was set forth in 2002) and, perhaps, that longitudinal timeline alone acknowledges it is time for an intervention.

I’ve never witnessed someone quit smoking a pack-a-day by doing so gradually. In my mind, it is either all or nothing; exactly like ripping a Band-Aid right off. In many ways, this is what excites me about the new ‘Plan S’ to achieve full and immediate OA by 2020 and this specific moment in time. Let’s quit pontificating and get to action already. And just like a smoker needing to throw out his or her cigarettes, let’s keep the old options off the table so we don’t fall back on them due to habit.

For researchers wanting to publish in OA: see Think Check Submit.

For a list of organisations working in the OA space: see Open Access Directory.

Some universities have affiliated institution deals with specific OA journals to reduce or remove ‘article processing charges’ (APCs): see Erasmus University Library.

Recent negotiations and cancellations of big deal publishing contracts between research institutions and publishers: see SPARC.

How journals could flip to OA: see Martin Paul Eve.

I’d also recommend supporting EIFL and SPARC Europe!


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License.