I’ll begin today by citing the post Types of Open Access Publishing and the Benefits of Each” by Denise Mager from the blog Researcher.Life (16 August 2022), where I have found information on, precisely, the different types of open access publishing. Ready? (I’m shortening a bit the text):

  • Gold: The final published version of research articles is permanently and freely available for anyone, anywhere.
  • Green: The accepted article is first deposited into a subject-based repository or an institution’s repository, which then often specifies how the article may be used.
  • Diamond: journals provide free access for readers, but also for research authors to publish in (journals are supported by institutions or other infrastructures, hence they may not have a high-impact factor).
  • Hybrid: the subscription journal offers open access, but a processing fee is paid for individual articles.
  • Bronze: the article is freely available, but the types of open access journals that offer this kind of service have no open license.
  • Black: the article is shared by illicit services that offer illegal free access to scientific publications or other content (like Science Hub).

            Are you puzzled? Me too… Let’s proceed part by part. I’m both a scholar and co-editor with Mariano-Martín Rodríguez of the academic journal Hélice. As a scholar I want my publications to be accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world, which is what (gold) ‘open access’ means. As an editor, I want exactly the same, which is why Mariano and I publish academic work online for free (you don’t pay to be published, you don’t pay to download what we publish). We use a Creative Commons License for Open Access, even though we are not registered anywhere formally to have it: we simply claim we do (I believe this is how it is done). Since we decided to take the rogue line (Mariano is an independent scholar, I’m quite a rogue scholar myself), we are not measured by any metrics website (like Scimago or JCR), though we are indexed in MLA, Dialnet and Latinindex. This possibly places Hélice in the bronze open access division, though in practical terms we are gold open access. Incidentally, the money to fund our website comes straight from Mariano’s own pocket (no, he’s not rich, he works as an EU translator), which caused a bit of a hassle when I asked MLA to index us. I was told that only journals with institutional or business funding qualified, but I raised quite a stir and there we are.

            Scholars do not get paid to publish articles, this is important to remember, though we may get royalties for books, mainly for monographs (for collective books, you are usually paid a flat fee as editor). Making journals available, however, has a cost. If the journal is still offered on paper (which is rarer and rarer), editing, printing, and distribution must be covered. If the journal is available online, the costs have to do mainly with editing and with maintaining the websites. This is why so far most journals have been charging fees: individual or institutional subscription fees, or specific payment for particular articles (this is hybrid open access, authors get no royalties). Most journals are now accessible through databases (MLA, Jstor, Project Muse…) which you can only access through a university library, though you can always find a way to purchase a single article. Or, if you’re lucky, you can ask the authors to email you the .pdf for free. I felt very embarrassed to do that, but have learned to be a bit cheeky and ask, always with good results. I myself often get requests for publications through ResearchGate, but they are mostly for books and chapters protected by copyright that I don’t feel free to circulate.

            So, to sum up so far: although authors are not paid for academic articles, access to academic articles costs money. Governments that fund research with public money realized a few years ago that they are paying several times over for them: they pay researchers’ salaries and grants, also fees charged by a number of journals to publish, and then subscriptions through university libraries. So, collectively they came up with the idea of open access: whatever the researchers publish using public funding must be made available to the public at no cost (golden open access). The problem is that this clashes with the immense business machinery making money out of publishing academic work, including journals and books. The solution? Now most academic publishing houses offer the option to publish in open access for a fee. For books this is anything between 3000 and 6000 euros, as far as I know, money which usually comes from research projects funded with public money. This does not seem to be, then, the best possible solution, since Governments are still paying a lot of money.

            In March 2023 the Spanish Government decided that it would specially value in researchers CVs the open access publications. This is absolutely fine, but the problem is that the way open access operates, with the categories I have mentioned, still maintains the habitual circuit of publications, to which the question of the fees that I have already discussed needs to be added. Besides, not all prestige journals have an open access policy. In my case, for instance, after working very hard to publish an article in the Dickens Quarterly, I finally decided not to include it among the five items valued for my personal research assessment exercise (or ‘sexenio’) because although the metrics were good, the journal offers no open access. I included three articles from journals that, while lacking open access, allowed me to upload my work onto the digital repository of my university. As for the books, it is my policy not to pay for publication and so I did not pay for open access (I’m not in a research project that could cover the fees, either). At least, to my delight, the translation of one of these books published by the Universitat de València will soon be offered in open access (at no fee for me).

            So, you’re beginning to see a glimpse of the solution: public institutions already pay for instruments to make knowledge available for free, including publishing houses, online journals and online digital repositories. And many academic associations have journals now published online, with costs covered by membership fees. I don’t see, however, how the huge business that private publishers do with our academic work can be made compatible with open access. Many (or most) publishers now allow academics to upload pre-print versions of articles and chapters (I’m not sure about books) onto university digital repositories or similar, but they still expect to make a profit out of the published versions. If researchers start citing the freely available peer-reviewed pre-prints more than the published versions that might change things, but so far this appears to be a very slow process.

            I decided a long time ago to try a dual system, by which I publish both within the established academic circuit and freely in the digital repository of my university. I have uploaded onto UAB’s DDD about 100 publications, including books (or e-books, whatever you want to call them), original articles, translations into Spanish of my peer-reviewed work published in English (always with permission), and other types of texts, such as conference papers. I keep nothing in my drawer. Just for you to understand where we are, I have received the sales statement for one of my books in English, with a very good publisher, and it is pitifully low, just a handful of copies which have failed to earn me even 100 euros. In contrast, the volume I self-published in 2022 with the translation into Spanish of my articles on science fiction, Entre muchos mundos: en torno a la ciencia ficción is now close to 1000 downloads and has even been the object of a review in an academic journal. This book, however, is not valid for research assessment, even though all the material it contains has been peer-reviewed at some point.

            I’m arguing, to sum up, that open access cannot be imposed on scholars because it clashes with the reality of prestige publication. Journals in the Q1 quartile, with open access and that charge no fees for that service are very scarce, and I don’t know of any book publisher who offers open access for free. With the new regulations, we are being forced to choose in many cases between open access and quality, which makes no sense, or to spend even more public money, which is outrageous. As co-editor of a small (bronze) open access journal, I am happy that we might get more scholars interested in publishing with Hélice. As a researcher I am baffled. I totally oppose paying for open access, either individually or through research groups, yet this is what indirectly the Spanish Government is asking (or forcing us) to do. Obviously, the ideal situation is one in which journals and books are published online and are universally available at no cost either to authors or readers, but this will not happen as long as academic publishing is in the hands of private investment groups, as it is now. We lost control long ago, and it is now very difficult to get it back.

            Yes, we need a revolution – which I’ll leave in the hands of the next generation of scholars, hoping they might help break the barriers that encircle knowledge now. Full open access should be the final target.