The theme of last year’s Berlin 12 Conference (December 8-9, 2015),* was developed around a white paper published by the Max Planck Digital Library in April 2015 entitled “Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access.” The paper argues that there is enough money in the current global academic publishing system—money supplied by library resource acquisitions budgets that pay for subscription-based journals—to fund a complete transformation of all journals to open access.
That sounds like good news, and transforming all journals to open access would certainly be a tremendous boon, at least to the degree that the white paper understands the goal of open access as removing “the scarcities and restrictions that have been artificially imposed by the toll-access system” on the reader side (p. 2). The paper proposes the massive conversion of “existing library acquisitions funds into a budget for publication services” (p. 2). In other words, libraries (and their supporting institutions) would understand that they are no longer paying for the published products of scholarly communication on behalf of their student, faculty, and researcher users. Rather, they are paying for the publishing production of scholarly communication, with the products themselves being accessible for free.
Maybe the authors of the white paper were only trying to demonstrate the viability of this disruptive business model as a proof of concept. But other than the massive shift of payments to the production side in the form of article processing charges (APCs), the white paper seems to assume that the structures of scholarly communication and the scholarly publishing industry itself, including, presumably, healthy commercial publisher profits, would remain largely undisrupted. Indeed, the paper seeks to reassure publishers “so that they themselves can adapt to the new business model with confidence in its financial sustainability for the future” (p. 11). Other than a passing vague reference to an expectation of “eventual stratification” (p. 2), the paper doesn’t address how shifting payments to the production side through the use of APCs could be made to work for scholars and researchers in disciplines, institutions, or regions of the world that are not well-resourced. Wouldn’t this simply create a new set of artificially imposed “scarcities and restrictions,” only this time on the author side?
Billed as “responding to and furthering discussions” from the 2015 Berlin 12 Conference, a group of international panelists and local responders from academia, publishing, libraries, and non-governmental organizations gathered for a two-day symposium at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS on November 17-18, 2016 to “envision a world beyond APCs/BPCs.” The purpose of the symposium, as articulated by moderator Kevin L. Smith, Dean of Libraries at the University of Kansas, was “to consider the models that are available for achieving an expansive, inclusive, and balanced global ecosystem for open publishing,” embodied in a fundamental question: “To what extent can a global academic community create an open access publishing system that is without cost to authors or readers? If this is possible, how? If it is not possible, what are the barriers?” (emphasis added) The implication of this stated purpose and question is that the symposium planners were not satisfied with the APC-only solution for achieving universal open access as proposed by the Max Planck Digital Library white paper. (I since located a report prepared for the Association of Research Libraries that indicates questions regarding the supposed benefits and universal applicability of APCs already began to be raised at the Berlin 12 Conference.)
Kevin L. Smith, Dean of Libraries at the University of Kansas
The symposium included a two-hour livestream on Thursday, November 17. In the first hour (link to recording), Kevin Smith asked the eighteen panelists to each take two minutes to respond to the above fundamental question by answering two sub-questions: 1) “What do you not know about open access publishing that would help us to create the future we envision?,” and 2) “What do our scholarly publishing communities still need to know or to do in order to develop this expansive, open, and balanced ecosystem for worldwide open access?” In the second hour of the livestream (link to recording), Smith invited local respondents to comment on what they heard in the first hour in order to spur an engaged conversation with the assembled participants and worldwide audience around the issues raised.
I commend the livestream recordings as worthwhile viewing. In a follow-up post I will highlight some of the panelist responses and discussion threads that might bear on scholarly communication in religious studies and theology.
*The first Berlin Conference held in October 2003, organized by the Max Planck Society and the European Cultural Heritage Online project, produced the Berlin Open Access Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities on October 22, 2003 along the lines of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (February 14, 2002) and the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing (June 20, 2003).