A previous post shed some much needed light on the complex world of OA terminology. It certainly helps to be familiar with these names, although we cannot claim that all possible questions can be answered with one post. What about Black OA, Rogue OA, Radical OA and Platinum OA? Can Bronze OA actually be called OA? And is Elsevier really talking about the same approach to Diamond OA as the early advocates for community-driven, APC-free OA do when they plan a Diamond OA Journals conference?
It is necessary to get familiar with this OA terminology. However, we should also be mindful of the risk that we spend so much time and energy on definitions that we lose sight of the essence – not unlike what happens with trying to define what a predatory journal is, which deflects attention from the real problems of scholarly publishing (version of this article openly archived here). Another approach would be to start the discussion from two simple distinctions.
The first is the difference between open archiving and open publishing.
- The actor with open archiving is the author. He or she publishes something, and then takes the additional actions of archiving an electronic version of that publication in a repository and making the archived version freely available to all. Quite regularly, the version which the author has archived and made available is not identical to the published version (e.g. an accepted version instead of the published version), and the archived version is not available at the same time as the published version (e.g. it is made openly available with a delay of 12 months). Open archiving thus offers the advantages of OA, at no cost to the author (who can always find a free repository to archive his or her text in), but requires an additional action by the author and exists as a system parallel to actual publishing.
- The actor with open publishing is the publisher. At the time of publication, the publisher immediately makes the final version of the text openly available. A publisher typically does not do this for free, and somebody needs to cover the publication costs. This can be done by charging the author, by charging an academic institution or a research funder, or by having the publication costs covered by a group of supporters, typically a consortium of university libraries.
The second is the difference between a for-profit and a non-profit approach to scholarly publishing.
- In a for-profit approach, the goal is to realize incoming funds which are higher than the actual publication costs. The profit which is thus realized is not reinvested fully in the scholarly community but used to reward shareholders in the publishing business. Scholarly publishing has great potential for being a profit-bearing enterprise, because most of the skilled workers in the production chain (i.e. the researchers) offer the fruits of their labor (producing manuscripts, performing peer review, editorial work) for free, because there is a stable market of customers (i.e. university libraries), and because prestige is such a big factor in academic publishing (so that publishers who have attained a good reputation can realize very high mark-ups).
- The non-profit approach rejects the premise that profit should be made on the dissemination of research results. At its core is the conviction that scholarly knowledge is a common good and thus should be shared by all. It resents the fact that a small group (i.e. shareholders of a publishing company) would profit from investments with public money (both in employing researchers and by subsidizing university libraries) and therefore maintains that if incoming funds are higher than publication costs, they should be reinvested in the scholarly community.