There’s an Open Access buzz – but where’s the carrot?

I gave an introduction to Open Access at a UKSG seminar in London last week and one major issue jumped out for me. Open Access (OA) may have been around for some time but buzz around this topic has suddenly taken off. The conversation isn’t confined to list serv chatter either; it has reached the national news in the UK and US. But it’s very top-heavy discussion. Let me explain….

Policy makers across the world are issuing directives and funding bodies are responding with mandates that ensure research they support is made Open Access.

But what of the researchers themselves? Where is the grassroots response? Well, the Cost of Knowledge boycott against Elsevier shows perhaps they do care in principle. But you couldn’t say uptake of Open Access is rocketing. Research shows that authors are more concerned with the speed of publication, standard of peer review and citations or impact of the journal; and are worried about plagiarism, predatory publishers, myths about poor peer review and the perception of the value of their work being affected. And this brings me to my point, there is a lot of ‘stick’ out there to compel researchers to publish via Gold Open Access or deposit their article in a repository (Green OA) but there’s not a lot of ‘carrot’.

There is an opportunity for publishers, librarians and service providers to support authors with OA and help them get the recognition they want for their work. There are some very simple ways to enhance the author experience, such as the author feature in Bone & Joint.

In the UK the RCUK mandate hasn’t yet shown a huge sea of change in how researchers publish their work, so it will be interesting to see the response that the White House Directive gets in the US and how Horizon 2020 will effect the EU. I’m not holding my breath though; OA uptake for Nature Communications actually fell from 60% to 30% in 2013, so it may take some time. Of course we also mustn’t forget that not all researchers are influenced by funding agencies: In fact, in a recent OASPA survey only 23% humanities & social science authors said they have research council funding. So am I waiting in vain? Perhaps it will just take time before a fleet of authors thirsty for OA appears over the horizon?