Readers of Open Access Anthropology will want to check out the announcements for (and press coverage of) the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity that was just announced by Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, MIT and Berkeley.
I just finished speaking to Inside Higher Education about it for a story that they will run tomorrow. I had not yet read the “OA Compact” statement yet, which added to my nerves about weighing in on it (via a phone interview). I may or may not need to explain myself after the story runs. Having now read the core documents, I can just state at this stage that I very much support open access and I believe in new kinds of university (college, museum, etc.) investments in it. I believe that different ways of spending on scholarly communication can change the publishing landscape in good ways, including equitable ways. My sense of the equities that matter here include not just equity between modes of publication but also social justice issues. This new development could lead to good of many kinds, but my own preference would be for institutional investments at the journal (or journal program) level rather than at the article/author level.
This scheme will make the literature more accessible to readers, which is a wonderful thing, but in fields like anthropology and folklore studies, where authors can make very important contributions without being attached to major western research universities, it may increase barriers to authorship in unhelpful ways. It may also, by handing private for-profit publishers a new business model and the cash payments to go with it, continue the current arrangement in which large commercial firms lay claim to ever larger amounts of the commonwealth–overtly in the form of university-paid page charges, and covertly in the form of research-derived IP (often publicly funded), uncompensated editorial work, uncompensated peer-review, unpaid-for office space, equipment, etc. and freely provided graduate assistant-based editorial staff support.
This announcement is big and dramatic. As with the green OA mandates, it represents a step by some major universities to change the terms under which our publishing system works. It is a major move for OA. I like that. I hope that it prompts renewed discussion of the many big issues at stake.
PS: Thankfully the statement’s architects acknowledge that a minority of gold OA journals are author-pays journals (contra the AAA and its associates). If the scheme works, I suspect that most gold OA journals will move towards author-pays. This is one place where I agree with several AAA-sanctioned voices. The growth of author-pays models could really harm existing authors in anthropology and folklore studies and could make the inclusion of as-yet-unheard from voices that much more difficult. If this is the path that we wind up taking toward gold OA, we will have to work really hard to build and fund a subsidy (or waiver) system sufficient for the inclusion of the vast range of people (=potential authors) who will not have access to institutional author-fee support.