Is open access affordable? Why current models do not work and why we need internet-era transformation of scholarly communications

Toby Green
  • Learned Publishing, January 2019, Wiley
  • DOI: 10.1002/leap.1219

Current Open Access models (including Plan S) don’t work: a two-step publishing process might.

Photo by Ryan Richards on Unsplash

Photo by Ryan Richards on Unsplash

What is it about?

Progress to open access (OA) has stalled, with perhaps 20% of new papers ‘born‐free’. After two decades trying to flip to open access, one has to ask the question: why is it taking so long? In this paper, I review what happened in 2017-2018: librarians showing muscle in negotiations, publishers’ Read and Publish deals, and funders determined to force change with initiatives like Plan S. I conclude that these efforts will not work. I argue that the focus on OA makes us miss the bigger problem: today’s scholarly communications is too expensive for today’s budgets. So, OA is not the problem, the publishing process is the problem. To solve it, I propose using the principles of digital transformation to reinvent publishing as a two‐step process where articles are published first as preprints, and then journal editors invite authors to submit only those papers that ‘succeed’ to peer review. This would reduce costs significantly, opening a sustainable pathway for scholarly publishing and OA. The catalyst for this change is for the reputation economy to accept preprints as it does articles in minor journals today.

Why is it important?

There has been, and continues to be, much heat and light expended on trying to pivot scholarly publishing to an open access model. The trouble is, after two decades' effort, we've only got 20% of the way there and, understandably, many are getting frustrated. Frustration brings risk that poor policy or management decisions will be made which could damage scholarly publishing. In stepping back and trying to look at the problem in a holistic way, I've come to the conclusion that the real problem is that there's not enough money in the system to afford the ever-growing cost of publishing research. If this problem isn't solved, then solving the open access problem can't be done. I hope this article will help inform and broaden the debate about future models for scholarly publishing.


Toby Green (Author)

In keeping with the premise proposed in this paper, I first published the ideas in a preprint (, Sept 2018) and actively promoted it, inviting feedback. I succeeded in attracting an audience, comment and feedback and was invited to publish a related post on the LSE Impact Blog (, October 2018). This then led to my re-drafting the paper, using the feedback that I'd received, for Learned Publishing where it went through the usual peer-review process and publication (Jan 2019). This process has been interesting in and of itself. The preprint publishing (posting?) process was quick and simple and the audience seemed to regard the preprint as they would a paper - at least, it seemed to be the case. The formal, peer-review and publishing process was slow and less simple and it'll be interesting to see whether the audience regards the paper in a different way to the preprint. Your feedback on how you regard the relative merits of preprints versus peer-reviewed papers would be welcome.

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The following have contributed to this page: Toby Green