For more than 15 years the Open Access movement has been striving and promising to make all scientific and scholarly literature freely available to “users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.” Budapest Open Access Initiative.
There is a growing awareness that Open Access really is going to happen after all these years, and to a curious degree it is happening in a much less regulated and decentralised way than might have been expected. Here are a by no means exhaustive list of the trends and changes that are bringing Open Access about (I give this list in no special order of importance):
(1) Sci-Hub — the increasingly popular, free, online database of millions of scientific papers that is run from Kazakhstan without publisher permission.
(2) The largest medical charities, the Wellcome Trust, the Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and others are now requiring that the science they fund shall be published promptly and fully as open access. These billionaire charities are following through by setting up their own direct publication channels to facilitate and guarantee open access.
(3) Innovative startups in the scientific and research areas are building their business with guerilla forms of open access publishing: ResearchGate, Academia.edu, Google Scholar and others are persuading researchers and scholars to publish, or make freely available through their own branded web pages, the research and the articles they may be publishing through conventional journals.
(5) The established commercial publishers have found it difficult to adapt their model to the requirements of Open Access publishing and they seem increasingly to be working on the assumption that Open Access publishing will arrive (indeed Scientific Reports, mentioned under (4) is a service developed by Springer/Nature).
None of these developments need be terminal for the existing model of STM periodical publishing, but taken together they look like a profound change is coming.
While Open Access is inexorably and increasingly decisively happening, it is not turning out to be a simple process. Ten or fifteen years ago, evangelists working towards the open access goals where mostly convinced that there would be a reasonably intelligible process of transition, whereby major scientific journals would somehow switch to a new open model (gold), or they would be replaced willy nilly by a system of open repositories (green). This is not the way the system is evolving. We are instead seeing a very diverse and ingenious explosion of initiatives moving in different directions and with somewhat contradictory expectations: funders want research results to be published as soon as possible, but they also want to maintain editorial standards; researchers want their papers to appear in the most prestigious journals but they also want to make them freely available from their own web pages; there are compelling reasons for publishing all the data, but then there are also legitimate privacy concerns etc. From the trend of recent years, it seems very probable that Open Access will continue to evolve under the pressure of funders, governments, researchers, libraries and indeed publishers without their being a generally agreed and desired outcome. A high degree of pandemonium is to be expected.
Publishers and libraries have been reacting to this development by increasingly investing in or developing services which assist or organise open access publishing in various indirect ways. Services which facilitate discovery, or the communication of research or metrics which help to assess the quality and influence of published articles, etc.
If there is an enormous variety in the profusion of Open Access research and scholarship in the coming decade, it is very probable that there will be increasing confusion about the format and the reliability of this content. One consequence of this will be that services that can provide stable and consistent resources will even more be valued. For Exact Editions, with its commitment to preserving full and complete archives to magazines the message has to be “keep calm and carry on”. We will also be working to ensure that collections of books with complex and rich designs are also preserved exactly as they were printed.