If Open Access (OA) is the destination, it appears to be in sight – much as you might look up at a mountain you want to hike, able to see the peak you’re aiming for. The question is, how to get there? There are many trails, and they’re likely steep or winding.

In the case of OA, the paths can be bumpy: Gold OA (a fee is paid to publish) makes research free to read and share, but excludes authors without funds. Green OA (articles become open when shared in repositories) avoids publishing fees but depends on subscriptions, which may be eroded if all articles are freely available. Diamond OA (where an organization covers all costs) raises concerns about long-term stability.

With such rocky terrain, we gathered guides in a recent online ‘summit’ (pun intended). Several scholarly communications and research professionals shared how they are blazing trails to OA. The Karger in Conversation Panel Discussion included Niklas Willén, License Manager for Sweden’s BIBSAM Consortium, Fred Flagg, Open Research Specialist at Aston University in the UK, Paola Galimberti, Director of Performance Quality and Assurance at the University of Milan, and José Candido Xavier Jr, MD, PhD., a pathologist at Centro Universitário Católico UniSALESIANO Auxilium. Josè is also a Karger Ambassador.

Article Versions: Weighing Speed, Quality, Openness, and Fairness

It helps to understand the main article versions that typically may be made OA: The preprint (before peer review), the Accepted Manuscript (AM – peer reviewed but not copy edited, formatted, etc.), and the Version of Record (VoR, the final, published article).

Each can be valuable in the OA landscape, though caution and awareness are critical. Preprints are, Paola noted, both speedy and open, and allow for early feedback from the research community, though it must always be clear that they’re not reviewed. Still, “the published version is the optimal version to disseminate.”

Despite also seeing great potential for preprints, Fred notes the advantages of the AM: It’s peer reviewed and has the same core content as the VoR. However, it is often subject to embargos, which can be complicated for authors to navigate.

As for the VoR, the panelists concurred that it is the gold standard (pun intended) – the most easily and most frequently cited version. From his perspective as a researcher, José said, peer review is essential for guaranteeing a paper’s quality. But a VoR – improved with publisher services like editing, layout, and linking – often means either barriers to accessibility (if in a subscription journal), or barriers to publishing (if OA, because of article Processing Charges (APCs).

Based in ‘the global south,’ José urged taking less wealthy regions into account and striving for equal opportunities for all scientists to exchange knowledge. A junior professor in Brazil’s monthly salary might be $1,000 per month, while APCs can be several thousand dollars, he said. «We cannot save our whole salary for months to publish a paper.».

Seeking Researcher-Friendly Routes to Reading and Publishing

The challenges shine a spotlight on different routes to OA. Paola, for one, has seen huge growth in University of Milan’s Diamond OA journals. The earliest challenges were cultural change and upholding international best practice, but now the main challenge is to ensure sustainability via financial support.

Diamond OA “is amazing from both the researcher and reader perspective,” added Fred, but concurred – as did Niklas – that the key question will be ensuring resources to sustain Diamond OA publications.

Another sticky problem at the heart of many questions around OA is the issue of research assessment. “With the current research assessment model that we’re using today, (Diamond OA journals) are just not going to attract enough researchers,” Niklas said. “There have to be more incentives for them to publish Diamond OA.”

The approach in Sweden until recently has focused on Transformative Agreements (also known as Transitional or Read and Publish agreements), which let institutions cover both subscription access and OA publishing at no cost for their researchers. But here, too, the panelists see some downsides despite the advantages. Stay tuned, as we will delve into Transformative Agreements in our next post.

More Deep Dives into Scholarly Communications Issues

You can also follow more insider discussions on critical, compelling topics in scholarly communications by following the Karger in Conversations series. Sign up here for the next round table – New Technologies in Health Science Publishing: Catalysts or Disruptors?

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