Why embargo periods are bad for academic publishers

The recent EU Competitiveness Council’s Conclusions on The transition towards an Open Science system calls for “immediate open access as the default by 2020, using the various models possible and in a cost-effective way, without embargoes or with as short as possible embargoes”.  That’s both great and ambitious.

The International Association for Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) responded to this statement with the concern “suggested embargo periods which do not take into account the long-term sustainability of continued quality content generation”.  The conventional wisdom being is that no embargo periods, or very short embargo periods, undermine the existing subscription based business model as Author Accepted Manuscripts will be freely available at the same time, or very soon after, the final published versions.  These published versions either require an institutional subscription to access or a hefty one-off fee for downloading individual articles.  Given, this choice why would anyone pay for the research article?

Entertainingly, the Secretary General of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) Kurt Deketelaere has called the STM response “2,5 pages of nonsense” and those academic publishers that require embargo periods would do well to reflect on their reliance of this argument when justifying them.

Firstly, the BIS Report on Open Access in September 2013 states that “there is no available evidence base to indicate that short or even zero embargoes cause cancellation of subscriptions.”  Referencing the PEER (Publishing and the Ecology of European Research) project of 2012, the report goes on to state that “traffic to journal websites increased when articles were made available through a publicly accessible repository, possibly because interest grew as articles were disseminated more widely.”  So the logic in the first instance, may well be flawed.

Secondly, what publisher embargoes are doing is driving researchers away from legitimately making their research outputs more freely available.  As a practitioner that is what I see on the ground.  When researchers deposit their Author Accepted Manuscript to our Institutional Repository only to find that there is a 12 or 24 month embargo on that output being freely available they turn around and say… “Well that’s not Open Access is it?” and they are right.

Faced with this scenario what options are there for researchers?  We’ll plenty, the two obvious ones are, Academia.edu and ResearchGate, both are busting at the seams with content that shouldn’t really be there.  Failing that researchers can upload papers to personal websites or they can share articles using #icanhazpdf or they might not even have to do anything and get their papers shared for them via Sci-Hub.

Academic publishers like Elsevier, Wiley and Taylor & Francis should reflect that long embargo periods are limiting the effectiveness of legitimate Green Open Access and speeding up alternative models of content sharing that are much more threatening to them than the perceived impact of Green Open Access.







1 thought on “Why embargo periods are bad for academic publishers

  1. Pingback: Around the Scholarly Communications Web: The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access and more – Confessions of a Science Librarian

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