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Open Access 2020: Looking at the Future

July 5, 2018

On Friday, June 8th of this year, the American Libraries Live held a webinar entitled “Open Access 2020: Looking at the Future,” which examines the global initiative (and obstacles) of unlocking scholarly periodicals and publications from the current and traditional approach of subscriptions to an alternative model which allows for new, open access (OA) publishing models. The presenters include Colleen Campbell of the OA2020 Partner Development with the Max Planck Digital Library in Munich, Germany, Rich Schneider, Associate Professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, and Curtis Brundy, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Communications and Collections with Iowa State University Library. Together, the three of them present a very convincing webinar about the necessity for open access and the advantages of moving away from the current subscription (paywall) system for scholarly journals and publications.

Open access enables communities to have unrestricted use and re-use of scholarly publications. The bottom line is that the current subscription system for scholarly journals and publications is just downright too expensive for most colleges and universities to afford. I witnessed this first-hand when I was interning last year at DeSales University’s Trexler Library and was assisting one of the public services librarians with interlibrary loans. My first task would be to check the Internet to see if a requested article was already available in its entirety. I would do a little happy dance whenever I would find a requested publication in its entirety through this very accommodating publisher known as Springer, and I would get ready to download the article as a pdf, and… what? Wait, I have to pay to access this article? Ah, there’s the rub! After a few times of coming up against this Goliath, I realized there was no slingshot which could bring it to its knees and allow me free access. This valuable research and information were in a chokehold by the publishers.

Campbell notes that more than 80% of new research and scholarly articles are locked behind paywall. Institutions pay $5,000 per research paper via subscriptions,* with publishers reaping the benefits with profit margins at 30-40%! For example, the real cost of publishing an article in a traditional, subscription-based scholarly journal is around $1,600; articles in hybrid journals can cost as much as $2,900 to publish. It is no surprise then that the global revenue of subscription-based scholarly journals tops at a mind-blowing $10 billion. To bring down the Goliath, Campbell makes a bold assertion: “It is only by removing our financial support of the paywall system that we will finally achieve open access on a large scale.”

Enter OA2020 and its guiding principles of supporting new and improved forms of OA publishing. OA2020 aims “to transform a majority of today’s scholarly journals from subscription to OA publishing in accordance with community-specific publication preferences.” This approach considers the current subscription model as unsustainable for most colleges, universities, and other institutions. Through a global alliance, OA2020 is committed to quickening the transition of today’s scholarly journals to open access.


Associate Professor Rich Schneider critiques the needs and wants of researchers when it comes to publishing their scholarly articles. Researchers love their journals and want to publish in their favorites. Unfortunately, most researchers and professors are not aware of the astronomical cost of subscription-based scholarly journals. They normally have no bias as to who the publisher is unless they are embarrassed to be associated with a particular publisher. Schneider reiterates that most researches are connected to their journals, and not to their publishers. Researchers desire their work to be readily available, to be widely read, and to be highly cited. Having the rights to re-use and share their work is also something researchers want. In fact, it frustrates them to have restrictions imposed on them by publishers who demand copyright transfer agreements or require permission (and sometimes even payment) for the researchers to re-use and share their own work! Maintaining existing workflows is also expected by researchers. They do not want to change the way they submit their manuscripts unless it is easier and quicker. Additionally, researchers generally do not want to change the peer review process, unless it is more fair and consistent. Schneider also states that researchers want to access all the content in existing journals and have that content readily available. Lastly, researchers want to make sure there are no publication barriers for anyone, and consideration must be maintained to ensure that an existing economic barrier is not simply being replaced by another.

From a researcher’s perspective, it is a no-brainer that OA2020 has the support of the research community. OA2020 maintains the cannon of existing journals, which Schneider points out may be a problem with libraries and some researcher communities. It can be viewed skeptically as “creating another system which perpetuates the dominance of certain publishers,” Schneider warns, but he reminds us again of the connection and allegiance between researchers and their journals, regardless of the publisher. Open access is the default state, increasing visibility, and shareability. OA2020 supports the rights of authors, researchers, readers, and taxpayers. It enables existing processes and workflow to remain intact and promotes a global transition from journal subscriptions. One of the biggest advantages of OA2020 is that it allows subscription savings (up to $5 billion) to support publication costs. To iterate Campbell’s point, the publication of subscription-based journals generates a revenue of $8-10 billion a year. However, it costs about $5 billion per year to publish two and half million scholarly and research articles. Schneider asks us, “Could we reinvest this?”


So why should libraries get involved with OA2020? Curtis Brundy, Associate University Librarian with Iowa State University, offers three motivating factors as to why OA2020 should be supported by libraries. First, there is this growing sense that the subscription model is both financially unsustainable and doing little to advance open access. According to Diane Bruxvoort, the Dean of Libraries at the University of North Texas, the cost of subscriptions to journals increases by an average of 6% per year. “Libraries can no longer afford to continue absorbing the cost of subscribing to so many subscription-based journals,” she notes. Secondly, open access is the right thing to do. OA2020 offers libraries a viable path towards increasing open access. Donald Barclay, Deputy University Librarian with University of California, Merced remarks, “Open access to scholarly information is good for scholars, good for the average person, and good for human progress.” Thirdly, OA2020 is proving to be powerful and successful in uniting libraries for the purpose of collective action in trying to accomplish this transformation. Universities, institutes, and organizations all across the globe are uniting to express interest in OA2020.


How can you and your library get involved with OA2020? Are any of you currently involved in implementing open access in your libraries? Visit for more information. You may access the slides and the recording of the webinar here.

*Schimmer, R., Geschuhn, K. K., & Vogler, A. (2015). Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access. doi: 10.17617/1.3.
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