Open Access (the book)

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  • On this page I'll post updates, supplements, and other notes on my book, Open Access, MIT Press, 2012.   —Peter Suber.


About the book

  • The paperback and Kindle editions are available now. Digital editions in a dozen other formats will roll out over the summer of 2012.
  • The whole book will become OA in June 2013, one year from the date of publication. If you can't wait that long, everything I've said in the book I've said in some form or another in an OA article, probably more than once.
  • Sorry, I don't control review copies. To get a review copy, contact MIT Press.
  • I plan to launch some kind of site, other than this page, where I can gather and respond to reader comments. I welcome suggestions about the best way to do that. Meantime, I welcome comments on the book itself.

Updates and supplements

  • Some of these notes were too late to put in the book. The publications or developments they describe hadn't occurred by the time my text was final in the spring of 2011. Some just didn't fit into the book. The book is deliberately short and I was already over my wordcount.
  • I have many supplements to add and will add them as I find time. If you want to nudge me on a certain point, please do.
  • For now, I'm taking advantage of the digital medium by linking from words and phrases, not imitating the format of printed endnotes by spelling out URLs.


  • Note that MIT Press already provides OA to the Preface.

Chapter 1: What is Open Access?

  • Note that MIT Press already provides OA to Chapter 1.

Chapter 2: Motivation

  • Note 5 (note call on p. 30, note text on p. 182). Here I'm documenting the assertion that "cumulative price increases...forced the Harvard Library to undertake 'serious cancellation efforts' for budgetary reasons." In the current note, I cite two sources. Here are seven, including the original two, in chronological order.
    • Robin Peek, "Harvard Faculty Mandates OA," Information Today, April 1, 2008. This is an interview with Stuart Shieber after the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted unanimously for a green OA policy on February 12, 2008. Quoting Shieber: "At Harvard, serials duplication has been all but eliminated and serious cancellation efforts have been initiated. Monograph collecting has been substantially affected as well. In total, our faculty have seen qualitative reductions in access to the literature." (I link to a copy of the original article because the original URL is now dead.)
    • The Report of the Task Force on University Libraries, Harvard University, November 2009. "Even during the recent years of endowment growth, the libraries struggled to collect the books, journals, and other research materials desired by current faculty and students....The reasons for these difficulties are multiple, but include the steadily rising prices of monographs and journal subscriptions....The economic downturn has made this issue even more critical than in years prior. Because library budgets have been cut, journals will need to be cancelled, with attendant cancellation fees feeding a downward spiral....Harvard must become a more forceful participant in this negotiation, leverage its combined rather than distributed weight, and not be beholden to the prices and packages determined by the major publishing houses."
    • "Libraries on the Edge," The Harvard Gazette, January 2010. "Through centuries, Harvard's libraries have amassed rich collections and unique holdings. But now budgetary pressures that have been building during the past decade, and intensified in the past year, threaten the ability of the world's largest private library to collect works as broadly as it has in the past. In an interview, University Library director and Pforzheimer University Professor Robert Darnton called the situation 'a crisis in acquisitions.' "
    • Harvard's response to the first White House RFI on OA, January 22, 2010. "Harvard not immune to the access crisis that motivates much of the campaign for public-access policies. In fact, the Harvard library system has gone through a series of serials reviews with substantial cancellations, and further cancellations will undoubtedly occur in the future."
    • Harvard's response to the second White House RFI on OA, January 14, 2012. "Even Harvard University, whose library is the largest academic library in the world, is not immune to the access crisis motivating much of the campaign for public-access policies. In fact, the Harvard library system has had to make a painful series of budget-driven journal cancellations, and we are deciding on a set of further cancellations at this very moment."
    • Testimony of Stuart Shieber, Professor of Computer Science and Director of Harvard's Office for Scholarly Communication, before the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, March 29, 2012. "The Harvard library system is the largest academic library in the world, and the fifth largest library of any sort. In attempting to provide access to research results to our faculty and students, the university subscribes to tens of thousands of serials at a cost of about 9 million dollars per year. Nonetheless, we too have been buffeted by the tremendous growth in journal costs over the last decades, with Harvard's serials expenditures growing by a factor of 3 between 1986 and 2004. Such geometric increases in expenditures could not be sustained indefinitely. Over the years since 2004 our journal expenditure increases have been curtailed through an aggressive effort at deduplication, elimination of print subscriptions, and a painful series of journal cancellations. As a researcher, I know that Harvard does not subscribe to all of the journals that I would like access to for my own research, and if Harvard, with its scale, cannot provide optimal subscription access, other universities without our resources are in an even more restricted position."
    • Faculty Advisory Council Memorandum on Journal Pricing, Harvard University, April 17, 2012. "Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive....Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices. These journals therefore claim an ever-increasing share of our overall collection budget. Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles....The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership, reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised....Costs are now prohibitive...."
  • At p. 40 I say, "[L]arge commercial publishers charge higher prices and raise their prices faster than small, nonprofit [TA] publishers. Yet, the scholarly consensus is that quality, impact, and prestige are generally higher at the nonprofit society journals." Endnote 15 (note text at pp. 184-185) documents the claims about quality, impact, and prestige. Here I want to elaborate in a slightly different direction.
    • Most society publishers don't have the revenues or surpluses of the commercial giants. In 2010 Elsevier reported profit margins (36%) larger than those at ExxonMobil (28%); see p. 183n8. But most society journals are not in that league, and not even close. Many are in the red. Insofar as publisher profiteering is part of the argument for OA (and it needn't be), it only applies to the commercial giants, not to small, nonprofit society publishers.
    • Some societies join the commercial giants in lobbying against OA policies, and argue that OA is intrinsically harmful to society publishers, or that OA harms small nonprofit publishers as such. I make many concessions to society publishers, but I cannot make this one. Since 2007, Caroline Sutton and I have maintained a list of society publishers of OA journals. In 2007 we found 425 societies publishing 450 full (non-hybrid) OA journals. In 2011 we published a second edition of our list showing 530 societies publishing 616 full OA journals. After publishing our 2011 results, we posted our list to a Google spreadsheet open to community editing. As of August 3, 2012, it showed 609 societies publishing 702 full OA journals.

Chapter 3: Varieties

  • At p. 52-53: For clarity, read the terminology box on p. 53 before starting Section 3.1 on p. 52.
  • Note 20 (note call on p. 73, note text on p. 197-198). Here I list some examples of libre green OA. I list and discuss many more in "The rise of libre open access," SPARC Open Access Newsletter, June 2, 2012.

Chapter 4: Policies

  • At p. 78, I say that about one-quarter of peer-reviewed journals are OA. Today the fraction is closer to one-third. In the book and here I'm using the common industry estimate that there are about 25,000 peer-reviewed journals overall. As of July 28, 2012, the Directory of Open Access Journals lists 8,000 peer-reviewed OA journals, which comes to 32% of the estimated total of peer-reviewed journals.

Chapter 5: Scope

Chapter 6: Copyright

  • At p. 128, I argue that the OA policy at the NIH does not violate copyright.
    • See the video of my April 9, 2012, debate at Harvard Law School with Mark Seeley, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Elsevier. At roughly minute 8, Seeley concedes that the NIH policy, and similar OA policies, do not infringe copyrights. At minutes 16 and 18 when we pick up that question again for clarification and more explicit discussion. Also see my blog post on the debate, which includes comments from Seeley and my replies.

Chapter 7: Economics

Chapter 8: Casualties

  • Note 4 (note call on p. 152, note text on pp. 215-216). Here I'm documenting the assertion that, "At Congressional hearings in 2008 and 2010, legislators asked publishers directly whether green OA was triggering cancellations. In both cases publishers pointed to decreased downloads but not to increased cancellations."
    • The pattern continued in a third Congressional hearing on OA on March 29, 2012. The hearing was titled, "Federally Funded Research: Examining Public Access and Scholarly Publication Interests," and held by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. From the SPARC summary of one part of the Q&A: "Rep. Zoe Lofgren, (D-CA), noting that the NIH Public Access has now been in place for nearly four years, challenged the publishers assertions that they would be financially harmed by FPRAA, and asked if any data demonstrating financial harm to publishers could be presented by any of the panelists. None was provided."
  • At p. 157, I start a subsection called "Some studies bear on the question of whether increased OA archiving [green OA] will increase journal cancellations." Here's a new study for that section.
    • The large-scale PEER study released its final report on June 18, 2012. The study was coordinated by the International Association of Science, Technical and Medical Publishers. From the final report: "PEER (Publishing and the Ecology of European Research), supported by the EC eContentplus programme, has been investigating the potential effects of the large-scale, systematic depositing of authors' final peer-reviewed manuscripts (so called Green Open Access or stage-two research output) on reader access, author visibility, and journal viability, as well as on the broader ecology of European research. The project ran from 1 September 2008 – 31 May 2012...." As summarized by Norbert Lossau, Scientific Coordinator of OpenAIRE and member of the PEER Executive Committee, "the economic research of the PEER project could not find any evidence for the hypothesis that self-archiving affects journal viability."
  • At pp. 160-161, I say, "If publishers acknowledge that gold OA can be sustainable, and even profitable, and merely wish to avoid making lower margins than they make today, then their objection takes on a very different color. They're not at risk of insolvency, just reduced profits, and they're not asserting a need for self-protection, just an entitlement to current levels of profit. There's no reason for public funding agencies acting in the public interest, or private funders acting for charitable purposes, to compromise their missions in order to satisfy this sense of publisher entitlement." Add this note:
    • See Robert Heinlein, "Life-Line," 1939: "There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back."

Chapter 9: Future

Chapter 10: Self-Help


  • Note that MIT Press already provides OA to the Index.
  • Add new entry: Students, 73, 174. See also Theses and dissertations.
  • Toll-access (or conventional) journals and publishers.
    • Add new sub-entry: Right to refuse to publish any work for any reason, 126-128.
  • Add new entry: Translation, 27, 74