September 18, 2017

U.K. Open Access Working Group Recommends Mixed Model, Mostly Journal-Based

The U.K.’s Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings issued its report this week. ‘Accessibility, Sustainability, Excellence: How to expand access to research publications’ is also known as the Finch report in honor of Professor Dame Janet Finch, a sociologist at the University of Manchester, who headed the group.

The report recommends that the U.K. “embrace the transition to open access, and accelerate the process in a measured way which promotes innovation but also what is most valuable in the research communication ecosystem.”

The model it suggests is mixed, but heavily weighted toward the “gold” model, or publication in Open Access (OA) journals funded by article processing charges, temporarily supported by extended licenses for subscription journals during the transition, and backstopped by repositories with a focus on preservation and access to “grey”, or non-commercially published, literature. “It is unlikely that either institutional or subject-based repositories could by themselves provide a satisfactory model for a research communications system,” the report says. “[…] Quality assurance through peer review, coupled with the wide range of discovery, navigation, linking and related services provided by publishers and other intermediaries are […] of critical importance.”

The report estimated that the cost of the transition would be an additional 50-60 million pounds per year: 38 million on publishing in open access journals, 10 million on extensions to licenses for the higher education and health sectors, and 3-5 million pounds on repositories, plus one-off transition costs of 5 million pounds.

Although the report focuses on U.K. policy, David Willetts, minister for universities and science, was quoted by The Guardian as saying, “There is a very lively debate about this in the US and I’ll be briefing members of the American research community and administration this week on what we’re doing on open access. If we can make it a shared European-American initiative, that would bring down the cost and it would be far better if we could all agree a way forward.”

Research Libraries U.K. (RLUK) generally welcomed the report, particularly the estimates of cost savings, but took issue with the 12 month embargo period it proposed. David Prosser, executive director of RLUK, said in a statement, “RLUK therefore strongly supports the recent OA proposals from the RCUK which incorporate a maximum embargo of six months for scientific research and sees no merit in the excessive embargoes suggested by the Finch Report.” (The Publishers Association, on the other hand, particularly welcomed the embargo recommendation, while praising the report in general; the association recently released a report claiming that a six month embargo period would cut journal subscriptions by almost half.)

In addition to academic libraries, the report is of particular interest to public libraries because of a proposal to provide walk-in access to the majority of journals via public libraries across the U.K., something the report says “should be pursued with vigor, along with an effective publicity and marketing campaign.”

The public library initiative is proposed to run for an initial two year trial to gather and analyze data on demand and usage. “Publishers hope to extend the service at the end of the two years if it has not led to any damaging loss of core revenues,” the Finch report says, noting, “the precise terms of what will be provided – whether access will be restricted to screens on library equipment, restrictions on copying to other devices, access to printing, and related matters – and issues such as discover-ability and whether access will be provided to all content via a single platform, have yet to be worked out. A working group of representatives of public libraries and of publishers has been established to consider these issues, and how the proposal can be implemented to best effect.”

For more reactions to the report, see

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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    1. The Finch Report is a successful case of lobbying by publishers to protect the interests of publishing at the expense of the interests of research and the public that funds research.

    2. The Finch Report proposes to do precisely what the (since discredited and withdrawn) US Research Works Act (RWA) failed to do: to push “Green” OA self-archiving (by authors, and Green OA self-archiving mandates by authors’ funders and institutions) off the UK policy agenda as inadequate and ineffective and, to boot, likely to destroy both publishing and peer review — and to replace them instead with a vague, slow evolution toward “Gold” OA publishing, at the publishers’ pace and price.

    3. The result would be very little OA, very slowly, and at a high Gold OA price (an extra 50-60 million pounds per year), taken out of already scarce UK research funds, instead of the rapid and cost-free OA growth vouchsafed by Green OA mandates from funders and universities.

    4. Both the resulting loss in UK’s Green OA mandate momentum and the expenditure of further funds to pay pre-emptively for Gold OA would be a major historic (and economic) set-back for the UK, which has until now been the worldwide leader in OA. The UK would, if the Finch Report were heeded, be left behind by the EU (which has mandated Green OA for all research it funds) and the US (which has a Bill in Congress to do the same — the same Bill that the recently withdrawn RWA Bill tried to counter).

    5. The UK already has 40% Green OA (twice as much as the rest of the world) compared to 4% Gold OA (less than the rest of the world, because it costs extra money and Green OA provides OA at no extra cost). Rather than heeding the Finch Report, which has so obviously fallen victim to the publishing lobby, the UK should shore up and extend its cost-free Green OA funder and institutional mandates to make them more effective and mutually reinforcing, so that UK Green OA can grow quickly to 100%.

    6. Publishers will adapt. In the internet era, the research publishing tail should not be permitted to wag the research dog, at the expense of the access, usage, applications, impact and progress of the research in which the UK tax-payer has invested so heavily, in increasingly hard economic times. The benefits — to research, researchers, their institutions, the vast R&D industry, and the tax-paying public — of cost-free Green Open Access to publicly funded research vastly outweigh the evolutionary pressure — natural, desirable and healthy — to adapt to the internet era that mandated Green OA will exert on the publishing industry.

    If the UK %Gold is currently lower than the current %Gold globally [as measured by Laasko/Bjork’s latest estimates — we have not yet checked that directly] then the likely explanation is that where cost-free Green is mandated, there is less demand for costly Gold.

    That makes sense: it shows why paying for Gold, pre-emptively, now, at today’s asking prices, while still locked into subscriptions, instead of just providing cost-free Green is a foolish strategy –and it makes the recent recommendations of the Finch report even more counter-productive. The time to pay for Gold is when global Green has made subscriptions unsustainable, forced publishing to downsize to peer review alone, and released the subscription cancelation funds to pay for it on the Gold OA model. Then, and only then, will Gold OA’s time have come.

    Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Lariviere, V., Gingras, Y., Brody, T., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2010) Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLOS ONE 5 (10) e13636

    Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age L’Harmattan. 99-106.

    Harnad, S. (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).

    Harnad, S. (2011) Gold Open Access Publishing Must Not Be Allowed to Retard the Progress of Green Open Access Self-Archiving Logos: The Journal of the World Book Community 21(3-4): 86-93

    Harnad, S. (2010) The Immediate Practical Implication of the Houghton Report: Provide Green Open Access Now. Prometheus 28 (1): 55-59.


    The Finch Report, under strong and palpable influence from the publishing lobby, instead of recommending extending and optimizing the UK’s worldwide lead in providing Green OA, cost-free, through institutional and funder self-archiving mandates, has recommended abandoning Green OA and Green OA mandates and instead spending extra money (£50-60 million yearly) on paying publishers’ Gold OA fees as well as a UK blanket national site-license fee to cover whatever is not yet Gold OA (i.e., all the journals that UK institutions currently subscribe to, rather like the “Big Deals” publishers have been successfully negotiating with individual institutions and consortia):

    Finch on Green: “The [Green OA] policies of neither research funders nor universities themselves have yet had a major effect in ensuring that researchers make their publications accessible in institutional repositories… [so] the infrastructure of subject and institutional repositories should [instead] be developed [to] play a valuable role complementary to formal publishing, particularly in providing access to research data and to grey literature, and in digital preservation [no mention of Green OA]…”

    Finch on Gold: “Gold” open access, funded by article charges, should be seen as “the main vehicle for the publication of research”… Public funders should establish “more effective and flexible arrangements” to pay [Gold OA] article charges… During the transition to [Gold] open access, funding should be found to extend licences [subscriptions] for non-open-access content to the whole UK higher education and health sectors…

    Now here are some of the actual figures behind the above assertions. Let readers come to their own conclusions about the relative success, cost, benefits, cost-effectiveness, growth potential and timetable of mandating Green OA vs funding Gold OA: