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No, Not Like That

Open Access discourse is just a global community passing "wait, no, not like that" back and forth forever. (782 words / October 3, 2023)

Published onOct 03, 2023
No, Not Like That

Open Access discourse, I once quipped, is just a global community passing "wait, no, not like that" back and forth forever. OA advocates once pushed for OA by pointing to outlets like PLoS (which charge author fees) and inventing the transformative agreement (which favors authors affiliated with research-intensive institutions). At first, subscription publishers were wary of OA. But now, legacy publishers offer lots of ‘publish’ deals and author-facing OA fees, leaving advocates (myself included) saying: no, not like that.

Why further buy into an inequitable system when authors could simply post final manuscripts to OA servers? Plenty of individuals asked this. Then institutions asked this. And now funders are asking this. And, at the head of the pack, perversely giving what was wished for, the American Chemical Society has introduced the Article Development Charge (ADC): a $2,500 fee applied whenever rights retention language appears in a submitted manuscript. Cue the Greek chorus.

Begrudgingly, I admire what ACS did there. It took stock of the policy before it and found the wiggle room. For me, it’s reminiscent of the Bolick Method, an earlier subversion of policy in this area.

At one time, Elsevier had an embargo structure that allowed for deposits of manuscripts to institutional repositories after 12-48 months. Authors, on the other hand, could post their manuscripts to personal sites immediately so long as a CC-BY-NC-ND license was applied. This licensing requirement made it possible to immediately deposit manuscripts to an institutional repository, so long as it appeared on a personal site first.

The logic of the Bolick Method was both deeply witty and logically true. But turnabout is fair play. And so we now have ACS, charging a special fee before manuscripts containing rights retention language can be sent out for review. The rights retention statement, as Bianca Kramer notes, does not prevent charging a fee. The ACS Method is logically true and, to be fair, kind of funny.

[Sidebar: In some ways, it seems slightly preferable for publishers to ask for payment before review, rather than at the point of acceptance, since it removes the incentive to accept as many papers as possible.]

To see it from the perspective of ACS, they have widened the ways that works by its publishing authors can go OA. There are pathways for authors at institutions with ‘publish’ agreements, for authors who can pay an article processing charge and, now, also an article development charge.

All of this is made clear in a recent Scholarly Kitchen interview, except for the final question, concerning the unaffiliated authors who cannot pay. These authors, responds Sarah Tegen, can publish in a subscription access title at no fee, and they can post an accepted manuscript after a 12 month embargo.

To see it from the perspective of those who want immediate and total equitable open access, ACS still has yet to expand the route sufficiently. So where do we want ACS to go from here? It’s fine to call out the shortcomings of what is currently on offer. But that type of criticism has always felt empty without a follow up recommendation. Instead of No, Not Like That, I now try to subscribe to Yes, And.

How ‘Yes, And’ works in this scenario is to accept ACS’s moves for what they are and decide what is the best next step based on the state of play.

If you know me, you know that the next step I recommend is some variation of Read & Let Read. JSTOR, I suppose out of the goodness of their hearts(?), lets unaffiliated users create an account and read 100 free articles per month. I don’t expect ACS to do this for free, which is why I want libraries to be able to subscribe in a way that offers access for both its affiliated users and users without any connection to a subscribing organization.

Give out free and immediate access to articles by authors who cannot or choose not to make their articles open access. And put a concrete dollar sign on this access, so it’s fair to the publisher. And just so we’re not leading libraries back into ‘double dipping’ territory, account for every article’s paid access so that it eventually becomes open access automatically once it receives payment that is equivalent to a standard APC.

I think we are actually getting close to a complete, immediate, and equitable open access world. And if it means we need to change the tenor of our discourse from combative to collaborative, then we should be ready to try it. We’ve already tried everything else.


This post appeared originally on LinkedIn at


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