Why commercial platforms for OA are not a problem (probably).

NB – at the time of writing I didn’t realise that Chealsye worked for Ubiquity.  They are cool though.  aa

As the inevitable occurs and Open Access becomes the norm, commercial provision of infrastructure for OA is becoming an interesting proposition.  It must be, as bepress and SSRN have been picked up by Elsevier in a really smart – on their shareholder’s part – move.  If open source software business models teach us anything to transfer to the Open Access world, it’s that services make sustainable money.

So, why are so many concerned about the creeping commercialism of OA infrastructure?  A recent presentation by Chealsye Bowley sums it up for me in a sentence:

Many in the academic community are concerned that commercial interests may be fundamentally misaligned with those of academic researchers
The most egregious thing commercial entities do in scholarly publication is limit access to research.  By providing platforms for pre-prints and publishing, there are good arguments that they can leverage economies of scale – imagine big publishing platforms rather than every university having to run an Open Journal Systems server, and the same goes for  a Dspace repository, and Fedora or Islandora for digital collection management.  All of these could be outsourced potentially more cheaply with a better support and functionality.
Bowley sums up our scepticism by rightly saying that trust is the issue.  We just don’t trust companies that have thought, or still think, that hiding research is a good business model.  There are companies that are fresh, and haven’t been sullied by toll based publishing, and I can immediately think of PLOS, Ubiquity, Scholastica, Figshare (though their parent company are still in the mire, they do talk the good talk and seem to have their heart in the right place)… Add others in the comments!
Its interesting to note that the profit motive is immediately suspicious – but there is a difference in quality between profit making, and profiteering!
Bowley’s call to action are the following excellent recommendations:
Be critical of every vendor.
Push back.
Get contracts that reflect values.
One of the acid tests to see if a vendor is going to provide you with a service that really is ‘open’, is how they handle your exit strategy.  Talk to people who have left the service, and find out how easy it was.  If you’re being offered standards based, transparent products, then leaving should be painless.  After all, you shouldn’t be trapped in a service because of the friction involved in leaving, you should be staying because of the quality of the service provided (and the cost, ‘natch).
[Thanks to the Idealis for highlighting Chealsye’s presentation]

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