Is paying 7,500 pounds for an ebook the future of Open Access?

I came across two examples recently that left me with in an uneasy, confused state as to where open access publishing in academia is heading.

First, one colleague shared his experience from publishing a special journal issue open access with one of the big academic publishers. In the end, the funder of the project that produced the articles, a major European foundation, paid around 10,000 Euros to ensure that all the articles are open access. It is a relevant, good journal, but not a super-prestigious, super-high-impact factor one. Is it worth 10,000 Euros to make pdfs available on the publisher’s website?

Second, another colleague just signed a deal with another big mainstream academic publisher: Her university pays 7,500 pounds for an open access ebook version of the publication-the publisher still has the right to sell a (discounted) printed copy of the book and to not pay any royalties. Her European university has a special open access fund and was willing to pay for the ebook with what is perceived to be a prestigious publisher (I wouldn’t agree entirely-but that’s another debate around non-impact factor rankings and how different academic cultures, especially outside the U.S., value academic publishers).

Both colleagues admit that these are not ideal solutions and I agree to some extent that there is a more complex debate around prestige, (perceived) impact, global marketing etc. It is not as simple as ‘putting an open access .mobi/.epub file on your university’s website’-or is it?

But it seems that the major academic publishers are cashing in twice now since printed books are still a strong commodity in academia and they are getting paid for ebooks; I also wonder whether the publisher would ever earn anything even close to 10,000 Euros if the journal issue was distributed in the conservative, pay-walled way.

I do not have the answers, but as much as I agree that open access should be supported I wonder whether ‘buying back pdfs’ with taxpayers’ money from mainstream publishers is the best we can do-maybe for now, but it does not seem to be a sustainable option for the future and it may favor projects funded by large donors and
‘rich’ universities-with additional challenges for global academia and development outside the privileged circles.

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