For "Open October" event at Washington University in St. Louis.
to Open Access
Information School, UW-Madison
Open Access Week 2021
Hi, folks, and thanks for inviting me here! I’ll be giving you my somewhat irreverent, very ranty, and not even slightly
polite take on the current state of scholarly communication, with special reference to why it costs what it does and
how we might be tightwads when it comes to those costs.
I’m assuming this is a crowd with a lot of librarians and some faculty in it; that’s pretty typical of the audience when I
give talks like this, which I’ve been doing for
fteen years or so, one way or another.
Not everyone here knows how
of scholarly publishing works…
… much less
how it’s been changing.
But everyone here has heard
some mis- or disinformation
Everyone here who publishes
needs their publications
to give them career prestige.
But the rules around prestige
are often outdated
or even unethical.
while not rewarding price-gouging
is a tough challenge.
I publish in the journal literature too, I GET IT. When I’m working with a coauthor who’s up for tenure, they choose the
publication venue and I don’t argue. When I can argue, though, I do, because pushing back on the current state of
things is a tightwad move and I hope you’ll join me in it at least sometimes.
I am not here
to tell you
where to publish.
It’s not like y’all would listen
if I did!
I worked as a librarian
doing scholarly-communication stuff
for several years too long, sorry.
I’ve promised myself
this is the LAST TIME I do a talk about it.
What I can do today
is explain what’s going on,
how it’s dysfunctional,
how we can survive it anyway,
and how we might even change it.
The Good Ship
Let’s start explaining where we’re at right now by envisioning the good spaceship Your Library,
ying happily through
Classically, and by that I mean “in the print era,” here is how the Good Ship Library gets the journal literature to Planet
Faculty. (And students, of course, but let’s be real here, faculty mostly drive how the Good Ship Library runs.) The
Good Ship Library sends money to publishers, who send journals to Planet Faculty.
I am of course making this sound a lot simpler than it is! I want to acknowledge that explicitly because I’ve met a lot
of people who actually seem to think it’s this simple. It’s not. If I tell you it is, I’m insulting a lot of hardworking and
skilled library folks, which would be wrong of me. So I’m not telling you that
I’m just using this as an approximation, okay?
Notice: Planet F
One thing I want you to notice about this setup, though, is that Planet Faculty has no idea how much money is going
from the Good Ship Your Library over to the publishing establishment. And I don’t want to just blame faculty here, I
am also going to point the
nger at both the publishers and the Good Ship Your Library on this. These days,
publishers write non-disclosure agreements into journal licenses, so prices get kept secret, and straight-up, it was
WAY too long before librarians started pushing back on those
This is actually really problematic; ask any economist. Whenever the person who wants the stu
erent from the
person paying for the stu
, whenever information about prices is kept secret by NDAs, it’s a recipe for price-gouging.
ad Rule #1
Do not sign NDAs.
Make journal costs public.
Enshrine “no NDAs, no way, no day”
in library and institutional policy.
So my Tightwad Rule Number One is simple, and aimed straight at libraries
(policy…) And you need written policy on this because anything else is totally unfair to the librarians negotiating
licenses. Any salesperson is going to steamroll a librarian who says “I don’t like NDAs.” It’s a lot harder to steamroll
an actual written policy. So write one.
But let me get back to my story here. What happened was, the publishers raised journal prices, as businesses will.
And the Good Ship Your Library paid up. Because Planet Faculty needs the journals, right?
Hot diggity dang, said the publishers, we can charge whatever we want, at least for our most prestigious and popular
journals, and we’ll totally get away with it! So they demanded more money, and more money, and more money, until
**CLICK** the outer hull of the Good Ship Your Library just totally blew out. Oh no, red alert, hull breach! Money just
pouring endlessly out of the hull!
This cost escalation is not new.
The Internet did not create it.
My father (anthropologist, retired)
used to complain to the family
about journal cancellations
when I was a kid.
I’m 50 years old next year.
The web is half that age.
Now, y’all need to ask older folks like me about journal cost escalation, because there’s this myth out there that The
Internet Did It.
No, y’all. Nuh-uh. My now-retired anthropologist dad ranted loudly at his family about journal cancellations when I
was just a little kid, maybe seven or eight. What he thought we could DO about it I’m not sure, but hey, I grew up to
be a scholarly-communications librarian for a while, so maybe it made a di
Anyway, I’m hitting the big
ve-oh next year. The web’s barely half that age. Journal cost escalation long pre-dates
And what did Planet Faculty do when the Good Ship Your Library’s hull blew up
Not a thing. Not one thing. I mean, other than complain to their partners and kids.
And blame librarians. Whole lotta librarian-blaming going on
I will return to this point.
The big deal
(term coined 2001)
But the internet did in fact change things: it made the Big Deal possible. In the Big Deal, the Good Ship Your Library
still sends money to publishers, and Planet Faculty still has no earthly idea how much, but instead of just one or a few
journals, the publisher ships over a big huge wodge of journals
Most of which Planet Faculty doesn’t even want, but y’know, more feels better than fewer, so here we are
Wanna guess what happened next? I bet you can guess what happened next.
Then this happened.
Same cost escalation we saw before. Publishers demanded more money for Big Deals.
Then LOTS more money. If you guessed this, good for you
And the Good Ship Your Library searched the couch cushions, which in practical terms means cancelling independent
journals that weren’t part of Big Deals, cutting book budgets, cutting capital budgets, even cutting sta
when things got really bad
Because Planet Faculty got hooked on the Big Deal, and the economists tell us that “loss aversion” is a thing. The
Good Ship Your Library knew pretty well that if Big Deals went away, Planet Faculty would send the Good Ship to the
So the Good Ship Your Library, not wanting to go to the scrapyard and not wanting another hull breach (hull breaches
are bad), got together with other good ships to form a whole
eet of library spaceships to be able to a
ord Big Deals.
eets are called “consortia” and these days every academic library belongs to one or two or
ve of them
I mean, you’d think the existence of library consortia would be obvious, but it’s the year twenty-twenty-one and I still
run into faculty who tell me that libraries should band together to increase our purchasing power like it’s a new idea
or something, so yeah.
So what do you do about the library spaceship
eets if you’re a publisher? Well, you just raise prices some more,
obviously! It really wasn’t that long before library consortia started springing hull breaches and bleeding money out
into the uncaring nothingness of deep space too. And nobody’s been able to repair the breaches, they just keep
So, said Sherlock Holmes, what did Planet Faculty do in the night-time about all this
Planet Faculty did nothing.
Except blame librarians some more, and tell us to do things we were already doing.
Here’s the thing about
Pumping in more air
(that is, money)
won’t fix it.
Now, I’m about to pay o
this spaceship metaphor, okay? Here is where I pay it o
. The thing about a hull breach in
deep space is, you can’t
x it or even expect to survive it if all you do is pump more air in. The air you pump in will
just bleed out into space some more! That’s not a
And pumping in more money will not
x the situation we’re in with journal costs. Price gougers just suck the new
money out of libraries and library consortia the same way they did the old money.
So we gotta change the whole system here. We can’t keep trying to
y the Good Ship Your Library with constant hull
well, we’re kind of
on that one.
That’s the reason I’ve spent
fteen years thinking and writing and talking about this stu
. There aren’t any easy
so we’re still working on the hard ones.
So let’s think about this a slightly di
erent way. What is it that publishers are selling when they sell Big Deals
The easy answer is, “they’re selling journals!” **CLICK** But that answer doesn’t get us anywhere useful. Let’s try
We could say “they’re selling journal BUNDLES,” and that’s closer, it opens up some interesting analogies like cable
TV, but again, **CLICK** bundling by itself has not helped us
x the money-hemorrhaging problem, so let’s move
Here’s how I think about it. Once journal publishing moved mostly-to-entirely electronic, publishers built walls
between their journals and Planet Faculty. These walls are made of copyright, contracts, and NDAs, and that’s all I’m
going to say about that — if you want to know more, you have librarians you can talk to
This isn’t a new idea, of course, most people call these “paywalls” and they’re not wrong.
So what publishers are actually selling when they sell Big Deals is a hole in their walls. That’s it, that’s all, that’s what
they’re selling. Just a hole in the wall
Nice work if you can get it, I guess.
But there’s also an implicit sale going on that isn’t often discussed. Even I have only hinted at it a little bit so far. It’s
the sale of academic love — often called prestige — to faculty. I mean, if faculty didn’t need to publish in and review
for and edit journals to protect their careers, a whole lot of journals wouldn’t even exist, right?
Faculty have lots of claims on their time, many wouldn’t do publishing-related work if they didn’t get something for
it, and what they get for it is career advancement. So this is also a kind of sale — just not in money. It’s an exchange
of prestige for labor
And the prestige economy of journal publishing interacts with the actual money economy in some fairly unsavory
ways. Planet Faculty, for example, will insist that the Good Ship Your Library purchase certain journals not because
faculty read them, not because they’re actually any good even, but because faculty PUBLISH in them, or hope to
publish in them, or think they lose prestige if the library doesn’t have them
Which means whoever publishes that journal has a huge negotiation advantage over the Good Ship Your Library.
Which in turn lets them price-gouge!
ad Rule #2
Using any version of
Journal Impact Factor
to judge individual scholars
for tenure and promotion
It also helps
hold everyone to ransom.
Which brings me to Tightwad Rule Number Two. Don’t you LET ME CATCH YOU using Journal Impact Factor in tenure
and promotion. It’s
agrantly unethical. It’s uninclusive, it’s de
nitionally and mathematically indefensible, it’s just
And for my purposes today, it also feeds the prestige system that helps Big Deal price-gouging wall-builders hold
eets of spaceships to ransom.
Stop it. Just stop. There is no excuse.
ad Rule #2a
Any “researcher productivity” tool
relying on lists of Good Journals
is just JIF through a back door.
Don’t buy this pricey rubbish.
Don’t use it.
Protest its purchase and use.
There’s a corollary to this rule that has to do with all the cute startup toys too many college and university
administrators are buying to Measure Faculty Productivity, or Measure Faculty Impact. Days I’m so happy I’m
instead of faculty, I couldn’t begin to tell you
Y’all, don’t buy this garbage, especially if it’s relying on lists of Good Journals. Not only is it grossly punitive and once
again uninclusive, it’s just Journal Impact Factor through a back door, and it just empowers the price-gougers again.
Don’t buy it — hey, I said today was about being a tightwad, right? — don’t use it, and protest its use when you can.
Allow me to introduce to you the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, which is explicit about dumping
Journal Impact Factor out of tenure and promotion practices. Read this. Get all your colleagues to read it. Then get
them all to sign it. Because the best time to stop this abusive and unethical use of Journal Impact Factor would have
been before it started, but the second-best time is now, today.
ad Rule #3
to price-gouging wall-builders
is amazingly self-defeating.
There are plenty
of non-price-gouging publications!
Donate labor to them instead!
Now, back to Planet Faculty. Hey, Planet Faculty! Don’t donate your editing and reviewing labor to price-gouging wall-
I’m not saying “never edit, never review.” I’ve edited journals, and I absolutely review for journals. I just review for
journals that aren’t run by price-gouging wall-builders, and I happily invite you to do the same
Trust me, I haven’t been in any way scant of reviews to do.
Okay. Let’s return to this idea that publishers sell holes in walls.
Open Access asks:
why is there
That’s it. That’s the whole point of Open Access. Who needs these walls, other than wall-builders? Who wants them?
What would be di
erent, what would be better, if we stopped building walls and tore down the walls we have?
This is not a question
that endears itself to
The current system
is galactically lucrative for big wall-builders!
Including during the Great Recession
and the COVID-19 pandemic!
Publishers selling holes in paywalls do not love these questions, to put it mildly. I’ll spare you the details — ask your
librarians — but please take my word that the current system of wall-building is galactically lucrative, mostly for the
biggest players, and the Great Recession and the pandemic changed that in basically no way at all.
ad Rule #4
If they make their living
off building or maintaining walls,
do not uncritically trust
what they say about open access.
This goes for librarians too!
And for university presses and scholarly
and professional societies!
So Tightwad Rule Number Four is be careful who you listen to about open access, okay? If somebody’s living depends
on wall-building and wall maintenance, they’re quite likely to defend walls, I’m just saying
And it’s not just the usual-suspect huge multinational publishers who act like this. Some librarians do, and is there
anything at all as wildly panicky as a university-press director when the university moves toward open access to
And a WHOLE LOT of scholarly and professional societies whose budgets have gotten fat o
selling their journals to
Big Deal publishers say some things that are just eyebrow-raising
And I’m gonna just lay one thing out there, okay? If you get all your scholarly communication news from the Scholarly
Kitchen website, you NEED to expand your information horizons. Scholarly Kitchen was founded by wall-builders,
wall-builders, and exists basically to defend walls. Gonna need y’all to read some other stu
, ‘k? Try the
Open Access Tracking Project.
What about me?
Good question. Glad you asked.
I am out of the scholcomm biz.
I’m done. I will never go back.
It’s not how I make my living any more.
My desire is the librarianly desire
for more and better information
for more people. Fewer walls.
The mere existence
ves us here.
Okay. The thing about open access is, it’s not a trumpets of Jericho solution — it doesn’t automatically break down all
the walls. The walls are still there! There are still walls!
We can take for granted
don’t want us dismantling walls.
And they do want us
paying for holes in their walls.
Or at least… paying for something!
How do we break this stalemate
in the tightwaddiest ways possible?
(paying for something) One of the things we’re seeing the very biggest of the price-gougers do is buy up startups in
other areas of research processes, like citation managers and electronic lab notebooks and stu
like that. The hope is
kind of Microsoft-like, I think? Be the One Place Where All Work Gets Done, and then you can charge out the wazoo
nitely makes sense to be concerned about this strategy, but also remember how well it ultimately worked out
for Microsoft. I tend to think that research has just too many processes within it to monopolize in that way. But we’ll
And in the meantime, we have to break the CURRENT stalemate, so how do we DO that without emptying our wallets
into the cold abyss between the stars?
Stay outside the w
ad Rule #5
Stash your OA pre/postprints
in a non-pro
ideally library-run or library-funded
Not “your own website,” please.
Not ResearchGate or academia.edu
or even SSRN.
(Stash…) Y’all who have open-access mandates from funders!Using a proper repository almost always ful
mandate, and it won’t cost a penny out of your grant! Tightwads rejoice
Now, there are complexities to this, and after
fteen years of doing these talks I’m absolutely bored senseless with
explaining them, so I’m going to refer you to your librarians if you need more information. Hey, information is what
(Not…) Yeah, yeah, “your own website,” when you retire that’s gone, and it won’t get indexed in Google Scholar
And just MISS ME with these startups, and sites like SSRN that are owned by the Big Deal price-gougers! Just don’t,
y’all! Or if you must, both/and it: put a copy wherever you’re going to put it AND put a copy in the local repository, so
when the startup folds — and they do fold — you’re covered.
Washington University! You have such a repository available to you right where you are, from the Good Ship Your
Library! Full disclosure, it too is running on a service that got bought out by a Big Deal price-gouger, which is not my
favorite thing, but I’m still willing to bet that the Good Ship Your Library will manage to keep your work available
openly long after the price-gouger in question is space dust, may that day come swiftly.
This improves your Googlejuice.
And it often gets you cited more!
It directly helps students, policymakers,
indie scholars, and others.
open access (in all forms) ultimately
reduces what wall-builders
can charge for holes in their walls.
Without getting laughed at,
And because I don’t pretend everybody here is in this thing for the pure altruism, let me point out that posting your
work to the repository improves your Googlejuice and stands a good chance of getting you cited more. True story, my
rst published journal article had been cited FOUR TIMES by the time it actually appeared in print, because I posted
the preprint to my local repository.
And doing this also, y’know, helps people, which is not a bad thing
In the bigger picture, open access in any form ultimately reduces the amount of material that’s walled o
, which in
turn reduces the value of holes in walls, which if we’re really lucky might help us plug the hull breaches in the Good
Ship Your Library.
ay for publication
Now, a thing that I have NOT SAID TODAY is that publishing costs nothing. Y’all, just MISS ME with that. I used to be a
typesetter and a format-conversion practitioner and I’m currently a digital preservation expert. I assure you that
“publishing is free!” is some kind of garbage and I do not want to hear it
But we don’t have to pay for walls, is the thing. We can just pay for the actual work of editing and typesetting and
conversion and website maintenance and proper metadata and indexing and information security and digital
preservation and all that. The walls aren’t necessary, even though the other work is.
On the level of an individual paper or author, this idea shows up as what are called author-side fees or article-
processing charges. Which, as a lot of folks have noticed, can be nosebleed high
It probably won’t surprise you that there’s a strong direct correlation between journals whose publishers are price-
gouging wall-builders and journals with nosebleed-high author-side fees. So buyer beware, because…
not really better.
… a scenario where Planet Faculty starts depending on paying author-side fees because that’s the only way to get
academic love just opens the door yet again to price-gouging
Faculty need to publish; not publishing is not an option, it’s a bit of a captive market. So letting the price-gougers
own this game is just going to **CLICK** make Planet Faculty itself blow up.
ad Rule #6
If you’re staring at author-side fees,
negotiate them, and
see if somebody else will pay them.
I mean, it’s just
common sense, really.
Tightwad Rule Number Six is that if you’re staring at author-side fees, try negotiating them — worst they can say is
“no,” right? — and also see if your funder or your department or a fund at the institution will pay them. Just common
I don’t hold with the idea that faculty should never have to worry about costs, though. Faculty SHOULD have to worry
about costs, because faculty NOT worrying about costs is how the Good Ship Your Library blew a hole in its hull in the
Now, a more collective approach to paying for everything except walls got started — gosh, coming up on a decade
ago it must be by now, from university libraries in the Netherlands. It got picked up by Germany in an absolutely epic
saga spanning three or four years, and on this side of the pond California and a few other places have been
And this approach is commonly known as “transformative agreements” or “read-and-publish” agreements, and the
way they work is, along with paying for the usual hole in the paywall, the Good Ship Your Library pays for a certain
quantity of, or price for, open access for articles published by your institution’s faculty
And again, I’m glossing over A LOT of detail here, these negotiations are really complicated and really fraught. But
that’s the basic idea.
deals are imperfect.
(One problem: serious equity issues.)
Inherently so? Maybe.
I encourage all of us
to see them for what they are:
You may not love these deals…
but it’s still on all of us to
to break the stalemate and move on from it.
There’s a lot of criticism of these deals out there, and I’m not gonna lie, a lot of it is warranted. The inclusion and
equity issues around them are real and they’re serious and they may even be inherent in the model, though honestly I
don’t think they have to be
But the status quo is not an acceptable alternative here. We can’t go back to hull breaches! So I encourage thinking
about these deals as stalemate-breakers — a chance to negotiate about something that isn’t just price, something
that actually breaks down walls
Maybe that still doesn’t make you warm to these deals, AND THAT’S FINE, but in that case I need you to be thinking
about how YOU are going to help break this stalemate, because it’s gotta be broken somehow.
ad Rule #7
If your library and a wall-builder
are in a tense negotiation or stalemate,
support your library.
Often. Loudly. In public.
Your library can’t say “no”
and stick to it
without institutional backing.
A library that can’t say “no”
and stick to it
can’t get a good deal. Negotiation 101!
Tightwad Rule Number Seven: if there’s a Big Deal license or a transformative agreement or anything like that under
negotiation, you NEED to SUPPORT the Good Ship Your LIBRARY, often and loudly and in public. Even if you DISAGREE
with how the negotiation is going! Disagree in private, support in public
And the reason for this is Negotiation 101. If the Good Ship Your Library can’t walk away from a deal because Planet
Faculty is hassling them, that’s a recipe for more price-gouging. The price-gouger has the library over a barrel and
they know it. And the Good Ship Your Library can’t walk away from deals if Planet Faculty undercuts them in public.
So don’t DO that.
ay for w
And I just also want to point out the possibility of consciously and deliberately reallocating money to publications and
publishers that don’t put up walls.
Probably my favorite example — and I should disclose that I’ve done unpaid advising work for these folks — is the
Open Library of the Humanities. Check them out, they’re amazing and they publish really excellent stu
, and they’re
making it work without building walls. It CAN be done
When the money is there. I really want to see the Good Ship Your Library ensure that the money is there. Two percent
solution, however you want to play it, but if open access is anything more than lip service to you, put your money
where your mouth is.
Which brings me to the third option for dealing with hull breaches: stop paying for walled-o
And in a way this is nothing new? Like I said, journal cancellations are half a century old if they’re a day.
But with Big Deals, it gets more complicated, as anything Big-Deal-related tends to do. Partly out of necessity, partly
out of wanting to break the stalemate, though, we’re seeing more and more libraries and consortia busting up and
working around Big Deals, and explaining how they did it so others can do it too
SPARC, which is an initiative of the Association of Research Libraries, is keeping a public list of these, and there’s a
growing journal-article and case-study literature on how to do it. So if you’re curious, check out SPARC and as
always, talk to a librarian.
ad Rule #8
A library planning to trash Big Deals
must have a communication plan.
One that starts
months, if not years,
If not, the wall-builders
can and will incite faculty
to devour the library alive.
But the most fundamental advice for doing this is so important that I’m turning it into Tightwad Rule Number Eight:
communicate, communicate, communicate
The Good Ship Your Library absolutely cannot, should not, and must not spring a major cancellation on everybody
suddenly. They have to explain what’s going on and why
We’ve seen what can happen if they don’t, there’s plenty of horror stories here — if Planet Faculty doesn’t start an
insurrection all by itself, which it often does, the wall-builders go behind the library’s back to Planet Faculty to
foment that insurrection.
The only way to cut that o
is to communicate early and often. We KNOW this by now.
To Planet Faculty I say, don’t get taken in by the wall-builders, what is wrong with y’all? **CLICK** Don’t you let me
catch you blaming your library for this mess. Blame the vendors, blame the vendors, blame the vendors. That’s the
only viable road to
xing the hull breaches.
ad Rule #9
Talk to the good folks
at the Good Ship Your Library.
Don’t talk AT or OVER them,
talk WITH them.
There’s a difference.
We need all hands on deck
x the hull breaches.
Last Tightwad Rule before I sum up: Talk to the good folks at the Good Ship Your Library about all this
Citizens of Planet Faculty! Some of you are probably feeling kind of attacked right now! I will not say that you are
wrong to feel that way
I will say, though, that the
ak I’ve thrown at y’all today is NOTHING compared to the erasure, insults, condescension,
and abuse that librarians routinely — ROUTINELY — hear from faculty, never mind wall-builders. It’s not okay, it will
never BE okay, and it needs to stop.
And I am saying this to you in the very confrontational way I am saying it because I’m an outsider — **CLICK** in our
little planets-and-spaceships scenario here I’m a bug-eyed alien — so I CAN be confrontational. Planet Faculty can’t
hurt me the way it can and does routinely hurt librarians
Do not talk AT your librarians. Especially don’t talk OVER them. Talk WITH them, please. We really need all hands on
x these hull breaches.
✦ Rule 1: Never sign NDAs.
✦ Rule 2: Do not use Journal Impact Factor
to judge individual scholars for tenure
✦ Rule 2a: Don’t buy “researcher
productivity” tools that rely on lists of
✦ Rule 3: Donate labor only to publishers
who are not price-gouging wall-builders.
So. Summing up.
✦ Rule 4: If they make their living off
building or maintaining walls, do not
uncritically trust what they say about
✦ Rule 5: Stash your OA pre/postprints in a
t, non-tech-startup, ideally
library-run or library-funded repository.
✦ Rule 6: If you’re staring at author-side
fees, negotiate them and see if somebody
else will pay them.
✦ Rule 7: If your library and a wall-builder
are in a tense negotiation or stalemate,
support your library.
✦ Rule 8: A library planning to trash Big
Deals must have a communication plan.
✦ Rule 9: TALK WITH LIBRARIANS ABOUT
This presentation is copyright 2021 by Dorothea Salo.
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