This year was very much one where Open Access came to the forefront, mainly thanks to the continuing effects of the Finch report. Research-intensive universities were given money to spend on Gold OA publishing, and smaller teaching universities, with their REF 2014 scores in mind, had to start thinking about how to bring OA to the attention of their academics.
In terms of e-resources the effect was two-fold. First, a high number of purely OA journals continue to be born and grow, even in already saturated fields. Whether they are all of good quality is debatable, and there were a couple of issues around plagarism or a lack of peer review which might make an author pause when it comes to smaller, unknown serial publishers. The second effect of this OA explosion was in terms of serial pricing, especially for titles in ‘big deals’ which had become either hybrid or totally OA. The ‘who pays’ and ‘why’ questions have never been more pertinent, and 2014 will be a year – I think – where historic pricing models may finally bite the dust.
From an administration point of view, licensing remains a minefield, especially post-cancellation access and entitlements. Easy to interpret a clause which states that you retain access to the years you have paid for, but it needs exemplary record-keeping on the part of the subscriber to be able to prove that entitlement sometimes. Agents records usually go back six years, publishers records often less. Changes of LMS systems can lose the continuity which can prove you had a subscription – title changes and transfers can complicate the picture. Even long-standing ‘big deals’ can cause problems if there has been a change of negotiating agent, or if the original paperwork is lacking. I would argue that the ‘off switch’ should not be employed quite so freely as it is where licensing seems to ensure post-cancellation access, and some publishers are certainly better at dealing with this issue than others.
Pricing policies continue to cause concern in the e-field. Those of us with long memories can remember the introduction of tiered pricing based on institutional size, which came in over a decade ago, with a justification that a larger institution in terms of student body, or an institution with high usage figures, should pay more than their smaller or low usage peers. You may not agree with this thesis when you consider the outlay in providing the end product on subscription is exactly the same, but e-journals have always been the money-spinners their print cousins were not. I remain intrigued at how journals are priced, but there never seems to be an easy answer.
2014 will also, I feel, be a turning point for hosting fees, that is where a subscriber pays to access a service on a third-party platform rather than saving content to their own servers. What is a ‘fair’ level for a charge for hosting, and should this be imposed across the board or on a case-by-case basis?
Finally, will there ever be a time when publisher platforms have any resemblance to each other in terms of usability? There have been many innovations whereby platforms have been developed to showcase a product, or integrate various features which may been seen to be an improvement (what we in the 1990s called ‘bells and whistles’). What we don’t have, yet, is a simple system relating to authentication, with a core terminology which makes a system easy to access and use. Attempts have been made to make ‘Shibboleth’ easy to use in the UK, but if you are away from your home institution, even logging in can be a puzzle few can master. Merging book and journal content on a platform might seem a great step forward, but unless you make your content easy to navigate, the content is as good as lost.
Feel free to share your high and low points of the e-resource year …