While scientific papers were once available only to those willing to pay expensive fees to journal publishers, papers are now increasingly made available for free, as they enjoy some form of open access (OA). Not all forms of open access are the same, however. While the ACM SIGPLAN Executive Committee (of which I am the Chair) is generally happy with the OA rights SIGPLAN 1 authors currently enjoy, it may be time to push for even stronger rights. Reasonable people may disagree about the costs and benefits of such rights. As such, we would like your feedback (even if you are not a SIGPLAN member).
Please consider filling out this open access survey. It should take 5-10 minutes.
The remainder of this blog post discusses the issues in more depth. We invite your feedback!
Status Quo: Free OpenTOC and Green OA
We who often publish via outlets of ACM SIGPLAN enjoy OA right now. In particular, all SIGPLAN papers hosted by ACM’s Digital Library are free but only via certain “table of contents” (TOC) links collected at sigplan.org. This benefit is called OpenTOC. SIGPLAN authors may also re-post their papers on their own site or other non-profit sites like arXiv and ePrint. This re-posting right is called Green OA. These benefits come at no added cost to authors or conference attendees.
For example, consider the 2015 OOPSLA paper I co-authored, Incremental Computation with Names. This article is hosted by the ACM DL at this link. Without authorization, one must pay to access the PDF. However, as an author I am permitted to post the paper on arXiv (a right of Green OA), so the paper is also hosted at this link and is freely accessible. Moreover, by virtue of OpenTOC support, readers can access the DL version of the article for free via the compilation of links at the OpenTOC. The free OpenTOC is a nice addition to the standard Green OA rights. It ensures that even if authors do not self-archive their paper, a free version will remain available indefinitely as part of the ACM DL.
Despite their clear benefits, Green OA and OpenTOC have some downsides.
First, even though free links to papers may exist, it is not certain that prospective readers will find them. Search engines may return the paywall link first, and/or may not always find the free link. For example, when I use Google to search for the OOPSLA 2015 paper, Automated backward error analysis for numerical code, the first hit is for the paywall link. That said, in my experience, when authors self-archive, it is easy to find their papers. In the above example, the authors’ self-hosted copy of the paper is the second search result (for my OOPSLA paper, it’s actually the first result). OpenTOC links are a new feature, so it is unclear where they will ultimately appear in search results, but they are likely to be lower than the above two.
Second, while authors may retain copyright of their work, they are not permitted re-post on ad-supported or for-profit sites, such as ResearchGate or Academia.edu. Non-authors may not re-post papers anywhere, e.g., to their own site when constructing a reading list for a class.
Gold OA: More free, but worth the price?
For those authors unsatisfied with Green OA and Open TOC, they may pay to publish their paper as Gold OA. With this option, the paper is published under a Creative Commons license, allowing anyone virtually unlimited rights to the paper. For example, authors can post their paper to ad-supported sites, and non-authors can re-post the paper as well. Moreover, the author grants ACM non-exclusive publication rights, and the authoritative DL link to the publication is free to anyone.
All ACM author options are described here in detail.
Currently, authors may elect this option by paying $700 (or $900, for non-ACM or SIGPLAN members). Few do, presumably because the cost is not worth the added benefits over Green OA and OpenTOC.
However, conferences now have the option of making all of their accepted papers free to anyone via ACM’s Digital Library, at the Gold level of OA. This option comes at the cost of $400 per paper, but only if all papers go gold. So the question is: Is this option worth the price?
How to pay?
The answer may depend on how you pay.
One option is that the conference pays the cost and increases registration fees to compensate. For a large SIGPLAN conference like POPL or PLDI, which has around 500 attendees and 50 papers, the per-registration cost would increase about $40. For smaller conferences, it would be slightly more. In some sense, the added benefit of Gold OA is felt most by non-authors, since they can now re-post and reuse published papers more freely. As such, it seems defensible that conference attendees should pay.
Alternatively, authors could pay the $400 fee. If a grant or other (e.g., corporate) funding support is acknowledged in the paper, the authors would be expected to pay. Some countries, e.g., the UK, specially allocate open access fees to grants. This option makes sense because funding agencies and authors clearly benefit from greater open access because their work will be more widely read. That said, we should not be asking authors to pay to publish. If they do not have funding support they may have the fee waived and covered by the conference.
Finally, authors and conference attendees could share the costs, recognizing that both authors and readers benefit from Gold OA.
Make your voice heard
Which of the above options makes the most sense to you? Please take 5-10 minutes to fill out our survey. We are interested to know your feelings, generally, about open access. We are particularly interested to know at what price Gold OA is worth it, and how the inevitable fees are paid.