Selling Open Access

During today’s R&I retreat we had a discussion on how to sell (via an elevator speech), publishing in open access journals. It was interesting listening to some of my colleagues talk about the issue, because I realized that I see it (and sell it) completely differently. I do not attempt to change the world or convince my faculty that open access is the way of the future. Why? Because I can’t make any promises. I can’t promise that your work will get more citations. I can’t promise that your tenure and promotion committee will value your commitment to open access. I honestly think some of the pressure to publish open access is hurting the movement. Imagine you’re a faculty member looking to publish in big name journals to get tenure, maybe your department has a point system that requires publications in certain venues. This librarian shows up and starts talking to you about the economics of information, about how open access is the future, and about how EVERYONE would have access to your research. What’s your response going to be? You’re probably going to smile nicely and say “Wow. That’s interesting.” while silently edging towards the door. You don’t care about the economics of information or about the future at this moment, unless the future is in reference to your future employment. Tenure reviews are no time for trailblazing. And anyway, why do I care about what every day people have access to? I only care that my peers (aka other academics and researchers in my field) have access to. That’s why I’m publishing in Big Name Journal.

Contrary to the scenario I just outlined, I do believe in Open Access and I do believe that it has the potential to shake up the economics of information. But I see my role as more of an informational asset to faculty, the person with the knowledge and skills to help authors identify good venues for open access publications, rather than an advocate for OA itself. I’m no expert on scholarly communication outreach, and I haven’t had a lot of work come to fruition yet, but I have started the conversation with several individuals. Here are the top points of my elevator speech:

Did you know you can publish an open access article in Nature? (Replace Nature with any big name journal in the field that offers open access options.)
Many people see open access journals as second or third tier – places for research that might be interesting, but wasn’t good enough to make it into a REAL journal. To combat this I like to talk about open access options in the big name journals. I remind faculty it’s exactly like publishing a normal article in the journal, it just comes with the added benefit of a larger audience.

Did you know we can help you pay author fees for open access articles?
We are very lucky to have an open access publishing support fund that will help authors make their articles open access. This will REALLY get the attention of faculty members. I know a number of people who were interested in open access options, but they just couldn’t afford it (and at $700-3,000 – who can?).

Open access is a great opportunity to get your work in the hands of people in the field.
This will not work for every area, but if your fields have a branch with practitioners, this is a valuable idea. I have one faculty member in geology who is doing work involving providing safe water in Haiti. While I’m sure he’s happy to get academic kudos for that work, it probably means more to him to get that information in the hands of people who are actually doing the work on the ground and in the communities. (It helps that he already has tenure.) Mention this to people working on anything with public health, social justice, etc. topics – it probably won’t convince a skeptic, but it could push someone who is already interested in the idea over into the implementation stage.

You do not have to do this alone.
We have people. They know things. They can help you. I can help you in the early stages, but if/when my skills hit their limit I have colleagues to call on who know more than me. We can walk you through the many, many open access options out there and help you identify the one that best fits your needs. If we don’t find one that works for you now, that’s ok too, we’re just happy to have the conversation. OA publishing is scary. It is a disruptive movement that seeks to change an area that is by definition very conservative – academic publishing. It takes time to become comfortable with the idea (and with your rights as an author). Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it.

And that’s where my pitch ends. I offer to answer questions. I let it sink in. But I do not pressure or try to convince anyone to change their behavior. Quite frankly, it’s not my job to shift the paradigm in this case. (BUZZWORD BINGO!) It’s my job to help my faculty understand their options and to support them in their teaching and scholarship, no matter where they choose to publish. I would love it if they all published OA and became copyright rebels. But I’ll be happy if, by the end of the year (2012-2013 academic year), everyone is at least aware that we have a grant fund for open access publishing. (Really aware. Like that they can say “Yes. I have heard of that. It is an interesting program.” Not just that I sent them an email that may or may not have gone immediately to trash.)

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