Today's interview with Stuart Shieber is valuable not only for the interview itself but also for the excellent primer on the open access movement that prefaces the interview. Prof. Shieber is Director of Harvard’s Office for Scholarly Communication and chief architect of the Harvard Open Access Policy.
As an example of the depth and clarity of explanation in the article, here is an excerpt on the advantages of open access journals charging article processing fees:
...[W]e need to revisit the question of why subscription publishing is so expensive. The reason for this, says Shieber, is that it is not the users of subscription journals that pay for them, but intermediaries. This disconnect creates a moral hazard, because the users will have no interest in how much journals cost. As such, there is no market mechanism to control prices.Full interview.
Explaining the problem in PLoS Biology in 2009, Shieber put it this way, “The ‘consumers’ of scholarly articles (the readers, typically faculty, students, and researchers at universities and other research institutions) are insulated from the cost of reading, that is, from the subscription fees paid by the institutions' research libraries. The expected result — inelasticity of demand and hyperinflation — can be amply seen in the statistics of serials costs paid by research libraries. As subscription fees hyperinflate, libraries with budgets that at best merely match inflation must inevitably drop subscriptions, reducing access to the scholarly literature.”
In other words, the disconnect between the purchaser and the user creates an affordability problem, which in turn creates an accessibility problem.
Gold OA differs, argues Shieber, because it takes the buying decision away from the librarian and gives it to the author, who now acts on his or her own behalf (by paying to publish). Since authors will now care about the cost, the moral hazard characteristic of subscription publishing is avoided. In other words, the person buying the product (which is now a publishing service) will become sensitive to pricing (assuming the publication charges come from their own budget), and so shop around.