Towards universal open access? Why we need bibliodiversity rather than a “silver bullet”

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By Pierre Mounier

Nothing is probably falser than the representation of scholarly communication as an integrated field dominated by a few global actors across all disciplines, countries, communities. When Jeffrey Beal published his despising words about SciELO and Redalyc because, according to him “many north-american researchers have never heard of it”, he could have said the same of Elsevier because many humanities researchers have never heard of it, in North-America and elsewhere, to take another example that illustrates how absurd this approach can be, simply because the researchers’ information and citation practices are not global, but rather largely influenced by local parameters, in terms of disciplines, national contexts, transnational networks of research teams sharing the same methods, objects, types of instruments.

Scholarly communication is influenced by societies’ needs

Even in a non-constructivist epistemology, where it is taken for granted that scientific truth has a global validity, it is admitted that research is in close relationship with local societies: depending on the main challenges they have to face, societies target specific topics and support more heavily research on them, give more importance to some disciplines rather than to others, but also organize research according to national cultures that can differ widely. In other words, particularly when research is publicly funded, which is the case in most disciplines with a few exception, national funding has a direct impact on the scientific research itself by asking a return on investment for the benefit of the tax-payer who consents to it.

Obviously, the scholarly communication sector is even more deeply impacted by socio-economic factors, because it is positioned on the border of the scientific sector, as a market subjected to economic conditions at large, but also as a critical instrument in the achievement of universal access to knowledge as a common good. To sum up, the sector is at the crossroad of three demands: to address efficiently scientists needs of communication to their peers, to be economically sustainable, to ensure equal if not universal access to knowledge. For a limited number of countries, mostly European by the way, it is also a highly capitalized industry that generates wealth and jobs. This is the reason why the global debate about the transition of scholarly communication to open access is so confusing: it implies a wide range of different stakeholders having different agendas operating in different national and disciplinary contexts.

The debate on Open Access is confusing

If it is generally acknowledged now that there is a general movement across all these different contexts that drives all the different stakeholders towards open access, one important question remains open: which model of open access publishing are we heading for? For the moment this debate looks like a confused arena where each one tries to push its own model based on its own interests or goals: the European Commission for example pushes for green open access based on self-archiving in repositories such as Zenodo, because the main if not only reason why they want to develop open access is to accelerate dramatically the transfer of knowledge from laboratories to the industry in order to foster innovation in the European industry and increase its competitiveness on global markets. UK and Dutch governments support commercial gold open access model because they are those countries where academic publishing is an industry. Many universities support institutional repositories because it is an important instrument for them to keep control of their scientific assets. Libraries usually go in the same direction because they are facing an important challenge in terms of funding and usage as a consequence of the shift from a subscription-based system to an APC model. Researchers position themselves in many different ways according to their discipline, advancement in their career, affiliation and even past experiences with publishers.

Gold-Green: a Manichean opposition

It must also be kept in mind that there are a lot of different options beyond the traditional and a little bit Manichean green-gold opposition. For example, in the so-called “gold model”, more than half of the open access journals indexed by DOAJ do not require APC payment to publish an article. They are in most case subsidized by institutions and a lot of them are sustained by free labor provided by scholars. In France, OpenEdition has developed a freemium1 economic model to diversify their funding stream and ensure a better sustainability. The Canadian PKP initiative has been supporting thousands of independent non-APC open access academic journals across the world through the widely known and used OJS publishing tool, allowing hundreds of universities, scholarly societies and national infrastructures to set up and develop their own platform. Therefore, nothing is more partial than the usual description of the typical “gold model” as an international journal owned by a commercial company that charges high APC. This situation exists of course, but it concerns a minority of titles and it’s a pity that in the current debate regarding open access, the commercial APC gold model epitomizes the whole gold model for many commentators. The lack of understanding of the diversity of contexts and models combined with the variety of agendas pushed by the different stakeholders, opens the way to discourses advocating for a single solution presented as the silver bullet that promise to achieve complete open access for the whole scholarly communication system in a few years. In other words, global “flipping” or offset mechanism on one hand, repository-based solutions on the other hand, presented both as the single solution to disrupt the current system and replace it by a brand new one entirely open access are probably delusional.

We need open bibliodiversity

As a conclusion, too often, the discussion on open access models is sometimes completely confused, sometimes too simplistic, and usually based on undue generalization of local situations and even singular experiences. It doesn’t reflect properly the variety of parameters that influence the way research is practiced and communicated amongst peers and towards societies at large. Therefore, we desperately need a better-informed discussion based on case studies and probably driven by the actor-network theory because it allows for a modelling of how diverse stakeholders interact in the scholarly communication process. Because we need not only open access, but above all open scholarly communication models that serve the actual needs of the research communities and societies to create knowledge and benefit from it, we need an open access model based on bibliodiversity. This is what the Jussieu Call2 advocates for.


1. Freemium is a business model that works by offering free basic services, while charging for more advanced or special features. The word “freemium” is a portmanteau of the two words used to describe the business model: “free” and “premium”.

2. Jussieu Call for Open science and bibliodiversity [online]. Jussieu Call. 2017 [viewed in 14 August 2018]. Available from:


Amsterdam Call for Action on Open Science [online]. Government of the Netherlands. 2016 [viewed in 14 August 2018]. Available from:

Jussieu Call for Open science and bibliodiversity [online]. Jussieu Call. 2017 [viewed in 14 August 2018]. Available from:

Towards better access to scientific information: Boosting the benefits of public investments in research [online]. European Commission. 2012 [viewed in 14 August 2018]. Available from:

External links

DOAJ list of non-APC journals <>

Jussieu Call <>


About Pierre Mounier

Pierre Mounier is deputy director of OpenEdition, a comprehensive infrastructure based in France for open access publication and communication in the humanities and social sciences. OpenEdition offers several platforms for journals, scientific announcements, academic blogs, and, finally, books, in different languages and from different countries. Pierre teaches digital humanities at the EHESS in Paris. He has published several books about the social and political impact of ICT (Les Maîtres du Réseau, les enjeux politiques d’Internet 2001), digital publishing (L’Edition électronique, with Marin Dacos, 2010) and digital humanities (Read/Write Book 2, Une introduction aux humanités numériques, 2012). As deputy director of OpenEdition, Pierre Mounier’s work mainly revolves around the development of an internationalisation strategy for the infrastructure, in particular by establishing partnerships with platforms and institutions in Europe and elsewhere . To further this objective, he regularly participates in international conferences and seminars to present OpenEdition’s programmes and discuss subjects relating to digital humanities and open access. Pierre Mounier participates in the activities of Dariah, the European infrastructure for digital humanities, and coordinates the development of OPERAS, a European infrastructure dedicated to open scholarly communication gathering 36 partners from 12 countries, including SciELO as its first international partner.


Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

MOUNIER, P. Towards universal open access? Why we need bibliodiversity rather than a “silver bullet” [online]. SciELO in Perspective, 2018 [viewed ]. Available from:


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