I'm inclined to think that the Harvard vote may be more significant than the passage of the NIH policy. That it is driven by the faculty rather than being imposed from the outside is a very positive sign. Most important, however, is that a major university is taking a significant step towards managing its own scholarly production. It is ironic in the extreme that one of the unintended consequences of the NIH policy may be a strengthening of the dominance of the commercial publishers at the expense of the society publishers. A non-librarian colleague who works with a lot of the biomedical societies tells me that there has been a noticeable uptick in bids from the commercial guys to buy up the publishing programs of some of the societies. In addition to the very favorable financial terms that they can offer, they are now suggesting that they can eliminate the headaches of dealing with the NIH policy. It's got to be pretty tempting to the executive directors of those societies.
On the discussion list that SPARC recently set up to discuss authors' rights, there's been a bit of dismay at the PR that Springer is putting out encouraging authors to take advantage of their Open Choice option. The Springer press release ends this way:
The cost of Open Choice is - as stated on the NIH web site - a permissible cost in your grant so please take care to budget for it.
Publishing with open access in Springer journals completely takes away any worries you might have about complying with the new NIH rules for grantees when it comes to publishing your research results. We look forward to the submission of your next paper.
Your Springer Open Choice Team
What could be easier?
And Elsevier has built a nice revenue stream from the HHMI and Wellcome Trust mandates.
I don't fault the commercial publishers at all -- they're being creative and taking advantage of the changing terrain as best they can. But I continue to worry about the small publishers and the societies and continue to believe that it was a grave error on the part of the open access movement not to seek alliances there. The societies, after all, are a part of academia and, for many of our faculty, a more significant professional home than the university that they are a part of. If the Harvard vote represents a movement on the part of faculty toward taking more control of their own scholarly production, then that's a very good thing.