That doesn't, of course, make open access any less desirable. But researchers, as we all, do live in an ego-system and the strength of a person's interest in anything seems to diminish with at least the square of the distance (metaphorical or otherwise) to his or her id. The benefits of open access 'to science' are apparently pretty distant to an average researcher. Now, I know that the case has been made that there are benefits at closer proximity to researchers' ids, such as increased citations to their articles, but they seem, grosso modo, wholly underwhelmed by those. Is it with the benefits of open access rather like with the benefits of dramatically reducing our energy consumption? Reasonable on a super-ego level, but not convincing enough for our id, or so it seems.
So what now?
Mandates, it appears. From the funders -- organisations in charge of the scholarly super-ego, as it were. They have the power to impose OA on their grantees, and maybe the duty. And as they mostly pay the bill for library subscriptions anyway (indirectly, via overhead charges of institutions, but they pay nonetheless), they could simply re-route that money to OA article processing charges and reform publishing in the process. They may still, and follow the excellent leadership of the Wellcome Trust in this regard.
There seems to be one thing standing in the way. Conflation of financial concerns with open access is, unfortunately, a major barrier to open access. If open access were a real priority, in other words, if the starting point would not so much be cost evasion, but the principle that for the amounts now spent on scholarly literature one could, and should, have open access, and if a widespread willingness were displayed on the part of funders and librarians to help flip the model, then I'm thoroughly convinced we would be much, much further with open access. And as for financial concerns, inherent in an author-side payment model is a much clearer scope for real competition, and that will put downward pressure on prices and upward pressure on efficiencies as any economist will tell us. Putting the horse before the cart might be a good idea, for a change.
There is of course the hypothesis, consistently put forward by Stevan Harnad (and Stevan is nothing if not consistent, you have to give him that), that we can have OA without reforming publishing and without damaging journals. Consistent, but unfortunately, that doesn't make it right. In his world of self-archiving, all peer-reviewed and formally published articles would be freely available with open access -- although perhaps in an informal version, but still -- and librarians would continue to pay for subscriptions to keep journals afloat. As evidence he puts forward that having effectively had a physics archive in which published articles have been available freely for a decade and a half or so, this has not discernably reduced the willingness of librarians to keep paying for subscriptions to the journals with the very same material. And indeed, he makes very plausible that in physices, over the last decade and a half, there has been no damage to journals. But then he extrapolates. This always makes me think of Mark Twain, who says in Life on the Mississippi (1884):
"In the space of one hundred and seventy six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over a mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oölitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-pole. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo [Illinois] and New Orleans will have joined their streets together and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."
And although Stevan may even turn out to be right -- only hindsight will tell and we have to keep an open mind on that -- for societies and other publishers just to take his word for it or even his 'evidence' that his extrapolations are valid, would be a serious dereliction of fiduciary duty, and sooo unnecessary. Because with some political will, publishing can be reformed, and reformed very quickly, without damage, or even the threat of damage, to anyone. And thus the problems could be fundamentally solved instead of treated with sticky-plasters such as OA through self-archiving (great as institutional repositories otherwise are).