This is a parallel question to Open Access Success Stories? and is something I've been thinking about for a while.
If one reads the linked question, Spark makes the following statements about questionable practices in academic publishing:
- They don't pay reviewers for their work.
- They overcharge universities for subscriptions.
- They prevent public access to publicly funded research.
And the solution to these problems is open access. Spark is not the only person who thinks this way about open access; similar sentiments have been expressed here on SE, and I've also heard from a senior professor in real life that Elsevier is disliked because they are "against open access".
The problem is, to say that open access is a panacea makes little sense from my perspective as a former publisher:
- It's not like open access journals pay reviewers for their work either. In fact my experience strongly indicates that it isn't possible to pay reviewers anything more than a pittance unless the journal charges a substantial submission fee (which is distinct from an open access fee, since that is only paid upon acceptance).
- You go from overcharging universities for subscription to overcharging authors for submissions. In other words open access just shifts money around.
- It's not like open access is unprofitable. Hindawi is one of the most prolific open access publishers (everything they publish is open access), and last I saw, their profit margins of ~50% easily dwarfs that of conventional publishers (~35%) (however this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, because the 35% figure includes book revenue, and the profit margin for those is usually lower than for journals).
- The statement that Elsevier is against open access is untrue, and many (most/all?) Elsevier journals allow open access if the authors are willing to pay for it (Elsevier is against piracy, aka. reproducing copyrighted material without paying for it, not open access. Ironically, worded this way, most people are also against piracy).
- That leaves just the idea the subscription-based model prevents public access to publicly funded research. If this is genuinely a problem (in the vast majority of cases, the general public are not interested in reading research articles) then the authors can still usually make the papers available legally + for free.
Further, again from my perspective as a former publisher, open access is actively great and the industry would totally not mind if everyone just converted to open access. That's because it's guaranteed revenue. You no longer have to worry about convincing people that your journal is so good they should pay to read it. As long as researchers have research to publish, your journal gets revenue. You might even get to save on marketing costs. Besides, you barely have to do anything that you aren't already doing. In fact the most important reason publishers haven't just converted everything to OA is because many authors are simply unable to pay for OA (especially those from developing countries).
NB: The free-to-publish and free-to-read model, diamond open access, would indeed be a panacea. Problem is this model only works with external funding, so unless society becomes willing to commit millions of dollars every year to subsidize this, it's not realistic. Even if it does happen, it's just another way of shifting money around: we go from article processing charges to a direct subsidy for publishers.
tl; dr: from my point of view, open access just shifts money around. Accordingly, I don't view open access as either good or bad; it's just something that's there. Academics, however, tend to perceive open access as something "good". Why?