The report from the independent Finch group in the United Kingdom recommends a 'gold' route to open-access papers, in which journals impose pre-publication charges, over a 'green' route, in which manuscripts are made available through a repository (see Nature 486, 439; 2012). As secretary to the Finch committee that authored the report, I can explain why we believe that gold is the way forward as the main vehicle for publishing research.

Open access by the green route is permitted only after an embargo period, and only to an unpublished version of the paper, without links or semantic enrichment for web applications. Rights of use and re-use are severely restricted. Commercial and not-for-profit journals that rely on subscriptions impose these constraints to protect their income. Green open access without any restrictions cannot work alongside subscription-based publishing.

Gold open access avoids these problems: journals receive their revenues up front, so they can provide immediate access free of charge to the peer-reviewed, semantically enriched published article, with minimal restrictions on use and re-use. For authors, gold means that decisions on how and where to publish involve balancing cost and quality of service. That is how most markets operate, and ensures that competition on quality and price works effectively. It is also preferable to the current, non-transparent market for scholarly journals.

The main barrier to gold open access has been a lack of systematic payment arrangements for article-publishing charges. The UK research councils should follow the Wellcome Trust in providing straightforward and flexible payment mechanisms. The costs would represent a small rounding error set against current levels of expenditure on research.

Green open access may be cheaper, but that is not the point: watching your favourite football team playing live beats seeing the highlights later on television.