An article in the French Bill for a Digital Republic, voted on at the beginning of 2016, making it compulsory for publicly funded articles in the humanities and social sciences to be open access after 12 months, sparked a controversy in the academic community. Commercial publishers and some editorial boards and researchers fear the loss of their independence, while not-for-profit publishers and some other editorial boards and researchers see it as progress towards more open research. What is the problem in the French academic publishing system which causes such a divide? This specific environment would be improperly described as an ‘industry’, for the diverse French ecosystem is not ruled by the sole ‘invisible hand of the market’ but depends more on the arms of the state than in most countries. The question of whether it is effective and/or efficient to give more visibility to journals can be better understood in the light of the values, be they symbolic, economic, or political, around which the system operates.