Thursday, July 17, 2008

Open Access

It's nothing new: subscriptions to journals are getting increasingly expensive, while in theory anyone can publish anything online. Some publications like the Journal of Universal Computer Science have been forerunners, making available all research papers for free, at least regarding the online version. The more research results are visible to a greater public free of charge the better the advancement in science, at least in theory. This is also good for private research institutions and companies who are interested in cooperating with universities and turning research results into products. As the initiators of the open access initiative say:

The main advantages of open access are the increased visibility and thus the increased impact of scientific articles.

It is not clear what the added value of publishing houses is anyway, as neither authors nor reviewers are getting paid for their job. Publishing online does not really generate high costs beyond setting up a web server with a database and someone that implements user interface and server functions - at least it is a task that only needs to be done once in a while and could be added to subscription costs for bound volumes.

While the costs for subscriptions have doubled between 1986 and 2000, the accumulated inflation rate would be around 40 percent - and it is well known that the budget that is available to universities is constrained. We're talking about yearly costs of between 900 and 3.400 $, as a recent periodicals price survey reveals. When looking at the 10 most expensive journals from Elsevier, who has a share of 13.6%, all of them have a price tag of more than 10.000 $. Who is able to pay that?

The argument goes that publishing will produce one-time costs that may be covered by the authors themselves or their sponsors, but once these costs are covered, the availability should be free of charge.

At the moment, only about 10 to 15 percent are available without constraints - and wouldn't it be nice to see this percentage increase to something like 50 percent? The other question probably is: who will read all these publications, and how will it possible to find more easily what is really relevant for me? This also would require some rating and annotation mechanism in order to make published results more useful to their readers, such as with services like Connotea or Faculty of 1000 for biologists.

1 comment:

Stevan Harnad said...

(1) The problem of research accessibility is related to, but not identical with, the problem of journal affordability.

(2) The way to increase Open Access (OA) from 15% to 100% is for research institutions and funders to mandate Green OA self-archiving.

(3) Who will read journal articles once they are all OA? The same people who read them when they were accessible only to subscribers, plus everyone else on the web. Powerful search, annotation and other metric services on this distributed OA database will be created as soon as the content is there. For 15% it's hardly worth the bother.

(4) The only essential service journals provide is peer review, and if and when OA self-archiving mandates cause the cancellation of institutional subscriptions, the institutional windfall savings will be more than enough to pay the much-reduced costs of peer review only, on the Gold OA cost-recovery model.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum