Thursday, 7 June 2012

More on open access publishing

Over the past few weeks the debate about open access publishing has been getting even more heated, though I'm not completely convinced that much light is being cast over the issue - there is a great deal still to be settled, it seems.

In mid-May, the Times Higher Education reported (May 17th, article by Elizabeth Gibney) that the EU was planning to insist that most of its 80 billion euros of research funding through the Horizon 2020 Programme should lead to outputs that should be published though an open-access model (probably from 2014 or so). This is in principle a huge boost for open access, though a lot will depend on the particular models of open access publication that evolve.

Last week, though, a study by the UK Publishers Association, The Potential Effect of Making Journal Articles Freely Available in Repositories after a Six-Month Embargo (not, it must be said, the nicest of titles!), claimed that some publishers of academic journals could go bankrupt if open-access policies became the norm. This might in fact be true, but the claim rather suggests to me that publishers remain wedded to the traditional, long established model of model of publishing research output, where the reader (or subscriber) pays. Surely publishers themselves should be thinking more about other possible models - then they might be able to lead rather than follow change, and be prepared for whatever new models might become the norm.

Later this month, a UK study group on open access led by Dame Janet Finch (former vice-chancellor of Keele University) is expected to report. This group is apparently thinking what fee levels would likely be needed to support publication of research papers - to be paid by the researcher, and hence forming part of the researcher's grant in the future. They appear to be thinking in terms of a so called 'cost neutral' fee of around £1450 per paper. To me this sounds quite a lot of money, and it has already attracted criticism for failing to address the controversial issue of publishers' profits.

Moreover, for researchers in disciplines where almost all research needs research grants, such charges for publications - access then being free for the reader - might prove manageable. But what about researchers in the arts and social sciences, where many good papers are written - and published - without the support of an external research grant? Will these academics, in the future, simply be told that of they want to publish anything,  they had better get themselves a grant to provide the funding?  I can't see this being very easy, but equally, departments might not want, or be able, to pay for publications by their staff either.

Likewise, what will be the implications of 'open access' for refereeing papers (peer review), refereeing research grant applications, journal editing and the like, all services that academics have traditionally performed more or less for free, as part of their job? None of this is yet clear, so there is much interesting discussion to come.

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