by PhilipJ on 4 May 2007
Earlier today I attended the local open access talks I mentioned last week on Transformative Change in the System of Scholarly Communication & Publishing Worldwide: the Case for Open Access to Research. I particularly enjoyed the talk by Dr. John Willinsky on what all the fuss surrounding open access is (or used to be). He now says “used to be”, because he feels we’ve reached the tipping point, that open access has become popular enough that it will continue to grow on its own. But it’s happening through two different mechanisms, and they don’t quite reach the same destination.
The first road is through strictly open access journals. We’ve talked at length here about the Public Library of Science, which publishes peer-reviewed, open access science right now. Anyone is able to read any of the articles the minute they’re off the digital press, with the only real downside coming from the publication fees that authors face. These can be mitigated somewhat via funding agencies or special programs with PLoS, but they are a barrier to the complete embrace of open access. I imagine these fees will decrease over time, as the economics of open access publishing are better understood.
The second road, which many of the societal journals like PNAS are using, is the moving window to open access. Articles as published are not by default open to the public, and can only be accessed via subscription or individual purchase. They remain this way for a 6 month period, upon which the articles are all free to read. You can speed this process up by paying a special fee to make your article open access from the get go, but given budget (and other) constraints, this doesn’t occur very often. Others allow self-archiving, where after 6 months from the publication date you can put a PDF of your paper on your website, or submit it to a repository like PubMed Central.
The first road is the truly open model, and I hope PLoS and other entirely open access publishers thrive and prove to be viable by breaking even financially. The second road seems to admit that open access is in demand by both the consumers of scientific articles as well as the scientists themselves, but it ultimately doesn’t make sense to me. When open access journals are as widely read as their closed access cousins (and PLoS Biology is proving that it doesn’t take long to become a first rate journal), what incentive will there be to continue publishing in closed access journals?
If you ask me, there won’t be any. The second road being travelled by for-profits and society journals is only slowing, not stopping, the march to a fully open access culture in the sciences.