Lady Tizzy raised a serious point of frustration reently about the payment barriers that scientific and other academic journals put up to block access to research. It’s a fascinating issue because the research publishing world is changing and almost everyone wants to see research freely available to a wide audience. But publishing peer reviewed papers costs money. At present publishers of scholarly journals get most of their revenue from subscription fees charged to libraries and individual users, the ‘reader pays’ pricing model. An alternative pricing method has recently emerged, in which publishers collect their revenue by charging significant publication fees to authors, and then supply their content over the Internet, at no cost to readers, the ‘author pays’ pricing model. ‘Open Access, Author Pays’ publishing is relatively new and has only become feasible because of the recent development of the Internet; although this has little impact on the fixed costs of producing a journal, it makes the marginal cost of extending Web access to new users almost zero.
In the academic journal market, publishers receive payments from consumers (readers) and also from suppliers (authors). Most journals charge subscription fees to readers. Many also charge page fees to authors and most maintain an implicit requirement that those who publish are obliged to donate refereeing services. Very few scholarly journals pay their authors for content.
Will Open Access be able to compete successfully? This depends largely on whether authors (or universities and granting agencies acting on their behalf) will be willing to pay substantial author fees to support Open Access for their work. Recent studies suggest that Open Access are cited much more often than similar articles without open access. Citations translate into both prestige and promotion. Author Pays, Open Access publishing is one way of realizing the enormous potential gains that the Internet offers. Whether some form of Open Access emerges as the dominant form of academic publishing is likely to depend on how much scholars care about broad distribution of their writings.
After 10 years of providing free access to its peer reviewed research online, the British Medical Journal officially became an open access journal. All research articles are freely available immediately on publication. But the BMJ asks authors to pay a publication fee of £2500 per accepted research article. This only applies, however, when the funder of the research that is reported in the article has already pledged to pay for open access publication and when authors can claim the BMJ fee, in full, from their funder for that specific piece of research. Open access allows the sharing and reuse of publicly funded research without restriction to everyone everywhere. In 1998, the BMJ became the first major general medical journal to provide free full text online access to its research articles, to deposit the full text in National Library of Medicine in Washington and to allow authors to retain the copyright of their articles. Let’s hope more journals move in this direction.