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Preview: Nature Web Focus: Access to the literature: the debate continues

Nature Web Focus: Access to the literature: the debate continues

The Internet is profoundly changing how scientists work and publish. New business models are being tested by publishers, including open access, in which the author pays and content is free to the user. This ongoing web focus will explore current trends an


Britain decides 'open access' is still an open issue


Can journals function if authors, instead of readers, carry the cost of publication? An inquiry by the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded this week that we will just have to wait and see. After five months of investigating access to journals in science, technology and medicine, the committee has reported that the concept of 'author-pays' open access seems "viable" but requires "further experimentation".

The best business model for scholarly journals: an economist's perspective


The answer to the question 'What is the best business model for scholarly journals?' depends on who is asking. In this article, we first characterize the views of some of the major players in the market (for-profit publishers, non-profit publishers, libraries) on which business model is best. We will consider the two commonly discussed business models, the traditional (or 'Reader Pays') model on the one hand and the Open Access (OA) ('Author Pays') model on the other.

A professional society's take on access to the scientific literature


The Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), the flagship journal of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), will celebrate its centennial in 2005. The JBC predated the ASBMB by one year. This is notable in that a professional scientific society grew out of the need for a discipline-oriented scientific publication. The expertise represented by a discipline is a very important consideration in the establishment and/or maintenance of the scientific literature.

An evidence-based assessment of the 'author pays' model


Much discussion of author payments as a means to Open Access lacks consideration of evidence on their potential impact on the scholarly journal system. Our recent work perhaps sheds new light on both favourable and unfavourable aspects of this option.

PNAS and Open Access


As I announced in a recent Editorial, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS) has begun an Open Access (OA) option, whereby authors may pay a surcharge of US$1,000 to make their paper freely available on the PNAS and PubMed Central (PMC) websites immediately upon publication. The experiment will run until 31 December 2005. The PNAS will then consider ways to make the journal entirely OA, maintain the option in the same or modified form, or discontinue the option.

The primacy of authors in achieving Open Access


Of all the groups that want OA to scientific and scholarly research literature, only one is in a position to deliver it: authors. It is authors who decide whether to submit their work to OA journals, to deposit their work in OA archives, or to transfer copyright.

Not so quiet on a Western front


In negotiations with Reed Elsevier, the University of California libraries recently held out over a license to selected titles in its Science Direct package until a price was agreed that allowed, at least temporarily, the arrest of the spectacular inflation in price over the past few years. This experience has been illuminating to me as a university administrator and a librarian, and informs my thinking on the economics of scholarly publishing set out below.

Can 'author pays' journals compete with 'reader pays'?


Publishers of scholarly journals currently obtain most of their revenue from subscription fees charged to libraries and individual users. We call this 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. We call this 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.

The green and the gold roads to Open Access


The crisis in university journal budgets first brought to light the problem of access to published research. But the problems of affordability and access, although often confused, are distinct. We describe here a practical solution to the access problem.

Can Open Access be viable? The Institute of Physics' experience


The Institute of Physics (IOP) has considerable experience in Open Access, through its New Journal of Physics (NJP), This Month's Papers, and IOP Select. Launched at the end of 1998, several years before the current Open Access movement, NJP is our highest profile venture in the area. A joint initiative with the German Physical Society, NJP involved several dimensions: to publish an on-line-only journal, of high scientific quality, with rigorous peer review, covering all physics, under a then-innovative business model-free to all readers and with authors of published papers required to pay a publication fee of £300 .

Do Open Access journals have impact?


At Thomson ISI, we have followed debates over Open Access to scholarly literature with great interest. This is partly because our mission, best incarnated today in the Web of Science®, is to help researchers find and access quality, relevant information wherever it is published. It is also because the journal-level metrics, such as the Impact Factor and Immediacy Index, for which Thomson ISI has become known, have assumed importance in these discussions.

Analysing the scientific literature in its online context


The free versus fee debate over access to the scientific literature is a lively one, but it is also important to keep in mind the bigger picture, that the Internet is bringing about a much broader evolution in the way scientists work and communicate. Information and value increasingly lies not just in the published article but in relationships between articles, in the links among authors and papers, and in less formal communication among users and communities through Weblogs (or 'blogs'), listservs, home pages and other sources on the Web.

CrossRef launches CrossRef Search, powered By Google


Imagine searching on Google and being able to restrict results to articles published in peer-reviewed journals. A step in that direction was taken this month when CrossRef, a not-for-profit association of publishers, and nine of its member, launched the CrossRef Search Pilot, powered by Google. From a search box on any one publisher's site, a user can perform a Google search across the content of all nine.

Open Access needs to get 'back to basics'


As manager of the network of SURF, the Dutch agency responsible for promoting information technology in higher education, I support Open Access as defined by Jan Velterop. But when I read the contributions of my supposed Open Access allies in this Nature Focus, and in other forums, I feel my enthusiasm waning. It seems that supporters of Open Access are unable to agree on almost anything. The broadest consensus they seem to have achieved is one of doubt.

Open Access ignoring lessons of dot-com bubble


In his recent contribution to this focus, Jan Velterop, Publisher of the UK-based Open-Access publisher BioMed Central (BMC), asserts that criticism of Open Access publishing as economically unsustainable is just wishful thinking on the part of traditional publishers. He states that any business that can deliver what customers need or want, at a price that they are willing to pay, is sustainable.

Is free affordable?


The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) has been providing free and unrestricted access to its content ever since it went online in 1996. We have been able to support the costs of this online Open Access through a mix of page charges and income from subscriptions to the print version of JCI, which itself was first published in 1924.

Open access by the article: an idea whose time has come?


Scientific societies are often reluctant to embrace Open Access (OA) because they are concerned how this will affect the financial viability of their journals. But there may be a risk-free, profitable means for learned societies to move towards the OA that many of their members want, without committing themselves to radical changes in their cost-recovery model. They have only to offer their authors, for a fair price, the option of buying OA for their articles -- authors can simply pay an extra fee to make their articles freely available online.

Experimenting with Open Access publishing


In a previous Nature web debate we called on the scientific community, publishers and librarians to work more closely together to explore new ways of recovering the costs of publishing that would encourage widespread, cost-effective dissemination of online journals, immediately after publication. There has been considerable debate of access issues in recent months, including an inquiry by the UK government's Science and Technology Committee, to which OUP has contributed both written and oral evidence. There remains a dearth of factual information, however, to support the arguments about the potential advantages and disadvantages of Open Access publishing. During the course of 2004 we therefore intend to run a series of experiments to test a range of business models. We hope that preliminary results presented here might encourage others to share their experiences and data.

How journals can boost access, 'realistically'


Not-for-profit publishers can bring a moderate and reasoned approach to the issue of access to literature that rises above the noise and polemicism which unfortunately currently characterizes much of the debate. Their journals are generally run by and for practising scientists; it is arguable, therefore, that their policy is focused on sustainability and service to the scientific community, free from the need to maximize profits. At the Journal of Cell Biology (JCB) I believe that we have maximized accessibility to those both reading and writing about science.

The myth of 'unsustainable' Open Access journals


Myths, if repeated often and widely, can perpetuate and beget new myths. The alleged ‘unsustainability’ of the ‘input-paid’ Open Access publishing model is such a second-order myth. The notion that the model is unsustainable has been expounded time and again and persists even in some recent contributions to this forum. One could be forgiven for believing that the judgement of unsustainability must be rooted in a deep understanding of what the Open Access model actually entails, but that doesn’t quite seem to be the case. Unsustainability is only plausible if one assumes that the traditional publishers actually believe the underlying myths, which have in my view been countered. Only a generous dose of wishful thinking keeps the myth of unsustainability alive.

On being scientific about science publishing


The great paradox of the movement towards open access to scientific journals is that no one is opposed to it and almost everyone is sure they belong to it. So why is there such contentiousness in the air? Can we not bring the dispassion and collaboration of good science into this domain? For it seems that no one disagrees with the proposition that the results of research should be distributed as widely as possible and in particular that economic disadvantage should not prevent access to critical information.

Open access and learned societies


Open Access has been acclaimed by many as the business model which will transform the scholarly publishing marketplace, rescuing libraries and academics from the 'evils' of commercial publishers. At present, most academic societies' publishing operations use the same business models as those commercial publishers. So will open access bring these learned societies real benefits or will it cause them financial hardship?

Why electronic publishing means people will pay different prices


The open access movement may be the most prominent aspect of the profound ongoing evolution of scholarly communication, but it is far from the only one. Electronics is loosening the straitjacket of print, but only slowly. Technologies take time to become widely adopted, and sociological change even longer. Most journals are already available electronically, for example, but they remain largely facsimiles of their print cousins, and pre-publication evaluation procedures are much as before. Where change will be fastest is perhaps in the world of online access and pricing, where the economics will drive diverse and often controversial strategies.

Science editor-in-chief warns of PLoS growing pains


For more than a century and a half, groups of scientists have formed organizations and started journals for the primary purpose of presenting the results of their work to one another and to a larger community of interested readers. That's why the journal Science was established in 1880, and why the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has sponsored it. That's also why a group of distinguished biomedical scientists, including several of our Stanford colleagues, have joined together to develop a new publication called PLoS Biology.

PLoS co-founder defends free dissemination of peer-reviewed journals online


Last year, Harold Varmus, Michael Eisen and I founded a new nonprofit scientific publisher, the Public Library of Science (PLoS; In October, PLoS began publishing its premier scientific journal, PLoS Biology. Everything PLoS publishes is immediately available online, free of charge, with no restrictions on access or use.

Universities' own electronic repositories yet to impact on Open Access


More and more academic institutions are creating their own digital repositories, but a recent survey I carried out suggests they have had little effect on publishing practices so far.

Open Access: yes, no, maybe


Last month, Paul Saffo research director of the Institute of the Future in Menlo Park, California, told the board of the Copyright Clearance Center, at a meeting in Naples, Florida, that we were living in a period of 'unprecedented uncertainty'. I cannot imagine a more apt description.

Open access and not-for-profit publishers


It is no accident that much experimentation with the Open Access journals model, where costs are covered by payments made on behalf of the author rather than on behalf of the reader, is being carried out by learned societies and other not-for-profit publishers. Their charitable status —and the reason they are therefore exempt from paying taxes —stems from their mission to develop and support their discipline, through research, dissemination and public education. Clearly, providing free access to research papers, and recovering the costs in some other way, would be an excellent means to achieve these objectives.



The topic of this Nature web focus, the future of access to the scientific literature, is the subject of lively debate among librarians, publishers, learned societies, and scientists. Much of the debate is about whether the literature should be 'open access,' and if so, how the costs of publishing should be met, and by whom.