- Copyright © 2004 by the American Academy of Pediatrics
Should all scientific, technical and medical (STM) literature be available to anyone on the Internet without subscription or payment?
That simple question is at the center of the open access debate regarding STM journals. However, the eventual answer could have ramifications that go far beyond a monetary cost to the reader, ranging from the quality of literature to how much authors must pay to publish.
In this month's Pediatrics, the journal's senior managing editor, Michael Clarke, has a commentary titled “Open Sesame? Increasing Access to Medical Literature” (Pediatrics. 2004;114:265-268OpenUrl) which warns against the open access movement's push for journals to switch to an“ author-pays” business model and discusses why the Academy is taking the middle ground in the debate.
“It's probably the clearest, most succinct statement of the problem I've read,” said Jerold Lucey, M.D., FAAP, editor of Pediatrics. “It's exceedingly important because the future of journals depends upon what happens in the next several years.”
The open access movement began in the late 1990s as increasing numbers of university libraries began canceling subscriptions to STM journals due to the deepening Serials Crisis (which resulted from STM journal subscription rates— especially by for-profit publishers — rising faster than library budgets). As the Internet expanded the reach of electronic journals, some people began brainstorming publication models that would be free to readers.
The author-pays business model for journal publishing is being pushed by the open access movement. Under an author-pays model, the publishing costs for an article are not primarily picked up by the reader, but rather by the author. A current experiment with this model is under way at the Public Library of Science's journal PLoS Biology, which started up last October with the help of a $9 million grant. Authors pay $1,500 per published article in PLoS Biology, and the content is free to readers on the Internet (although there's still a subscription for the print version).
The commentary in Pediatrics lists the Academy's three main concerns with an author-pays model as: 1) Journals using author-pays models are reliant on a limited number of revenue sources. 2) An author-pays model is fiscally untenable for Pediatrics. 3) Author-pays models shift the role of journals (resulting in even the most selective journals accepting more articles).
While PLoS Biology charges an author $1,500 to publish an article, this fee does not cover all costs of publication. Estimates range from $2,500 to $8,000 to publish an article in a journal with an acceptance rate below 20% (Pediatrics' acceptance rate is about 20%). With Pediatrics' current business model, all electronic articles are freely available after a year and some are freely available immediately. Also, beginning this month, Pediatrics will experiment with allowing authors to decide if they want their article to be published online for free. If an author chooses this free option, the only “cost” to the author will be that the article won't appear in the print journal.
Mike Keller, Ph.D., head librarian at Stanford University and founder and senior officer responsible for HighWire Press (which hosts the Academy's electronic journals), notes that some people in the open access movement are librarians, and he thinks that they are using the wrong tactics to combat the Serials Crisis by pushing the author-pays model.
Keller explained that for-profit STM journal publishers have been advertising themselves as “must-read” literature to the equity communities and, therefore, have been getting even more money from people who buy their stocks. He said that the best way for librarians to send a message to these for-profit publishers is to do what he has done at Stanford: prove that for-profit STM journals are not “must-read” by not signing up for their “outrageous” contracts.
The D.C. Principles
On March 16, 2004, a group of not-for-profit publishers (including the Academy) signed onto the Washington D.C. Principles for Free Access to Science (www.dcprinciples.org) that they had drafted in an effort to provide a middle ground between the current subscription-based system and the author-pays model (see sidebar). One of their goals is to inform the public that not-for-profit publishers have been providing free access to STM literature using models other than author-pays for quite awhile.
“I think, ultimately, that the D.C. Principles are a part of the attempt to help the authors understand the scene and distinguish among the players,” said Keller, who views most not-for-profit STM publishers as“ responsible” and most for-profit STM publishers as“ exploitive.” He feels that as authors become more educated in the matter, more will join his viewpoint when deciding where to publish their material.
“If the outcome of the open access movement is heightened awareness among the authors, I think that the (not-for-profit publishers) will benefit.”