Open Access Journals : limiting publication to the rich academic

As a member of the Board of Governors of the IEEE Computer Society I have been following the open access debate, both within the IEEE and in other contexts with some considerable interest.

An aspect of the debate that is often overshadowed by the discussion of free and open access to published work is the shift in the funding model which underlies the proposals being made by major players like the IET

In essence the open access publishing models being proposed shift publisher income from institutional subscriptions, where libraries pay a hefty fee to allow their members access to published content to page fees for publication, which will are to be payed by the author prior to the final publication of an accepted manuscript. Per article publication charges in the open access debate lie currently in the range of 1500 to 3000 US dollars.

How many of us can afford these charges with our current model of research funding? Open access academic publication has serious implications for how research funding needs to be distributed, shifting resources from libraries to individual academics. In this climate one can ask oneself what types of research will be published? If similar principles are use to allocate support for publication as are applied currently in the competitive grants system for research projects it seems likely that publication of independent research in many fields would contract significantly, and in many cases disappear, as individual researchers would no longer be able to afford to disseminate their ideas via the established publication channels we have all grown used to over the past century.

I believe that adoption of the pay to publish open access model by major institutions will result in a proliferation of academic online publications, run in a non-profit manner by academics, for academics. After all the academic community already generates the articles that constitute the intellectual content, performs the peer reviewing and academic quality assurance, and coordinates the publication process for free, providing publishers with IP, which they sell for profit. No other area of publishing works in this way. Book authors are paid royalties, journalists are paid for the articles they write, but academics are expected to pay for the publication of their work, either indirectly through library subscriptions from their universities and colleges, as is currently the dominant paradigm, or through direct page fees, if we move to an open access model. Internet publishing, blogging and other means of disseminating ideas should be more widely adopted by our community.

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