How to fund Open Access

The issue of Open Access has been much in the news in recent months. Faculty are clearly interested in this issue as are librarians, whose budgets currently pay for subscriptions to the many professional journals that exist. Research administrators need to be monitoring this topic as well, because there will likely be changes in budgeting needed to support these moves to open access as things solidify.

Open Access policies – such as those at the US National Institutes of Health and those being developed in the UK and anticipated in the EU and elsewhere – call for scholarly articles on research funded by the government (or in some cases by foundations), to be posted in a publicly accessible repository within some reasonable period of time after publication. Commercial publishers and professional associations that publish their own journals derive significant revenue from journal subscriptions, which support their costs – including peer review and printing costs – as well as provide additional “profit” (technically, of course, these are not “profits” for non-profit associations, who use excess revenues from journal subscriptions to fund other operations of the association).

In the US, competing legislation to either codify open access or curtail it come up year after year. The Wellcome Trust has taken the approach of creating a new open access journal, eLife, following on the success of online journals such as PLoS One. The European Union, in its upcoming Horizon 2020 program is expected to fully endorse an open access requirement as well.

The British government has formed a working group led by Dame Janet Finch to decide how to implement open access in the UK. Among other concerns, is how to ensure that publishers don’t simply go out of business as laws are enacted requiring public posting of  journal articles thus curtailing their source of revenue through subscriptions. The group will endorse the concept of an article fee, however it will not publish a benchmark or target fee. Some are concerned that this will simply pass on what are perceived to be exorbitant costs from some publishes in a different way. If not through journal subscriptions, then through individual article publication fees, which presumably would be costs eligible to be borne by funders as part of research awards.

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