Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence



1.   The Context

  1.1  The development of online scholarly publishing has facilitated a far wider dissemination of scholarly works than was possible with print. At the same time, the apparent barriers to entry into scholarly publishing online have been lowered. These factors, coupled with the inability of library budgets to keep pace with the growth in published scholarly and research information—about 3% per year—and above-inflation price increases have created considerable concern within both academic and some government circles that the market for scholarly information is not working effectively. Members of the library and academic communities have asserted an interest in re-evaluating the structure of learned journal publishing. One manifestation of this concern has been the emergence of the "Open Access Movement", which poses a significant challenge to the established subscription based journal publishing model.

  1.2  The concept of Open Access has been formed from two perspectives:

    —  Firstly, that which wishes to provide free access to all scholarly research in the name of advancing global access to work previously only available to those that subscribe to a particular journal.

    —  Secondly, that which resents paying to access content made available by commercial companies, for profit, particularly when price rises and sheer volume hinder libraries from providing access to all the content that is demanded of them.

2.   What is Open Access?

  2.1  Open Access is a term used to describe a number of publishing models, all of which remove (or intend to gradually remove) the traditional journal subscription model. Recognised definitions of Open Access have been developed by a number of organisations:

    —  Bethesda statement , June 2003 (

        "An Open Access Publication is one that meets the following two conditions:

          The author(s) and copyright holder(s) grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, world-wide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship[2], as well as the right to make small numbers of printed copies for their personal use.

          A complete version of the work and all supplemental materials, including a copy of the permission as stated above, in a suitable standard electronic format is deposited immediately upon initial publication in at least one online repository that is supported by an academic institution, scholarly society, government agency, or other well-established organisation that seeks to enable open access, unrestricted distribution, interoperability, and long-term archiving.

            1.  Open access is a property of individual works, not necessarily journals or publishers.

            2.  Community standards, rather than copyright law, will continue to provide the mechanism for enforcement of proper attribution and responsible use of the published work, as they do now."

    —  Budapest Open Access Initiative, FAQ (

        "By `open access' to this literature we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited."

  2.2  Regardless of differences in detail between different statements and manifestos on Open Access, the key driver is the desire for unfettered availability online to peer-reviewed research papers on publication. This involves a combination of all or any of the following:

    —  The author retains copyright to his/her work, and permits it to be freely available online—to be contrasted with the conventional model in which the author assigns copyright, or grants exclusive publishing rights in all media, to the publisher, which then manages access.

    —  The article is published in an Open Access journal.

    —  The article is posted to an institutional or discipline-based online depository for free online access, even though it may be published in a conventional subscription-based journal.

3.   Open Access publishing models

  3.1  The publishing models fall into two general categories, the Open Access journal model and the Open Archive model, which has a number of variations on the same theme, including institutional repositories.

  3.1.1  The Open Access journal model

  Access to the journal is entirely free online world-wide. It does not rely on the traditional subscription based model to generate revenue; revenue is generated in one, or both, of two ways:

    (a) The author's institution or research grant pays a publication fee, upon acceptance of the article, which covers the following:

    —  Article selection process.

    —  Peer-review.

    —  Production process.

    —  Online publication.

    (b) Institutions pay an annual membership fee to the Open Access journal, which allows an unlimited number of articles accepted for publication from authors at that institution to be published in the journal.

  3.1.2  The Open Archive model

  Open archives, self-archiving and institutional repositories are important components of the Open Access movement. Open-archiving has often been described as being the same thing as institutional repositories and the self-archiving of pre-print articles. In reality, the picture is considerably more complex. There are a number of guises in which Open Archives appear:

    —  Authors simply posts their articles as accepted for publication to their personal web pages.

    —  Articles are posted to an institutional depository: a server established by a university or research organisation to host the output of the institution's faculty and researchers.

    —  Articles are posted to an open depository established to cover a specific discipline.

4.   Uncertainties about Open Access

  4.1  Copyright

  The first and foremost uncertainty created in Open Access publishing is the place of copyright. The BOAI states that Open Access publishing is entirely compatible with copyright law, in that it gives the copyright holder the right to make access open or restricted, however it seeks to put copyright in the hands of the author or institution which wishes to make access open. This initiative negates the traditional position of the publisher and removes the basis upon which they have operated their businesses.

  The implication of authors' retention of copyright is that the only "properties" the publisher is left holding are the journal "brand" and all of the added value that they can attach to the content. Authors are able to do what they want with their article: post it to open archives, institutional and discipline specific repositories. The journal brand is still of great importance to editors and to authors in terms of tenure and promotion. Added value services such as metadata, portals, usage statistics, search functions and packages can continue to be provided by the publisher as an alternative to the subscription to the content of any journals or databases. Apart from any revenue generated from publication fees, added value services will be the remaining core of the publisher's business.

  4.2  Peer-review

  It is generally accepted that peer-review is provided by academics without any remuneration; it is seen as part of the responsibilities of research and scholarship. In fact, many publishers do provide payment to their reviewers, although it is often nominal. But peer review involves considerable administration, which is traditionally performed or facilitated and funded by the publisher. In other words, the system of peer review has to be funded. This has been recognised by Open Access advocates.

  Open Access involves shifting the cost of publication, including peer review, from the individual or institutional subscriber to the author, by charging the author a publication fee. As proposed by Open Access advocates, this fee covers the cost of operating the publication, including the cost of processing and reviewing papers that are in the event rejected. The rejection rate in leading, highly respected journals can be as high as 70-80% of all papers submitted. If the author whose paper is accepted for publication bears the whole cost of publication, this means that he/she bears the cost of processing papers that are rejected; it seems inequitable that a successful author should bear the costs involved in dealing with others whose work is judged not to be worthy of publication. This will result in the most prestigious journals being the most expensive. Alternatively, Open Access journals must begin to charge a submission fee, where the author has no guarantee that their paper is going to be published. This may be met with some objection from the academic community.

  Open Access journals that charge institutions a membership fee may also encounter financial difficulties. The membership fee does not take into account the number of submissions (and therefore rejections) made by any one institution. This causes the cost of peer-review of articles from that one institution to potentially spiral upwards, making the membership fee inadequate to cover these costs.

  4.3  Additional costs

  The advocates of Open Access have failed to address a range of costs involved in Open Access systems to facilitate access and linking. It is unclear how the infrastructure will be funded:

  4.3.1  Technology

  Technology is frequently advancing and changing. Major upgrades to systems that will provide Open Access will cost large sums of money. It is assumed that Open Access will create more use, and many believe that users will find articles using robots or harvesting tools that require considerable bandwidth and processing capacity.

  4.3.2  Accessibility and links to existing literature

  In order to integrate Open Access journal articles into the existing body of research literature online, they will have to be allocated DOIs, linked to CrossRef and be Open URL compliant; metadata will have to be created, and usage statistics generated.

  4.3.3  Marketing

  Potential readers need to know of the existence of Open Access journals and repositories. This requires systematic marketing. Successfully reaching an entire academic community takes time and incurs a number of costs, whether this marketing is online, at conferences or paper-based (ie direct mail).

5.   The transitional period

  5.1  Scholarly and research publishing is a supply-driven activity. Authors need to publish in order to establish their "ownership" of their research and to derive their rewards in the form of career progression, funding for further research. If one were to design a publishing system on a blank sheet of paper, there is some merit in meeting the costs of that system at the point of supply, rather than, as at present, at the point of delivery. However, Open Access has to displace a publishing system based on subscriptions that has survived for 300 years. The key area in which Open Access may fail is the transitional period from the present system to Open Access. This is dependent on persuading academic authors to submit their papers to largely unproven Open Access journals—and pay for the privilege—rather than to established journals. That is a very difficult sales pitch for Open Access to make. Authors seeking tenure, promotion or grant allocation are judged on their publishing record, in which the status of the journal in which they are published is an important factor; they have to publish in reputable, high-impact journals.

  5.2  In order for Open Access journals to reach a significant standard of prestige and attract papers from authors up for tenure or promotion, they need to be recognised by the whole academic community they serve. This inevitably involves the cost of marketing and technology maintenance, which is not necessarily covered by the modest publication fee. Furthermore, even after initial marketing, it will still take time for a journal to be recognised as prestigious. Whether Open Access journals can be sustained for this "transitional period" remains to be seen.

  5.3  If Open Archives are to succeed on any level, those authors publishing in traditional journals must then be given permission by the publisher to post the peer-reviewed version of the article in open archives or repositories. There has been a great deal of activity in establishing repositories, not only in the USA but also in Australia and the UK. These initiatives have been primed by foundation or government money. This does not necessarily guarantee the sustainability of the publication model.

6.   Will Open Access displace the current publishing system?

  6.1  Open Access, though unproven, represents a significant challenge to the existing publishing paradigm. The level of concern that the current market for journals is not working properly is shared not only by many librarians and academics, but also by governments and funding agencies. Some key points and questions to consider about the future of Open Access are:

    (a) The transitional period

        Will Open Access journals survive "the transitional period", when many authors will be disinclined to publish in them due to the demands of tenure and promotion? Will they be sustainable without making the publication fee, or indeed a submission fee, unpalatable to the authors and institutions, whilst those same institutions are still maintaining traditional journal subscriptions.

    (b) Traditional publishers move to "Open Access" models

        Traditional publishers may decide to stop charging for articles and other content. They may charge publication fees to cover peer-review and may then sell their packages—or indeed individual online journals—as the added value services that are integral to these products. Access to actual articles remains open, but libraries will require the functionality that their patrons have come to expect. The status of re-use rights in these circumstances is an open question.

    (c) Publishers permitting authors to self-archive peer-reviewed articles

        Many publishers already allow to authors to post peer-reviewed versions of their articles to their institution's repository as "post-prints", or to discipline-based depositories. While there is no current evidence that this practice has affected subscriptions, if the use of such repositories becomes widespread, will journal subscriptions start to fall and in turn publishers need to re-invent themselves?

  6.2  The fundamental issue of the sustainability of an Open Access publishing model remains unanswered. Some 736 Open Access journals are listed in the Lund University directory ( With the exception of BioMed Central's 80+ titles, the majority of them have been started by enthusiasts within university departments. Such journals depend on the commitment of the early adopters of the Open Access model. Their sustainability depends on generating ongoing revenue to meet all the costs associated with publishing a journal, including staff, technology, marketing, peer-review and publication. While many are beneficiaries of grant money, Open Access publishing must develop a wholly sustainable business model in order to continue operating.

  6.3  Both commercial and society publishers are establishing contingency plans to deal with the threat of Open Access. While the pace is being made by Open Access enthusiasts in the academic and library communities, a number of Open Access initiatives have been announced by society publishers like the Company of Biologists and by university presses like OUP. The traditional publishers, be they commercial or non-profit, already possess the publishing infrastructure. Moreover, they have the ability to change their business models to Open Access without reliance on outside funding. If Open Access proves to be a practical publishing model, it is likely that it will be adopted by existing publishers.

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Prepared 20 July 2004