Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Public Library of Science (PLOS)


  "I want a poor student to have the same means of indulging his learned curiosity, of following his rational pursuits, of consulting the same authorities, of fathoming the most intricate inquiry as the richest man in the kingdoms." Sir Antonio Panizzi, Principal Librarian of the British Museum, 1836

  1.1  What was an impossible ideal in 1836—making humanity's treasury of scientific and medical knowledge freely available to all—is today within our reach. We now have the means to create an online public library containing the collected published work of every scientist and physician, to scientists, teachers, students, physicians and the public around the world.

  1.2  This could be accomplished without sacrificing the essential services provided by scientific publishers and without spending any more money than we currently spend to buy a small academic elite limited access to the research literature. We need only replace the outdated, inefficient and unsustainable fee-for-access business model with a new "open access" model supported by a growing international coalition of scientists, funding agencies and publishers.

  1.3  The traditional fee-for-access model is a vestige of an era when printing articles in paper journals was the most efficient way to disseminate new scientific discoveries and ideas. When each copy of a journal represented a significant cost for printing and distribution, it made sense for recipients to pay for each copy delivered.

  1.4  With the Internet now the most effective and widely used medium for communicating the results of scientific research, charging for use is now economically irrational and limiting access to subscribers is needlessly restrictive.

  1.5  Instead of allowing publishers to recover the costs of online publication (peer review, expert editing, production and archiving) by taking ownership of the articles and charging the readers and their agents for access, published scientific works could be made freely available to all simply by paying the costs related to each article at the time of its publication.

  1.6  Open access publishing will not involve new expenses, nor will it place a financial burden on individual researchers. Under the fee-for-access system, the governments, funding agencies, universities and other organizations that sponsor scientific research pay virtually all of the costs of scientific publishing through the funds indirectly provided to research libraries. In an open access system, these same parties would pay, but they would get far more for their money.

  1.7  This simple change in the way we pay for publication would involve no compromise of the traditional values of scientific publication. The essential role that scientific journals play in orchestrating peer-review, editing, and stratification of research articles is independent of the way costs are recovered. We can maintain a vibrant scientific publishing industry by paying publishers a fair price for the service they provide the scientific community, while providing comprehensive, universal access to the scientific literature.

  1.8  The fee-for-access system is anti-competitive. Scientific papers are not interchangeable, and every journal has a monopoly on the papers that scientists have chosen to publish in it. These monopolies over an essential commodity prevent market forces from keeping subscription costs rational, leading to the current unsustainable serials crisis.

  1.9  By shifting from a monopolistic market on scientific knowledge, to a free-market for publishing services, open access will restore market efficiencies to scientific publishing. By treating the costs of publication as costs of research and including funds in research grants, monies available for publication will scale with publication expenses. Thus, open access is intrinsically sustainable, whereas the current system clearly is not.

  1.10  Scientific knowledge was never meant to be a commodity—it is an invaluable public good. Publications describing publicly funded research belong in the public domain, where they can do the greatest good for science and humanity.


  The UK government—acting in the public interest and as the major sponsor of scientific research in the UK—should act decisively to remedy the current crisis in scientific publishing and catalyze the transition to open access by:

  1.11  Establishing a UK national (or Commonwealth) online public library for research literature. This library would work in collaboration with the US National Library of Medicine and other national libraries to ensure that every published research article—especially those arising from publicly funded research—are securely archived in perpetuity and are freely and readily available to, and useable by, the public.

  1.12  Asserting that restrictions on the distribution and use of research articles describing publicly funded research are inconsistent with the goals of the government in funding research.

  1.13  Mandating (following a suitable transition period) that all research articles arising from publicly-funded research be made immediately and permanently available to the public by open access publication and deposition in a suitable public repository at the time of publication.

  1.14  Designating a portion of university funding for the support of open access publication charges to provide the means for faculty and researchers (particularly those without specific grant funding) to publish in open access journals.

  1.15  Designating a portion of NHS funding for the support of open access publication charges to provide the means for clinicians and researchers (particularly those without specific grant funding) to publish in open access journals.

  1.16  Including reasonable (and ring-fenced) funds to cover the costs of open access publication in all Research Council grants to encourage grantees to publish their work in open access journals.

  1.17  Requiring universities and granting agencies (including the Research Assessment Exercise) to consider the intrinsic merits of a published article, rather than the impact factor of the journal in which the article is published, in promotion and funding decisions, recognizing that the canonization of journal impact factors inhibits the development and growth of new publishing endeavors.

  1.18  Establishing a temporary "open access transition fund" to which publishers can apply for funding to facilitate the transition from subscription-based journals to open access publishing.


The purpose of scholarly publishing

  2.1  Publishing research is an essential part of the scientific process. Research papers are the formal means of communication between scientists and their communities. Papers published in scholarly journals are a source of research findings validated by peer review, establish the precedence of one piece of work over another and provide the means by which new ideas, methods and techniques can be disseminated and built upon. Scientists also depend on publishing to build their reputation and careers. Hiring, grants and promotion are based, in part, on publication records.

  2.2  Publishing is carried out by commercial and not-for-profit publishing organizations, many of whom have a long and successful history in scientific publishing.

The publishing process

  2.3  Research papers are taken through the following steps before they are published, although the details involved vary from journal to journal:

    —  Submission of a manuscript to the journal—usually done online;

    —  Peer review—the process whereby experts (usually scientists volunteering their time as part of their commitment to the community) assess the validity and significance of the research in a manuscript;

    —  Revision—by the author in response to peer review;

    —  Acceptance for publication—dependent on meeting the requirements of the peer reviewers; and

    —  Production—involving copy-editing, layout, graphics processing, proofing, and finally distribution in print and online

  2.4  Peer review is a key step in this process. Although it is not a perfect system, peer review helps to eliminate mistakes and enhances the value of the publication to readers. Peer review is normally done for free by academics who are selected by the Editor of the journal.


  Researchers as authors

  2.5  For authors, papers provide two crucial functions: (1) dissemination of their research and (2) career advancement. Authors therefore choose the journal in which to publish their work on the basis of criteria that will help fulfill these functions: the prestige of the journal; the impact factor (the average number of times a paper in that journal is cited in other articles); the target audience; and the speed of publication.

  2.6  In general authors want to publish in the "best" journal they can, so that their work is noticed, read and cited. If their work cannot reach all of the intended audience, authors lose impact. Ideally, they would like everyone with an interest in their work to be able to access it and use it.

Researchers as readers and teachers

  2.7  For readers, papers are a crucial source of information for their own research and teaching. Keeping up-to-date with the literature enables them to gain new ideas, learn new techniques and avoid duplication—in short, to build on the work of others. Papers themselves can even form the basis of research, for example via meta-analyses of published data.

  2.8  Science has become both more specialised and more interdisciplinary, which means researchers need to be able to assimilate information from many different sources. It's no longer sufficient to browse through a small selection of journals as it was 20 years ago. Researchers as readers value the quality control provided by peer-review, the journal name as an indicator of the perceived importance of a paper, currency of information and unfettered access. Ideally, readers want access to all of the literature, and the online searching tools that will allow them to find and to mine the information that is relevant to their work.

  2.9  Keeping up-to-date with the current literature is also essential for any teacher involved in tertiary education. Academics at Universities and teaching colleges often require students to read research papers during their courses and exam questions are commonly based on data from published research findings. This teaches students to critically evaluate complex data and ideas and provides them with appropriate skills not only for a career in research but for many other professions.

Scholarly societies

  2.10  Many scholarly societies make important contributions to their field, by helping to maintain the communication between scientists in that discipline (via publishing journals and organizing scholarly meetings), and by promoting the science of their members not only to the broader scientific community but also to policy makers, governments and the general public. Many societies currently rely on the profits of their journals to carry out useful works to further the aims of the society and their members. At the heart of the mission of many scholarly societies is the aim to promote and disseminate the science of its members to as broad an audience as possible.

Research funding agencies

  2.11  For funding agencies, research publications are the means by which they can measure the return on their research investment. They are a measure of the research output of individual academics and help to determine who should receive future grant awards. Given that others can then build on published research findings, it is in the interests of funding agencies that the published research results reach as large an audience as possible. Research publications are also a measure of the research output of institutes and universities, which has an important influence on the direct funding to institutions in the Research Assessment Exercise.

The public

  2.12  Much of the funding that supports scientific and medical research derives from public money, and yet the general public does not have ready access to the published products of this research. An individual seeking peer-reviewed and published scientific information on the Internet might pay as much as £10-30 to view a single article, without knowing whether or not the information would be useful before committing to pay to view.

3.   What is wrong with the existing system of scholarly publication?

  3.1  Scientists have historically relied on paper publication as the most efficient means for distributing and promoting their work. When the information was encoded as ink on paper, a large fraction of the costs were in the printing and distribution, and each copy produced and distributed involved an expense for the publisher. The standard business model for scientific research publication, which organized works by scientific field into journals sold by subscription, was sensible and efficient and served science and society well. But today, the most effective, efficient and widely used way to distribute scientific knowledge is over the internet, and it no longer makes sense to use an economic model optimized for print. The existing system is now unsustainable and hampers the communication and progress of science.

  3.2  Most scientific publications are only available to institutional or individual subscribers, and libraries are struggling to provide access to all the journals desired by their affiliated faculty. Moreover, the logistics of subscribing have become complicated. Before, a library just subscribed to a print journal, but with electronic access there are now complex licence agreements—and complex authentication systems to ensure that unauthorized readers do not have access to the electronic journal. Different publishers have different agreements, with subscription fees being calculated in different ways.

  3.3  Commercial publishers are now bundling journals together—the "big deals". Although it has been argued that these big deals increase access to the literature (most notably by Elsevier), in reality bundling restricts choice for librarians (they receive journals they don't want), while taking a greater proportion of their budget. The recent debates between Elsevier and the Universities of California and Cornell demonstrate that even large relatively wealthy institutions are unable to pay the high premiums demanded by commercial publishers for these licences[251]. At the other end of the spectrum, individuals may pay a fee to view a single article, even though there is no additional cost to the publisher for the reader to view that article.

  3.4  All recent analyses have shown that the scientific, technical and medical (STM) publishing sector has achieved remarkable growth over the past 20 years. For example, financial analysts have estimated that it is at least a seven billion dollar industry, in which publishers are used to very healthy profit margins of 30-40% [252]. A recent analysis by the Wellcome Trust reported that the scientific publishing market is dominated by the concerns of the commercial publishers at the expense of the needs of the community as a whole[253]; and the Office of Fair Trading concluded that "there is evidence to suggest that the market for STM journals may not be working well"[254]. Commercial publishers have done well despite falling library budgets primarily because the scientific publishing market is not competitive. This is for three key reasons.

  3.5  First, every paper is unique and each journal is essentially a monopoly. Journals therefore cannot behave like most other commodities because academics need access to all relevant research findings. Librarians have consequently sought ways to fund subscriptions regardless of the fees charged by publishers, which helps explain why journal prices have increased by more that 225% since 1986 while inflation increased by around 60% [255].

  3.6  Second, researchers are cushioned from the real cost of publication. Authors are unaware of what publishing entails and of the real dissemination costs involved per article. The result is that authors submit their work to journals regardless of whether there are relatively high or low costs per article, given the editorial or production standards. Readers are also cushioned from the costs of subscription because it is librarians that have traditionally negotiated access with publishers. Academics at institutions have therefore put pressure on their libraries to maintain subscriptions in the face of above inflation price increases. Making the cost per article transparent would help stabilize prices and provide real choice for authors, institutions and funders.

  3.7  Finally, funding for research and research infrastructure (including libraries) is often split between different organizations and funding agencies. For example, in the UK, government funding for research is awarded via the Research Councils but budgets for library subscriptions comes from HEFCE (among others). Therefore, the cost of disseminating research is concealed from the agencies that fund it.


  4.1  Even if all publishers eschewed profits and charged libraries only their fair share of each journal's production costs, the simple act of restricting access to subscribers creates unnecessary and counterproductive obstacles to the access and use of the scientific literature. These obstacles needlessly deny access to countless researchers, teachers, students and interested members of the public who could benefit from comprehensive access to the scientific literature, and prevents the scientific community from fully exploiting technology to make the scientific literature more accessible and useful. By adopting an "open access" model for scientific publishing, in which publishers are paid a fair price for the service they provide the scientific community, we can maintain a vibrant scientific publishing industry while providing comprehensive, universal access to the scientific literature.

  4.2  Open access to scientific and medical literature allows anyone, anywhere, with a connection to the Internet to find and read published research articles online, and to use, copy and redistribute their contents in the course of scholarship, teaching, and personal inquiry. There are two crucial components, based on the Bethesda Principles (2003) [256].

    A.  The author(s) and copyright holder(s) grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, 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[257].

    B.  A complete version of the work and all supplemental materials, 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 organization that seeks to enable open access, unrestricted distribution, interoperability, and long-term archiving (such as PubMed Central or INIST).

  4.3  Open access publishers such as PLoS and BMC are using a simple alternative business model for scientific publication, designed to take full advantage of the economics and opportunities of electronic publication. In this model, the institutions that sponsor the research pay the costs of publishing the results, recognizing that communication of research results is fundamental to the research process, and is an integral part of their mission to promote the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge. This cost has been estimated to represent only 1-2% of the investment in the research itself (cited by Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, at the JISC discussion meeting "Global Access to UK Research: Removing the Barriers", London, 20 November 2003). The analysis was based on data obtained from the Research Outputs Database (ROD) project[258].

  4.4  By covering all costs upfront, it will no longer be necessary or appropriate to restrict access or use of published material. Instead, the information is made freely available with no charges for access or restrictions on use or redistribution. When an article is published in an open access journal, the authors grant to the public domain an irrevocable license to print, copy, distribute or otherwise use the work.

    Figure 1. Subscription versus open access journals. In subscription-based journal publishing, financial barriers are imposed that restrict access to those who can afford to pay: for institutional licenses, personal subscriptions, or document delivery. Note that many journals also impose page or colour charges on authors. Open access requires that revenue is provided to the publisher to cover the costs of publication and dissemination, from the author, institution or funding agency. Literature can then be made freely available to any reader.

5.   Why is Open Access Important?

  5.1  Shifting the business model from "pay-to-read" to "pay-upfront", brings profound benefits for research, education and health and creates a competitive market that will help both reduce and stabilize costs. The promise of open access publishing for the key stakeholders in publishing will help to catalyze the changes that are necessary.

  5.2  For authors, open-access literature maximizes the potential impact of their work. Anyone can find and access their manuscripts, increasing the likelihood that the works will be read, cited and used as the basis for future discoveries.

  5.3  For the academic research community, open access holds great promise. Open access will provide the essential foundation for the development of diverse new ways to search, interlink and integrate the information in published research papers. Scientists are eager to incorporate the information contained in research publications into their own databases to explore new ways to integrate the contents of published works with information from disparate sources, to reorganize it, to annotate it, to map connections between pieces of information in disparate works published in different journals, and to transform it into something that goes far beyond an electronic version of journal volumes on a library shelf. Unrestricted access to scientific data, such as genetic and molecular information, has already revolutionized life science research over recent years and has sparked new fields, such as genomics; open access to the treasury of scientific and medical literature will have similarly profound benefits for research[259],[260]. Open access will also help level the playing field between rich and poor institutions and between those countries traditionally not able to afford access to the scientific literature (eg many Commonwealth countries).

  5.4  For research libraries, open access will help contain the spiraling costs of subscriptions to scientific serials. Mergers and market concentration within the publishing industry are placing increasing pressures on the budgets of university science libraries and other archives of research, and open access to peer-reviewed journals is a long-term solution to the problem that has become known as the "serials crisis".

  5.5  For funding agencies, open access will ensure that the research they have invested in will be made available to the widest possible audience and that progress in that field will be maximized by the application of the latest navigation, and text-and data-mining tools.

  5.6  For scholarly societies, open access will provide the means by which the research they promote can reach new audiences, whether policy makers, the general public or scientists from less wealthy countries or institutions (such as NGOs). Moreover, open access provides a financially realistic means to launch new journals or publications in burgeoning fields. The current subscription model relies on large start-up costs and having a threshold number of subscribers to make any new launch viable. Inevitably, this can take several years and can fail unless supported by additional funds. Large publishers will often provide those funds as long as there is evidence that the final product will eventually make a healthy profit. This prevents the launch of journals in less profitable areas. With open access the revenue scales with the growth of the journal.

  5.7  Beyond the community of academic researchers, open access will: foster science education by making the results of scientific research available to all teachers and students; lead to more informed healthcare decisions by doctors and patients; and make publicly funded research available to the public.

  5.8  In the commercial sector, open access will empower industry with unfettered access to the latest scientific discoveries. Biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industries in particular stand to gain significant economic benefits. And even in the context of publishing, open access to primary research literature will create an environment in which new publishing ventures will develop to provide and sell new tools and services so that users of the literature can get the most out of this information.

  5.9  Importantly, open access will also allow market forces to operate effectively for STM literature and consequently will provide a choice for authors (in terms of paying for an appropriate dissemination service) that will help to contain costs and reward the most efficient publishing operations.

6.   Who Pays for Open Access?

  6.1  Because open access eliminates subscription fees for online journals, different sources of revenue must be generated to sustain publication. There currently exist a variety of business models for subscription-based commercial and not-for-profit journals that might include revenue from advertising, page and colour charges, and reprint, reuse, and course-pack charges, in addition to major revenue from subscriptions and site licences.

  6.2  Open access journals also rely on a variety of revenue streams for support, but most charge publication fees for each accepted research article as the major source of revenue to replace traditional subscriptions. Such publication charges require that funders, authors and institutions treat publication as the final stage of a research project and provide additional funds for dissemination through publication as a legitimate cost of doing research, like presenting a poster or talk at a scientific meeting.

  6.3  Pragmatically speaking, there are many different ways to sustain open-access publication costs. It is not necessary for the thousands of existing peer-reviewed scientific journals to adopt precisely the same business model[261]. It is likely, however, that successful open-access publishing models will use some combination of the following options, many of which are in use by subscription-based journals: publication charges for an accepted article; institutional membership arrangements (such as those arranged by PLOS or BMC), whereby publication charges are waived or discounted for scientists affiliated with the member institution; grant support from research sponsors and other funding bodies; continuing revenues from existing sources, such as print subscriptions, advertising, and corporate sponsorship; and new revenue streams made possible by open access to new audiences, such as the sale of value-added content or services.

  6.4  Open access journals also rely on taking full advantage of the decreased publication costs that are made possible by the increased efficiency of digital technologies in journal management, publication, and distribution. Because of these efficiencies, publication costs should decrease while at the same time the quality of the published product will be improved by electronic enhancements such as interlinking, animations, and other interactive functionalities. For example, electronic publication and dissemination via the Internet eliminate printing and distribution costs and negligible additional costs are incurred for each additional reader.

  6.5  However, we also recognize that some authors today do not have ready access to funds to cover the costs of publishing in open access journals. Such authors might be clinicians who are writing up findings that arise from their clinical duties, junior scientists with limited access to funds, or scientists from underfunded institutes in poorer nations. The situation could therefore arise that such authors become disenfranchised from the system of scientific publishing if publishing always requires an author payment. The first and most important response to this concern is that the ability to pay must never enter into the decision about whether a piece of work is published in an open access journal. If an author cannot pay, then the fee must be waived, if the peer review process judges that the article is worthy of publication. In addition, strenuous efforts need to be made by many stakeholders in publishing to ensure that this population of authors is provided with access to funds wherever possible. Massive savings from the cancellation of subscription journals will be made in institutions, hospitals, NGOs and universities that could help to establish funds for employees who are less well funded. As far as developing nations are concerned, many organizations, including the WHO[262], INASP[263] and SciELO[264] are working to support journals in those areas, and to provide access to the expensive subscription-based journals produced in wealthy nations. With open access to literature, these efforts can be shifted to providing support for publication for these authors.

7.   The Transition to Open Access

  7.1  There are many barriers that need to be overcome to change the subscription-based model to one of open access. The transition will not be straightforward and the stakeholders in scientific publishing are all faced with different challenges.

  7.2  Authors have little incentive to submit their work to new open access journals that have neither an impact factor nor an established reputation. Moreover, many authors do not have the funds required to cover the costs of open access publishing.

  7.3  Research funding agencies—both private and public—and other international organizations do not yet directly apportion funds to support publication costs but have the potential to act as catalysts in the open access transition. The past two years have seen significant and influential open access policy statements from major funding agencies including the Wellcome Trust[265], the US-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and many European funding agencies[266]. The UN World Summit on the Information Society also approved a Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action that contained explicit endorsements of open access to scientific information[267]. Together, they demonstrate a remarkable commitment to the wholesale transformation of scientific publishing to open access. To ensure the long-term sustainability of Open Access publishing, a similar commitment by the UK Research Councils is a priority.

  7.4  Libraries face an uncertain future in a journal publishing world dominated by open access. However, some of the savings that are made from the cancellation of subscription journals can be used to provide some financial support for the publication costs of researchers at their institution, especially those with limited funding. Librarians will also have a vital role in equipping staff and students with the skills needed to mine and navigate new literature-based resources that will develop as a result of open access.

  7.5  It is not obviously in the interest of most commercial and many not-for-profit publishers to change from a system where they have achieved substantial profits and surpluses. However, there is no reason to suppose that open access publishing is not commercially viable. Indeed, the largest open access publisher is BioMed Central (BMC), a for-profit company. There will also be opportunities for publishers to provide value-added services to a freely accessible primary content layer, as pointed out in section 5.8. Society publishers have the additional concern that open access could adversely affect their membership and long-term sustainability. This is discussed in section 8.7.

8.   Common Concerns about Open Access

  8.1  All of the stakeholders involved in scientific publishing will be affected by the transition from subscription-based to open-access publishing. The following concerns are frequently expressed. All are important, but all can be answered, so that the full benefits of unfettered access to the literature can be realized.

  Concern 1: Open Access Publishing is Currently Heavily Subsidized and is not Financially Sustainable

  8.2  The publishing efforts of both BMC and PLoS are currently subsidized—in the case of PLoS by a nine million dollar grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. These subsidies are helping to fund the establishment of a completely new business, which includes developing systems, launching new products, advocacy and outreach. We do not expect to be in profit for another four to five years but it is unlikely that other publishers would have to bear similar costs once open access is accepted as a credible publishing model. PLoS and BMC have already demonstrated that the scientific community is ready to support open access publishing, by submitting outstanding scientific research for publication in these new journals.

  8.3  By launching further journals, and charging a reasonable price to authors for the costs of publishing (currently set at $1,500) PLoS will be able to run journals that support themselves on a fee-for-publication basis. We are making our publication costs known so that there can be a more informed debate about the real costs of scientific publishing. Although many publishers have claimed that they would need to charge authors in excess of $4,000 to support journals by author payment, this discussion has been hampered by a lack of information sharing about the real nature of these costs.

  8.4  The open access system is intrinsically sustainable. The costs of online publishing scale with the number of papers published, and thus are tightly linked to research expenditures. By providing funds for publication in every research grant, the funds available for publication track with the funds needed for publication. This economic balance is in stark contrast with the fee-for-access system where neither the funds available for subscriptions, nor publisher revenues, bear any direct relationship to the actual costs of publishing. This imbalance leads on the one hand to often excessive profits for publishers, and on the other to a perpetual shortage in budgets dedicated to journal subscriptions.

  8.5  There is clearly enough money entering the scientific publishing system to support the industry—the robust economic health of commercial and not-for-profit scientific publishers attests to this fact. The key to sustainability is that funding and policies are changed such that funds to support open access publishing are available to all authors, via research funding agencies, universities, hospitals, institutions, companies, contractors and so on. Already, many funding agencies have indicated their support for the provision of open access publication expenses in research grants. The UK Government can take decisive action that builds on these developments.

  Concern 2: How will the archival record of science be sustained in an open-access world?

  8.6  The long-term sustainability of electronic journal literature is an issue that affects all journals—not just open access journals. One of the main benefits of open-access publishing is that papers are routinely archived in stable, centralized resources such as PubMed Central and INIST[268]. In fact, open-access journals are in many ways more robust than subscription-based journals when it comes to archiving because articles can be deposited in multiple archives without the arduous process of securing copyright permission from many different publishers separately (remember that the vast majority of subscription-based publishers own exclusive reproduction rights on the articles that they publish). Open-access journals and archives also protect against corporate contingencies (mergers and bankruptcy, for example) that may remove archives previously considered secure.

  Concern 3: Open access publishing threatens the existence of scholarly societies who rely on journal subscriptions revenue to fund key activities within their respective communities.

  8.7  At the heart of the mission of many scholarly societies is the aim to promote and disseminate the science of their membership. Open access publishing provides a very effective way to fulfill that mission and is being actively explored by several society and non-profit publishers, including The American Society for Cell Biology, The Company of Biologists and the British Ecological Society. In addition, PLoS has been approached by many societies who are interested in moving their journals to open access. It is also the case, however, that many society publishers have expressed great concern about the impact of open access publishing on their own activities. One of the major benefits of society membership is often a subscription to the society journal. Open access therefore removes a significant incentive to join a society, and might therefore adversely affect membership as well as revenue.

  8.8  The transition to open access will lead to a profound change in the publishing landscape, and to preserve the valued activities of the scholarly societies, there is a strong case for the provision of funds to aid publishers who wish to migrate from subscription-based to open access publishing. The case is all the more strong for society publishers whose journals tend to be more fairly priced than those of commercial publishers and, as a result of their funding of community initiatives, do not usually have access to substantial cash reserves. The Joint Information Systems Committee announced, last November, a modest scheme to fund such transitions for a small number of publishers. Additional funds need to be provided for similar efforts. These could be made available for competitive bidding. The membership of the society could also be consulted to determine whether they would actively support a transition to open access. If the membership substantially supports the transition, and also recognizes that the society brings significant benefits in addition to a subscription to the society journal, fears about lost membership can be allayed. The societies at the vanguard of the transition to open access stand to gain in reputation and standing as a result of their leadership, and their journals will benefit from the increased impact and exposure that is a natural consequence of open access.

  Concern 4: Since open-access publishers will rely largely on publication fees, there will be an incentive to publish as many papers as possible. The quality of the published literature will therefore diminish.

  8.9  Publishing high-quality, rigorously peer-reviewed science costs money—regardless of the publisher's business model—and certainly open-access and restricted-access publishers both feel pressure to keep costs down. However, the quality of a journal depends on a network of cooperation among authors who send their best papers, reviewers who acknowledge and apply appropriate standards of publication for the journal, and editors who select the papers and reviewers. That requisite stream of productive interactions is independent of a particular publishing business model because if standards drop the value of the journal diminishes both for authors and readers. Open access journals therefore experience the same pressure to maintain and raise standards to retain their place in the community.

  Concern 5: The 83% of scientific, technical and medical (STM) journals that currently require authors to transfer copyright to their works to the publisher do so because publishers are better equipped to protect authors' rights than authors are269. Authors would forfeit a considerable asset—namely legal protection—by publishing with open-access licenses rather than restricted-access licenses.


  8.10  Publishers claim to offer two kinds of legal protections to authors—protection against unauthorized duplication and protection against misattribution. On the first count: the "protection" against unauthorized duplication does not benefit the author; it benefits the publisher. Authors want their works to see the widest possible distribution and citation; they are publishing for impact, not for profit. Publishers, on the other hand, take substantial revenues from reprints and photocopying, particularly when the article is used as part of a coursepack, and have a standing incentive to prohibit the free duplication of works. Indeed, open access would largely eliminate the protection against unauthorized duplication, because open access would permit duplication and distribution for any responsible purpose. Broadly permitted duplication and distribution are assets of open-access publishing, not liabilities.

  8.11  On the second count: STM publishers virtually never go to court to defend an author's work against copyright violations involving misattribution or lack of attribution. The vacancy of this historical record is due in part to the fact that legal questions of attribution are governed more by legislation pertaining to fraud than by legislation pertaining to copyright. Furthermore, the real protection of scientific works against misattribution comes from standards of the scientific community. Since an author's reputation is his or her most valuable asset, the expectations of peers will always enforce proper compliance with codes of attribution more effectively than legal statutes can. And, of course, open access makes plagiarism far easier to spot—since open archives are more inclusive and more easily searched.

9.   Recommendations and Actions

  9.1  The Government has a crucial role to play in changing the current scholarly publishing regime to one that better serves the research community and the general public and makes optimal use of the public funds the government invests in research. Through legislation, policy and funding, the Government can also influence and encourage change among the stakeholders in the scholarly publishing enterprise by:

    (a)  Establishing a UK national (or Commonwealth) online public library for research literature. This library would work in collaboration with the US National Library of Medicine and other national libraries to ensure that every published research article—especially those arising from publicly funded research—are securely archived in perpetuity and are freely and readily available to, and useable by, the public.

    (b)  Asserting that restrictions on the distribution and use of research articles describing publicly funded research are inconsistent with the goals of the government in funding research.

    (c)  Mandating (following a suitable transition period) that all research articles arising from publicly-funded research be made immediately and permanently available to the public by open access publication and deposition in a suitable public repository at the time of publication.

    (d)  Designating a portion of university funding for the support of open access publication charges to provide the means for faculty and researchers (particularly those without specific grant funding) to publish in open access journals.

    (e)  Designating a portion of NHS funding for the support of open access publication charges to provide the means for clinicians and researchers (particularly those without specific grant funding) to publish in open access journals.

    (f)  Including reasonable (and ring-fenced) funds to cover the costs of open access publication in all Research Council grants to encourage grantees to publish their work in open access journals.

    (g)  Requiring universities and granting agencies (including the Research Assessment Exercise) to consider the intrinsic merits of a published article, rather than the impact factor of the journal in which the article is published, in promotion and funding decisions, recognizing that the canonization of journal impact factors inhibits the development and growth of new publishing endeavors.

    (h)  Establishing a temporary "open access transition fund" to which publishers can apply for funding to facilitate the transition from subscription-based journals to open access publishing.

  9.2  In taking these actions, the Government will encourage the stakeholders to take action in support of open access on behalf of their constituents, members, faculty and researchers, for example:

    (a)  scientific research funders (here and abroad) will follow the example set by the Research Councils and will treat publication costs as essential research expenses;

    (b)  the scientific and medical community will be encouraged to make their work publicly available and to publish their work in open access journals;

    (c)  colleges, universities, hospitals, NGOs, research institutions and libraries will support and promote open-access journals and public availability of scientific information;

    (d)  industry will be encouraged to sponsor open-access journals and help to fund the transition to open access publishing;

    (e)  publishers will convert their journals to open access and respond to new publishing opportunities to meet the growing demand for navigational , educational and literature mining tools; and

    (f)  the general public will increase its use of the scientific and medical literature and will demand that access be made comprehensive.

  This collective action, led by the Government, will drive the transition to a robust and sustainable open access science and technology publishing system. Such a system will better serve the scientific research community, faculty, teachers, and students, the public and private research funding agencies, and the general public.

February 2004

251   See the journal pricing web page at Back

252   Morgan Stanley Media Report, Scientific Publishing: Knowledge is Power, Sept 2002; J.P. Morgan Report, Scientific and Medical Publishing: Big is Beautiful, June 2003. Back

253 Back

254   UK OFT Report, The Market for Scientific, Technical and Medical Journals, 2002 ( Back

255   Association of Research Libraries ( Back

256 Back

257   The licence used by the Public Library of Science is the Creative Commons License - Back

258   Dawson G, Lucocq B, Cottrell R and Lewison G (1998) Mapping the Landscape: National Biomedical Research Outputs 1988-95. London, The Wellcome Trust, Policy Report no 9 (ISBN 1869835 95 6). Back

259   Yandell MD, Majoros WH, Genomics and natural language processing, Nature Reviews Genetics 3 (8): 601-610. Back

260   Tim Hubbard, Appendix C (not printed) Back

261   For a more detailed presentation of open-access publishing business models, see Crow, R. and Goldstein, H. (2003) Guide to Business Planning for Converting a Subscription-based Journal to Open Access, Open Society Institute, Edition 2, July 2003. Back

262   WHO: World Health Organization ( Back

263   INASP: International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications ( Back

264   SciELO: Scientific Electronic Library Online (  Back

265  Back

266  Back

267  Back

268   Institut de l'Information Scientifique et Technique (INIST) is the centre for scientific and technical information of the CNRS in France.  Back

269   Cox, John and Laura (2003) "Scholarly Publishing Practice: the ALPSP report on academic journal publishers' policies and practices in online publishing," for the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers.  Back

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