In the push for “open access” (OA)—making scientific papers immediately free to everyone—it’s easy to forget that publishing costs haven’t vanished. They have simply shifted from subscriptions paid mostly by university librarians to fees charged to authors. Those article-processing fees (APCs), which can be several thousand dollars per paper, raise concerns of their own. Universities fear they could end up paying more to help their scientists publish their work than they do now for subscriptions. Scientists who have small research budgets fret that they won’t be able to afford APCs. And some nonprofit scientific societies that publish journals worry APCs won’t generate enough revenue to support other activities, such as meetings and training.
If the role of research is to illuminate the universe, inform practice and to serve the public good, then something deeply troubling has been twisting and distorting academia. AHRECS consultant Nik Zeps will be writing about this in the May edition of the Research Ethics Monthly.
One approach, called Subscribe to Open and implemented today by Annual Reviews, would transform the nature of subscriptions. To make a journal freely available, institutions would be asked for a contribution equivalent to their previous subscription—minus a 5% discount that Annual Reviews is offering to retain a critical mass of paying institutions. To deter freeloading, Annual Reviews says it will reimpose paywalls and rescind the discount if not enough subscribers renew each year. It is planning to pilot the approach in up to five of its 51 titles, many of which are widely cited.