Increasingly, our access to scientific information is becoming a research topic in itself. Thus an analysis of big deal journal bundles has attracted much interesting commentary (including one from a large scientific publisher). In the UK, our funding councils have been pro-active in promoting the so-called GOLD publishing model, where the authors (aided by grants from their own institution or others) pay the perpetual up-front publication costs (more precisely the costs demanded by the publishers, which is not necessarily the same thing) so that their article is removed from the normal subscription pay wall erected by the publisher and becomes accessible to anyone. As the proportion of GOLD content increases, it was anticipated (hoped?) that the costs of accessing the remaining non-GOLD articles via a pay-walled subscription would decrease.
But as was shown, the publishers have hitherto arranged for the prices of these subscriptions to be covered by non-disclosure clauses. Which makes it quite difficult for us (the readers of these journals, and of course the main sources of their content as well) to find out if this model is (starting) to actually work. Certainly, the entire system does not yet appear to be in any sort of steady state equilibrium; perhaps it never will achieve this in the current model? For example, although extra funds have been made available to promote GOLD publishing, these cover only a small fraction of the total output of a typical research university. One could respond to this in several ways:
- Find the missing funds from somewhere else, which probably means less money for the research itself. This of course is the model that maintains or increases a publisher’s incomes.
- Decrease the costs of GOLD publishing. Currently a typical article processing charge ranges from £500-5000 depending on the prestige of the journal. Is it beyond the realm of possibility that this range could change to eg £50-500?
- Simply persuade everyone to publish less. Perhaps ten times less? Every group might be restricted to one or two block-buster articles a year, and the rest of their output goes into open repositories? Or indeed into blogs! These two options of course are unlikely to increase publishers’ incomes.
Well, after 350 years of scientific publishing, we appear to have arrived at a critical point. A cross-roads if you like. But who should be in charge of deciding what direction is now taken? Should it not be the very people who create and then “consume” scientific information and knowledge!
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- T.C. Bergstrom, P.N. Courant, R.P. McAfee, and M.A. Williams, "Evaluating big deal journal bundles", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111, pp. 9425-9430, 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1403006111
- C. Woolston, "Secret publishing deals exposed", Nature, vol. 510, pp. 447-447, 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/510447f