UK biomedical giant, The Wellcome Trust, has adopted Open Access. But is Open Access really a viable model? And will it ever gain acceptance across the board? DCL reports.
The US National Institute of Health (NIH) has long been at the forefront of the Open Access (OA) initiative for scientific and medical research. Researchers who benefit from NIH funding are strongly encouraged to submit published research articles to the NIH's Open Access website PubMed Central, where material is made freely available to other researchers and to the general public. Now The Wellcome Trust, the largest private funder of medical research in the UK has also adopted an OA policy. But unlike the NIH's policy, Wellcome have made it a condition that those who receive its funding must allow their results to be placed on the PubMed Central OA repository.
Wellcome points out that they can stipulate conditions of funding research because they are a private charity and are not funded by the taxpayer, unlike the NIH which is a government agency and therefore can only "strongly encourage" researchers to submit material for OA.
The Wellcome Trust is a big hitter in the medical world, spending around $700 million a year on biomedical research. The work it funds results in around 3,500 papers being published annually. It says its OA policy, which came into effect on October 1 this year, will enable knowledge to be shared, will accelerate research and will benefit both researchers and the general public.
Dr Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, said. "Digital archives such as PubMed Central add enormous value to research. Everyone, everywhere will be able to read the results of the research that we fund. PubMed Central provides a link from research to other papers and sources of data, and greatly improves the power and efficiency of research. Digital archives are only as good as the information stored in them. That's why we feel it's important to encourage our researchers along this path – one I hope others will follow."
In October this year a survey carried out by CIBER, an independent publishing think tank, suggested that OA publishing is on the increase. The survey revealed a dramatic rise in the number of authors publishing in OA journals. Twenty nine percent of authors questioned said they'd published in an OA journal compared to only 11 percent the previous year.
Ian Rowlands and Dave Nicholas, the authors of the report, said "The research community is now much more aware of the OA issue. There has been a large rise in authors knowing quite a lot about OA (up 10 percent from the 2004 figure) and a big fall in authors knowing nothing at all about open access (down 25 percent)."
However some leading lights in the publishing community are questioning OA publishing's viability. In a report named The Facts About Open Access, backed by the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and Stanford University's HighWire Press, it was found that 41 percent of OA journals are losing money, 24 percent are breaking even and only 35 percent are in profit.
Bob Campbell, president of Blackwell Publishing, said the survey showed that the long-term viability of OA publishing was highly questionable. "Most OA publishing houses are financially stretched," he said. "The OA model is not secure financially, it isn't delivering a stable platform and I don't think it's sustainable."
Publishing Association president and Macmillan CEO, Richard Charkin, said that while he welcomed the report and was keen to see experimentation with new publishing models, he was concerned that the content of journals remain high quality. "Publishing is as much about the selection of high-quality manuscripts as it is about their publication. In my view, sustainable business models must provide cost-effective support for selection and high-quality publication."
However, Dr Matthew Cockerill of UK based OA publisher BioMed Central (BMC), said it was too early to make judgments about OA: "The fact that many OA journals currently operate at a loss is simply a sign that these are early days. There is every reason to think that the passage of time will profoundly improve the ability of OA journals to cover their costs." He said that BMC's manuscript submissions were up 56 percent on the previous year and that he had seen "a peak in the enthusiasm for OA publishing."
DCL's vice president, David Skurnik, says that it is no accident that some OA Publishers are profitable. "If the Web is the only destination for these articles, we have found that the average Publisher cost per article from the point of manuscript submission to Web Publication to be just under $50. This includes the cost of tracking, conversion, QA and uploading. With time, I expect that number to go down even further. The following estimate is from customers who have no control over the manuscripts they receive. Those Publishers who are successfully utilizing technology to standardize manuscript submissions will experience even greater cost reductions since consistently structured manuscripts are easier to convert."
Hanging in the balance
One major British STM publisher, Oxford Journals, has taken an open-minded approach to OA and has been exploring various models. It recently revealed the results of its optional OA model, known as Oxford Open. The experiment revealed marked differences in take up by authors of different subjects. Take up was limited to life sciences and medical authors while there was no take-up by humanities and social sciences authors.
"The optional OA model supports our authors by allowing them the choice of paying for immediate free access to their articles, with unrestricted reuse for education and research," said Oxford Journal's Managing Director, Martin Richardson.
"Ultimately, Oxford Open will allow us to examine whether optional OA is a long term sustainable financial model for publishing peer-reviewed journals, and in which subject areas the market demands might be strong enough to move more proactively in this direction. These early results suggest that OA is likely to be one of a range of models that will be necessary to support the requirements of different research communities," said Richardson.
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