By: Susan E. Fox, CAE
For associations that rely on subscription revenues from journal publishing, the Open Access movement may create nervousness—even fear. But does Open Access offer cause for alarm—or an opportunity for greatness?
Conceived a little less than a decade ago, this initiative is gaining strength, even more so in the past six months. This year Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) pledged to resurrect the Federal Research Public Access Act, which he originally introduced last year with Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT). If passed, it would require that federally funded research from 11 government agencies with annual external research budgets of more than $100 million become publicly available online within six months of publication. 3
Many associations embrace Open Access and welcome greater access to research. Many others are singularly opposed and fear that, even with a six month embargo, Open Access would seriously erode significant revenues obtained from journal subscriptions.
Given this momentum, association executives and their boards will do well to pay proactive attention to this issue and consider how Open Access may enhance or detract from the central mission of the organization. Regardless of where you stand, this issue is especially important in advocating a substantially new way of thinking about how information, the lifeblood of every association, is created, distributed, and maintained.
What follows is a discussion about what Open Access is, why it came to the fore, its pros and cons, what business models apply, and some resources for further education and discussion.
An Overview of Open AccessThe Open Access movement began in late 2001 with a meeting convened in Budapest by George Soros’ Open Society Institute. This meeting resulted in the first major international statement addressing the issue of public access to scientific literature: the Budapest Open Access Initiative. 4 The statement, to date5 signed by 4,423 individuals and 395 organizations, says in part, "The literature that should be freely accessible online is that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment. Primarily, this category encompasses their peer-reviewed journal articles, but it also includes any unreviewed preprints that they might wish to put online for comment or to alert colleagues to important research findings. There are many degrees and kinds of wider and easier access to this literature. 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." 6
Not long after the Budapest Initiative was released, Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford University, launched Creative Commons, with the intent of creating a means for content creators to share their work with (if desired) some rights reserved. 7 Shortly afterward The Public Knowledge Project developed Open Journal Systems, an open-source journal management and publishing software package, and the Public Library of Science received a $9 million grant from the Moore Foundation for open-access publishing. They immediately announced their first two open-access journals. 8
Also in 2002 the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, announced a three-year scholarly communication initiative. According to a press release, "Broad goals of the initiative include creating increased access to scholarly information; fostering cost-effective alternative means of publishing, especially those that take advantage of electronic information technologies; and encouraging scholars to assert greater control over scholarly communications." 9
In all, 2002 had 29 open-access-related events of note. In 2003 there were 32, 2004 had 41, 2005 had 33, and 2006 an astounding 84 events including statements, reports, conferences, endorsements, and policies.10
Clearly, this movement has traction and will not dissipate anytime soon.
Why the Momentum?One of the promises of the internet is access to all information all the time for little or no cost. Or so we’d like to believe. By now we all know that not all information actually exists on the internet, nor is all information available at no cost. Journals that have migrated to electronic format remain costly. In fact, according to the library at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, between 1986 and 2004, journal expenditures of North American research libraries increased by a staggering 273 percent, with the average journal unit cost increasing by 188 percent. During this same period, the U.S. Consumer Price Index rose by 73 percent, meaning that journal costs outstripped inflation by a factor of almost 4. 11
Scholars and other proponents of Open Access publishing argue that scholarship builds on the work that preceded it. Robust research depends on readily accessible sources and the cross-pollination of ideas. While the steep increase in journal pricing comes mainly from the commercial, not association, side, the impact of these price increases will bear pressure as boards increasingly argue that their association journals should likewise provide open access to the intellectual capital contained therein.
Adding to the momentum is congressional concern about the availability of publicly funded research, especially in the sciences. As mentioned above, the Federal Research Public Access Act is likely to be reintroduced this year. To date, provosts of the top 25 research universities and presidents of 53 liberal arts colleges have issued joint letters of support.12 The provosts' letter says, in part, "Open access to publications in no way negates the need for well-managed and effective peer review or the need for formal publishing. It does, however, challenge us all to think about how best to align the intellectual and economic models for scholarly publishing with the needs of contemporary scholarship and the benefits, including low marginal costs of distribution, of network technology. That challenge is one that many scholarly societies and commercial publishers are already successfully engaging through a variety of business model experiments and partnerships. We believe that FRPAA productively calls for further engagement." 13
The Association of American Publishers sees it differently.
"Full public access to scientific articles based on government funding has always been central to our mission. Competition demands it and timely access to quality peer-reviewed journals is fundamental to the scientific process," said Brian D. Crawford, chairman of the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers and a senior vice president of the American Chemical Society, in a 2006 press release opposing the bill. "Americans have easy access to scientific and medical literature through public libraries, state universities, existing private-sector online databases, as well as through their professional, academic, or business affiliations, low-cost online individual article sales, and innovative health literacy initiatives such as patientINFORM (http://www.patientinform.org)."
"The Cornyn-Lieberman bill would create unnecessary costs for taxpayers, place an unwarranted burden on research investigators, and expropriate the value-added investments made by scientific publishers—many of them not-for-profit associations who depend on publishing income to support pursuit of their scholarly missions, including education and outreach for the next generation of U.S. scientists," continued Crawford. "If enacted, [FRPAA] could well have the unintended consequence of compromising or destroying the independent system of peer review that ensures the integrity of the very research the U.S. government is trying to support and disseminate." 14
This past February a coalition of 75 nonprofit publishers (including the Society of National Association Publishers) calling themselves the Washington DC Principles for Free Access to Science also opposed the legislation. Spokeswoman Kathleen Case of the American Association for Cancer Research said in a press release, “The scholarly publishing system is a delicate balance between the need to sustain journals financially and the goal of disseminating scientific knowledge as widely as possible. Publishers have voluntarily made more journal articles available free worldwide than at any time in history—without government intervention. … As not-for-profit publishers, we believe that a free society allows for the coexistence of many publishing models, and we will continue to work closely with our publishing colleagues to set high standards for the scholarly publishing enterprise.” 15
The American Society for Cell Biology sees it differently. In February ASCB also issued a statement that said, "The ASCB believes strongly that barriers to scientific communication slow scientific progress. The more widely scientific results are disseminated, the more readily they can be understood, applied, and built upon. The sooner findings are shared, the faster they will lead to new scientific insights and breakthroughs. This conviction has motivated the ASCB to provide free access to all of the research articles in Molecular Biology of the Cell two months after publication, which it has done since 2001. The articles are available both on the journal's website and in the National Library of Medicine’s online archive, PubMed Central ...
"Some publishers argue that providing free access to their journal's content will catastrophically erode their revenue base. The experience of many successful research journals demonstrates otherwise; these journals make their online content freely available after a short embargo period that protects subscription revenue. For example … the content of Molecular Biology of the Cell is free to all after only two months, yet the journal remains not only financially sound, but profitable. The data clearly show that free access and profitability are not mutually exclusive." 16
Open Access Business ModelsThis is, at heart, a debate as much about business models as it is about access. No one model fits all associations, as circumstances vary widely from one to the next. Some, because the association has assumed most of the publishing costs as central to its mission, will have little problem converting journal operations to a purely open access environment. Others, accustomed to realizing significant revenues from a large subscription base, will find converting to be too high a risk and not viable at all.
For those who wish to explore the idea further, the Open Society Institute published a Guide to Business Planning for Converting a Subscription-based Journal to Open Access17 that presents a detailed discussion of the issues involved in making the transition. It covers ways to create self-generated income and how to develop internal and external subsidies. Particularly valuable is its taxonomy of business and/or funding models (19 in all) complete with a brief summation of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Making the transition to open access publishing requires, in most cases, that the association find alternative funding to offset the costs of producing the journal. Publishing online reduces some costs but the bulk of peerreviewed journal expenses stem from the review process, copyediting, and associated overhead and staff costs. Some organizations adopt article processing charges that the author must pay (usually through his or her institution or research grant) to offset expenses. Developing sponsorships and accepting advertising works well for some, although this can be seen as a culture shift in some associations. Repurposing journal contents for additional value can also bring in the necessary capital.
Another excellent resource is Publishing Open Access Journals: A Brief Overview From the Public Library of Science,18 which describes a range of Open Access publishing from low-cost online-only journals to more expensive highly customized journal production. It contains an excellent analysis of costs involved in producing the Public Library of Science PLoS Biology journal, providing a means to develop a parallel analysis pertinent to the individual association.
The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)19, an initiative developed by the Association of Research Libraries, offers a rich set of information and consulting services to help guide the transition to Open Access publishing. It is an excellent place to start when first broaching the issue, as it will give the reader an up-to-the-minute accounting of where the issue stands and advancements in the field.
ConclusionThis is a complicated issue, but one that is sure to appear on many association board agendas. Because of its complexity, preparing the board for discussion will be critical. An association should never take its journal for granted. The CEO and the board may well be surprised about the mixed underlying assumptions members have about the role the journal plays in the association’s mission.
A few questions to ask when considering the issue are
- What role does the journal play in the association?
- What value do we place on the journal and its contents?
- How broadly do we want our journal distributed?
- What is our position on Open Access?
- How do we want to strategically position ourselves on this issue?
- What will be the impact of that decision, and how will it members? How will it affect our members’ customers?
- What impact would converting to Open Access have on the association (economically, politically, and culturally)?
- What kind of support are we willing to provide the journal?
- If we decide to adopt Open Access as a publishing model, how do we define success? What are our expectations and how will we measure success?
Susan E. Fox, CAE is vice president of The Forbes Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Open Access, see the August 2007 issue of Associations Now for an interview with Patrick Brown, co-founder of the Public Library of Science and a leading proponent of open access principles.
Notes1 Wikipedia. “Open Access.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access .
2 Suber, Peter. “Open Access Overview.” www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm.
3 Dotinga, Randy. "Open Access Launches Journal Wars." www.wired.com/news/technology/ medtech/1,72704-0.html.
4 Wikipedia. “Open Access.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access.
5 July 14, 2007
6 Budapest Open Access Initiative. http://www.soros.org/openaccess/read.shtml .
7 Creative Commons. “History.” http://creativecommons.org/about/history/
8 Suber, Peter. “Open-Access Timeline.” www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/timeline.htm .
9 Association of College and Research Libraries. “ACRL Begins Scholarly Communication Initiative.” www.ala.org/ala/pressreleasesbucket/acrlbeginsscholarly.htm
10 Suber, Peter.”Open-Access Timeline.” www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/timeline.htm .
11 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Scholarly Communications Site. “The Cost of Journals.” www.library.uiuc.edu/scholcomm/journalcosts.htm
12 Inside Higher Ed. “Momentum for Open Access Research.” www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/09/06/access
13 “An Open Letter to the Higher Education Community.” http://insidehighered.com/index.php/content/download/77348/1053482/file/FRPAAle tterFinal7-24-06-1.doc
14 The Association of American Publishers. “Scholarly Publishers Oppose Senate Bill 2695.” http://publishers.org/main/PressCenter/Archicves/2006_May/May_02.htm
15 Washington DC Principles for Free Access to Science. “Nonprofit Publishers Oppose Government Mandates for Scientific Publishing.” www.dcprinciples.org/press/2.htm
16 American Society for Cell Biology. “ACSB Position Paper on Public Access to Scientific Literature.” www.ascb.org/index.cfm?navid=10&id=1968&tcode=nws3
17 Open Society Initiative. “Guide to Business Planning for Converting a Subscriptionbased Journal to Open Access.” www.soros.org/openaccess/oajguides/business_converting. pdf
18 Public Library of Science. “Publishing Open Access Journals: A Brief Overview From the Public Library of Science.” www.plos.org/downloads/oa_whitepaper.pdf
19 Association of Research Libraries. “SPARC.” www.arl.org/sparc/about/index.html
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