Who Should Pay? Does Open Access Mean Free Access?

Editor’s note: Throughout Open Access Week (Oct 19-23), the UI Libraries will be sharing the views of our UI colleagues on the topic of open access.

by Dr. Christopher Squier, Professor, College of Dentistry and Christine White, Librarian, College of Dentistry

Traditionally, the cost of publishing articles in print journals has been borne (apart from page charges for lengthy articles or colored illustrations) by the publisher, based on income, from subscriptions from readers or libraries. This is reasonable considering the high cost of supporting the scholarship that forms the basis of a publication. With open access articles, however, there is now a movement towards freely providing the material to the reader but shifting the cost of publication on the scholar. Fees, which may range from $500 to $3000, are requested from the author, although in a few situations, voluntary donations are solicited to help support a journal (e.g., Edward H. Angle Society of Orthodontists / Angle Orthodontist), or the publication may be subsidized by a publisher’s other journals, as acknowledged by PLoS. Other mechanisms include support from advertisers, such as the Journal of Chemical Education, which notes that “advertising in the Journal plays a significant role in helping to keep your subscription affordable,” or sponsored by an open access individual/institutional membership fee, which provides discounts to authors based on the number of articles submitted for publication (e.g., Bentham Open: http://bentham.org/open/).

There are good reasons to resist moving the costs of publication from the publisher to the author, even when there may be grant or institutional funding to support this. The major objection is the temptation to base publication on the ability to pay rather than on the quality of work, as determined by peers. When costs are passed onto grants or academic institutions, the sponsor is, in effect, paying twice: once for the cost of doing the research and again to publish it, and the support available for new research is reduced. Of course, it could be argued that the institution pays when it purchases subscriptions, but because a large number of academic and industrial organizations all do this, the cost is spread over a large pool.

Should the reader be allowed free access as well as open access? Should the traditional balance be kept between authors, institutions and publishers? These are questions that we must continue to discuss.