Fee-free scholarly publishing

A short crowded blog post. I’m off the the ACS shortly and then to VIVO and am concentrating on presentations. Hope to blog those in the normal way.

After kicking off a discussion of publishing models on the [GOAL] mailing list with the traditional Green/Gold/Hybrid approaches I suggested that we should be looking at a “Fee-free” model. This isn’t new and it’s not my idea. Here’s Peter Suber reviewing the situation:

See William Walters and Anne Linvill (August 2010):  “While just 29 percent of OA journals charge publication fees, those journals represent 50 percent of the articles in our study.”


So there are large numbers of journals that charge nothing to authors and nothing to readers. And they want to remain that way. The problem is that the volume of articles is largely free-supported. We thus have a strange paradox:

  • Lots of small journals prosper without charging excessive fees
  • The large journals charge more, rather than less.

The reason is that there is a vanity market. Fee-supported journals have to argue they produce a better product. And the only product that differentiates them is the market for glory. We hear mantras such as “Researchers must be able to publish where they want.”

Why? If the article is worth reading it will be found. The journal is now primarily a glory label – used not for the excellence of the contents but as an artificial market to determine career progression and funding in universities.

The economic cost of an article is about 250 USD. (Acta Crystallographica do it for 150 USD). Anything higher than that is either inefficiency or sheer profit.

[Stop ranting, PMR and get to the point…]

The point is that lots of people want to create [e-only] publications without these artificial commercial constraints. So we’ve agreed to explore how this can be done, on the OKF’s open Access list (where open Access always means BOAI-compliant). http://lists.okfn.org/pipermail/open-access/2012-August/000788.html summarises the discussion.

We want to collate information on what works at present. And summarize it so that would be “publishers” can build on the work of others. We are envisaging a “Handbook of fee-free Open Access publishing” which helps people explore sustainable models.

One of the really valuable things about fee-free publishing is that no-one is in it for the money. So the “predatory Open Access” publishers – who publish low quality or even pirated OA material – have no place. There’s no pressure on people to find fees up front. There’s no pressure on libraries – everything is free.

If Steve Coates can get 250,000 people to build a fee-free map of the world, why can’t we do it for scholarly pub. Why do editors have to come from academia? Why do we have to stick with the outmoded “journal” when we have all the tools to manage articles more productively. (If people want journals they can collect together the free material however they want). If the arXiv can manage papers for (I think) 7 USD we don’t need to charge 10000 USD as Nature does. That’s for the glory.

And let’s remember that university libraries take > 10,000,000,000 USD every year from taxpayers and students to pay for journal subscriptions. And only 1 % of the population can read it. If the fee-free community had 1% of this (100 million USD) and distributed it between – say – 1,000 fee-free startups – just to get them going we would see some fantastic developments. So libraries, shouldn’t you be looking to create something new rather than simply fuelling the old, inefficient and avaricious?

Anyway – please join the discussion on open-access. You won’t get shouted down with political Open Access slogans.

PROGRESS (two areas I have been urging on this blog)

  1. Glad to see OCLC releasing a part of Worldcat under a libre licence (ODC-BY)
  2. http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/PressRelease/pressReleaseId-104537.html Wiley have changed their “Fully Open Access” model to one that really is BOAI-compliant (CC-BY). Well done Wiley. Other publishers, be brave – it won’t hurt and may gain you some credit.




This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *