04 August 2009

Level Playing-Fields and Open Access

Yesterday, I wrote elsewhere about open standards, and how they sought to produce a level playing field for all. Similar thoughts have occurred to Stuart Shieber in this post about open access:

In summary, publishers see an unlevel playing field in choosing between the business models for their journals exactly because authors see an unlevel playing field in choosing between journals using the business models.

He has an interesting solution:

To mitigate this problem—to place open-access processing-fee journals on a more equal competitive footing with subscription-fee journals—requires those underwriting the publisher's services for subscription-fee journals to commit to a simple “compact” guaranteeing their willingness to underwrite them for processing-fee journals as well.

He concludes:

If all schools and funders committed to the compact, a publisher could more safely move a journal to an open-access processing-fee business model without fear that authors would desert the journal for pecuniary reasons. Support for the compact would also send a signal to publishers and scholarly societies that research universities and funders appreciate and value their contributions and that universities and funders promoting self-archiving have every intention of continuing to fund publication, albeit within a different model. Publishers willing to take a risk will be met by universities and funding agencies willing to support their bold move.

The new US administration could implement such a system through simple FRPAA-like legislation requiring funding agencies to commit to this open-access compact in a cost-neutral manner. Perhaps reimbursement would be limited to authors at universities and research institutions that themselves commit to a similar compact. As funding agencies and universities take on this commitment, we might transition to an efficient, sustainable journal publishing system in which publishers choose freely among business models on an equal footing, to the benefit of all.

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