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Open access publishing: Ensuring a functional and fair future marketplace

12 Mar, 2014

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New research, commissioned by the Wellcome Trust in conjunction with a consortium of other research funders, explores how funders could help ensure that the future open-access market delivers quality, innovation and value for money for the research community. David Carr, a policy advisor here at the Trust, talks us through the findings…

The Wellcome Trust believes passionately that the published outputs of research should be freely available to all, so that they can be accessed and used in a manner that maximises potential benefit. Over the last two years the move to open access (OA) has gathered pace and political support. There is now an overwhelming consensus – both in the UK and internationally – that research results funded by the taxpayer or by charities should be published in open access form.

Some publishers have responded to the rising demand for open access by introducing new business models. One such model is to provide an option where in return for an up-front payment from an author, termed an article-processing charge (APC), an article is made available immediately with a licence that permits re-use. Some journals (known as full OA journals) publish all articles via this model, whereas others (termed hybrids) allow individual articles to be made available this way while continuing to charge subscription costs for access to the remainder of their content.

We believe that the APC model will over time become the dominant model, though there is considerable debate over how long this transition will take and the best way to achieve it. However, it seems inevitable that the APC market will continue to grow at a rapid rate.

As funders, we want to ensure that the APC market does not follow the same path as the traditional subscription market, characterised as it is by escalating prices and an almost total lack of transparency. For this reason, we partnered with a consortium of other funders last year to commission two distinguished researchers (Bo-Christer Björk and David Solomon) to develop policy options for funders to foster a future market for APCs that is functional and fair.

Their report presents a series of innovative options for how funders could provision costs for publishing in full OA and hybrid OA journals. The key conclusion from the analysis of the market is that while the full OA market is functioning relatively well at the current time, the hybrid OA market is highly dysfunctional – with high costs and low levels of uptake. A key challenge to address therefore is how we might act to ensure the hybrid market functions far more effectively.

The report does not identify a magic bullet, but provides a starting point for discussion and debate. In supporting this study, we and our partner funders have signalled our clear intention to build a future open access market that provides high-quality services for researchers and embraces innovation. From our perspective, this report will be a vital input into our work to champion open access to the outputs of research.

The report ‘Developing an effective market for open access article processing charges’ by Bo-Christer Björk and David Solomon is now available.

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