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Magazines > Information Today > November 2004
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Information Today

Vol. 21 No. 10 — November 2004

REPORT FROM THE FIELD
The Fall 2004 ASIDIC Meeting
By Tom Hogan Sr.

The fall 2004 meeting of the Association of Information and Dissemination Centers (ASIDIC) convened in Phoenix recently to examine the issues surrounding open access (OA) publishing. Many questions were raised and many strong views expressed, but few conclusions were drawn, as seems to be the case whenever this topic is discussed.

David Worlock, chairman of Electronic Publishing Services, Ltd., gave a comprehensive overview of the state of OA publishing during his keynote address. Worlock, based in London, recently served as special adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, which conducted a controversial inquiry into scientific, technical, and medical publishing. With his usual flair for the dramatic, he described the degree of passion generated by this issue and questioned whether OA publishing is a new publishing model or "a new form of religion."

Open access publications qualify as such if they are distributed openly and without charge via the Internet to interested readers. In order to pay for the various steps in the publication process—such as peer review, editing, and preparation for electronic distribution—the author, or the author's institution, pays a fee to the OA publisher for each article published. Author fees for OA publishing can range from $500 to $3,000 per article.

The traditional publishing model, which Worlock points out has been in existence since 1664, is one in which the publisher foots the bill for the entire process and then seeks out interested subscribers who are willing to pay for access to the information, whether in print or, more recently, via electronic means. The shorthand labels for the two models during debates on the subject are usually "author pays" versus "user pays." As Worlock said, "The divisions between proponents of the two models are huge."

When asked whether the OA movement was largely due to the practice of high annual price increases by a number of major STM journal publishers, Worlock replied that such practices have provided fuel for the fire but "in fact the issue of these historical abuses came up some time after the open access movement had already begun." He believes that changes in communication habits and patterns, particularly the pervasive use of the Internet by scholars and researchers, were more likely the cause of many OA initiatives. "The genie is out of the bottle, and the digital revolution was the cause."

An interesting presentation by Henry Hagedorn, an entomologist from the University of Arizona, followed the keynote talk. Hagedorn is the editor and founder of the Journal of Insect Science (JIS), an OA journal that he calls "an alternative to excessively priced commercial journals in insect biology." This journal publishes a modest 40 articles per year but is touted as a model of publishing that others can follow. JIS is affiliated with SPARC (The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), an organization that encourages alternatives to commercial publishing of academic work.

"The commercial publisher has entangled the editor in a Faustian bargain where the editor induces the author to sell her soul (copyright) to the publisher in exchange for tenure," said Hagedorn, a statement reminiscent of Worlock's reference to OA publishing as a new religion. Perhaps suggesting that open access is the way to salvation, Hagedorn went on to say: "We believe it is time to consider the cost of publication to be part of the cost of sponsoring research by both the academic institution and the granting agencies." He believes that state and federal governments should ultimately bear most of the costs of open access publication. When this reporter asked whether or not it is fair to ask taxpayers to pay for journals that they may or may not believe to be worthwhile, Hagedorn replied that taxpayers routinely pay for things they don't support, "such as bombing Iraq."

John Regazzi, an Elsevier executive and former CEO of Engineering Information, was one of the few panelists representing traditional publishers. He pointed out that one of the unresolved issues with open access publishing is the so-called free-ride problem. If certain academic institutions, such as Harvard and Yale, are generating a large proportion of the papers and are paying most of the author fees in the OA model, then smaller institutions and many corporations will benefit without shouldering their share of the costs. In the traditional publishing model, on the other hand, the user's institution pays for access, regardless of how many articles it contributes to the research community.

Regazzi said that Elsevier has had to rethink its pricing policies over the last few years and has made some adjustments. However, he points out that only about 0.2 percent of a university's expenses relates to journal subscriptions. He believes that adequate funding of education is the fundamental issue and needs to be addressed by society as a whole. Regazzi concedes that open access publishing is here to stay and will become part of the competitive landscape in scholarly publishing. But traditional publishers aren't going away anytime soon.

For more information on ASIDIC meetings and membership, visit http://www.asidic.org.

 


Tom Hogan Sr. is president and CEO of Information Today, Inc. His e-mail address is hoganiti@aol.com.
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