The Open-Access Movement

In light of declarations supporting open access to research literature from international bodies including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), many scholars now believe that open-access publishing is the wave of the future. The open-access concept shifts the funding from the point of access or subscription fees to the point of dissemination or processing fees. During the past few years, the rising cost of research journals has forced many individuals and institutions to cancel their subscriptions. The recent trend toward mergers among publishers has also contributed to the price increases. This is detrimental to both readers and authors, because readers’ access to research is limited, and consequently reduces the authors’ exposure. It creates barriers for the scientific community from scholarly interaction and access. Consequently, access to scientific knowledge has gone into a state of decline in recent years.

According to the Blackwell Periodical Price Indexes, there has been an average increase in journal prices of 178.3% in science and technical journals between 1990 and 2000. Institutional subscriptions to individual journals can cost up to $20,000 today. Recent estimates indicate that profits for traditional journals are, on average, 40% in a $7.3 billion industry. Dr. Ian Gibson and his research commission have criticized traditional publishers’ pricing practices stating "They have shown no interest in engaging with the concerns of academics and libraries. Publishers are not interested in the benefit of science, they are thinking about their profits." Such discontent with the traditional business model for scholarly journals has led to the proposal of a new business model, the open-access.

This new business model for scholarly journals has gained attention from scholars, universities, and funding agencies in recent years and is becoming a worldwide phenomenon. It has triggered the most successful scholarly publishing reform movement in modern history. Traditional publishers have demonstrated hostility and skepticism at the initial phase of the movement. However, many of them are now overcoming their initial resistance, and have begun experimenting with the open-access model. In the traditional subscription model of publishing, the journal is exclusively available to subscribers for a fee. In open-access model, the article is freely available for all immediately upon publication. The open-access model has improved the circulation of knowledge, and has expanded its value by enhancing participation in a global exchange of ideas. Open-access makes knowledge freely available to all, regardless of whether the researcher or scholar is at Oxford or Yale, or at a small college in India, China or South Africa. To a large extent, the open-access movement is a reaction to the dysfunctional practices in the conventional scholarly communication system.

Many leaders and advocates of the open-access movement are prominent scholars and librarians who are interested in developing more effective scholarly communication strategies. In explaining the inadequacies of the conventional scholarly communication system, Peter Suber, a leading voice in the open-access movement stated “It doesn't matter whether we blame unaffordable journals on excessive publisher prices or inadequate library budgets. If we focus on publishers, it doesn't matter whether we blame greed or innocent market forces (rising costs and new services). Blame is irrelevant and distracting. The volume of published knowledge is growing exponentially and will always grow faster than library budgets. In that sense, Open-access scales with the growth of knowledge and toll access does not. We've already (long since) reached the point at which even affluent research institutions cannot afford access to the full range of research literature. Priced access to journal articles would not scale with the continuing, explosive growth of knowledge even if prices were low today and guaranteed to remain low forever.”

Many scholars consider the traditional publishing system obsolete and believe that the future of scholarly publishing lies in the open-access model. Richard Roberts, a Nobel Laureate and Editor of NAR stated "Open access is the future of scientific publication and one that we should all work hard to make successful"