Finch closed eyes to open alternatives

November 8, 2012

The evidence from Simon Lilley et al. of publishers earning excessive profits while reducing their tax bills raises further questions about the credibility of the Finch proposals for supporting open access ("Firm chose haven, let's give it hell"; "How publishers feather their nests on open access to public money", 1 November).

The failure of the Finch group to extract information on the returns gained by academic journal publishers (up to 50 per cent a year in some cases) while recommending that the government contribute to meeting the costs of article-processing fees displayed remarkable disregard for other approaches. The extra £60 million suggested as recompense to publishers for implementing open access via the "gold model" enables them to gain further at the expense of researchers whose cost-free exploitation is the source of their huge profits in the first place. This cannot be in the public interest.

The Finch committee ignored an important alternative to the gold and the rejected "green" (repository-based) model - cost-recovery journal publication by academics. And much as we applaud the logic of Lilley's case for transparency and control, he too bypasses it. The journal Longitudinal and Life Course Studies, of which we are editors, is now in its 10th issue and has 1,200 registered readers. To date it has been able to meet its costs (currently £15,000 a year) through grants and sponsorship. It has done so as an online offering via open source software with rigorous reviewing processes and without the need to maintain high profit margins and large numbers of marketing staff.

As we argued in our submission to the Finch committee, it would be better to use a substantial amount of the proposed £60 million to support this type of academic publishing to complement, if not replace, the current commercial system. But the Finch report's failure to even mention the strategy shows that the suggestion fell on deaf ears.

Rather than expending effort on attempting to implement the Finch report, we believe that it is not too late, if the research community shows willing, to go back to first principles of how knowledge dissemination is best managed and funded.

John Bynner, Emeritus professor of social sciences in education Institute of Education

Harvey Goldstein, Professor of social statistics, University of Bristol

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