Free, at last

May 3, 2012

The currently available open-access publishing options seem no better than the traditional publishers that, as Srila Roy writes, "are getting fat on the unpaid labour of researchers" ("Cracked reflection", 26 April). After all, not only do most open-access journals rely on the same voluntary labour, they also charge authors a considerable fee (for example, PLoS ONE charges around £830). Nowadays, researchers usually put fees for publications in at least two open-access journals in their grant applications. This means that apart from university libraries paying a generic fee to traditional publishers, individual authors (ie, grant funding organisations) pay open-access publishers large sums from grant income. This creates new problems: for example, new researchers without grant income are unlikely to be able to pay the fees. Further, there is the possibility that open-access journals are biased towards accepting papers because authors pay only for the ones taken.

Universities should step in to solve the problem. Given that their academic staff are already doing the brunt of writing, reviewing and editorial work, they could easily take care of the distribution of open-access online journals, too. It is technically trivial and nearly free, given that universities already have the internet infrastructure and the know-how. Although some additional staff would need to be hired to take care of implementation, it would be far cheaper than sticking with traditional publishers or their fee-based open-access counterparts that are burdening Research Councils UK's grant budget. Universities should create online journals free for readers and authors.

Gijsbert Stoet, University of Leeds

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