Open and shut enquiries

February 14, 2013

Your recent coverage of open access has attracted a good deal of comment, not always well informed, on the arts and humanities realities (“High price of gold: how early career researchers will suffer”, News, 7 February).

Here the main long-term outcome of research is the book. When I write a book I earn royalties, and the copyright (subject to the permission of an employer) as well as the moral rights of authorship remain mine. Cambridge University Press agreements with authors to publish their work as e-books “generate royalties for the author in the usual way”. I write journal articles for free, and although Oxford University Press now asks one to sign a “licence” instead of transferring ownership of the copyright, there is nothing in it for me financially. To have to pay to publish a short piece and to be paid for a longer one is an anomaly too far.

My research students down the years, hoping to become career academics, have worked on in postdoctoral solitude, trying to answer questions they have identified. They sent papers to established journals, and if those papers were judged worthwhile they simply appeared in print. Now cost and managerial interest will get in the way. There is no point in offering the results of research free to the world if those results cannot get published at all and enquiry dies away in frustration. Open access threatens to arrive this spring like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Person from Porlock to interrupt and discourage future work.

People expect to buy books. Why are articles different?

G.R. Evans, Oxford

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