Analysis backs open-access path for scholarly publishing

Jisc report says publishing landscape should be reshaped to deliver better value, writes John Gill

February 5, 2009

An "open-access" future for academic publishing would save money while boosting the profile of research and maximising its economic impact, a study has found.

John Houghton - an economist at Victoria University in Australia and one author of the report, Economic Implications of Alternative Scholarly Publishing Models: Exploring the Costs and Benefits - said that the savings could exceed £200 million a year in the UK, including £165 million in the higher education sector alone.

The figure is based on an analysis commissioned by the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc) of the costs, benefits and impact of alternative publishing models.

Professor Houghton, speaking to Times Higher Education while on a visit to London, said he believed academics would be keen to pursue an open-access future. "The core competency of an academic is being sceptical ... not believing what anyone tells you until you have assessed the evidence yourself. But once you have convinced them, they become great champions of an idea," he said.

The Jisc study looked at three models of scholarly publishing: subscription access, where readers are charged and the use of material is restricted; open access, where access is free and publication is funded from the author's side; and open access self-archiving, in which authors post their work in online repositories, making it free to all via the internet.

Professor Houghton said the report's aim was to determine the most cost-effective publishing model, not simply the cheapest.

"When you consider that (more than £20 billion) a year is spent on research and development in the UK, it would be useful if we knew that we were getting value for money.

"We have a traditional publishing model based on copyright, principally involving journals, books and databases, and the reader is charged to access it.

"At the other end, the Government is putting in huge amounts of taxpayers' money to achieve a public good, so the country is supposed to get something out of it.

"These two things seem to me to be contradictory: public money is being put into research, but then the people are being stopped from accessing it," he said.

Professor Houghton added that the current model operated by journal publishers was "unsustainable", not least because of the ever-increasing subscription charges faced by universities.

And he noted that researchers would benefit from the wider dissemination of their work, too.

"There's a proven citation advantage of open-access publishing: you get more readers, you get a better range of them, and that should help you get more funding."

While acknowledging that there would be costs involved in reshaping the publishing landscape, Professor Houghton said the Jisc analysis suggested that they would be affordable within current budget allocations, and that the long-term savings would be significant.

- See: report.

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