Open access will cause problems for learned societies' journals, accepts Finch

The UK’s move towards open-access publishing will inevitably place some learned societies’ journals into financial jeopardy, according to the chair of the committee that recommended making the transition.

Dame Janet Finch today told the first hearing of the Lords Science and Technology Committee’s open-access inquiry that the government-convened Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, which she chaired last year, spent “a lot of time” debating the likely effect of a move to open access on the viability of journals.

She pointed out that the group, which included representatives from learned societies, librarians, publishers and universities, envisaged a “mixed economy” of open access and subscription publishing persisting during a steady transition to full open access.

But she conceded there was “no doubt” that some journals produced by learned societies would “find some difficulty finding a business model that will work in the mixed economy”.

For this reason, she said it was important to give learned societies, which are often heavily dependent on income from their publishing arms, “time to adjust”.

“Different learned societies will take different views of where their interests lie and whether it is appropriate to modify their [journals’] business models. For the foreseeable future, they could decide to remain subscription journals,” she said.

The Finch report was adopted by the government last summer. Soon afterwards, Research Councils UK announced that, from April, it will require all journals in which its funded researchers publish to offer either an upfront “gold” open-access option, or a repository-based “green” option with an embargo period of no more than six months for science and 12 months for humanities and social science papers.

Many learned societies in the humanities and social sciences in particular have warned that embargo longer periods are required if their journals are to remain viable.

Before Christmas more than 20 UK history journals said they would only permit embargoes of 36 months.

Dame Janet admitted it would take longer for the humanities and social sciences to move towards full open access because they were not as far down the road as the sciences.

“This is why we emphasised the speed of transition is likely to be different in different disciplines,” she said.

The witnesses at a second hearing of the committee’s short inquiry, on 29 January, will include universities and science minister David Willetts and RCUK chair Rick Rylance.

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