Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

High-Maintenance Model

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

High-Maintenance Model

Article excerpt

Pay-to-publish will work for top-flight Big Science: for everything else it will be a disaster, says Salvatore Babones.

Once upon a time, when people wanted to read an academic journal article they had two choices: subscribe to the journal or go to the library to read it. Today, no one subscribes to academic journals. They read them at (or more likely on the websites of) the library.

Of course, not everyone has access to a first-class academic library with a comprehensive set of journal subscriptions. Nor does everyone have access to all the books, newspapers, movies, television shows and music they might want. Right or wrong, that's life.

Many people believe there should be open access to everything that can be put online. There are strong arguments for and against. The arguments for making all academic research free to the public are strong indeed.

One well-known argument is that the public pays for research conducted at government-supported universities, so the public should have access to it. Another is that intellectual progress is held back by the paywalls that limit access to academic journals. And of course many academics just want more people to read their work.

The British government recently announced plans to move UK academic publishing from the established pay-to-read model to a pay-to-publish one. The fruits of academic research will be free for all to read. Publication fees will be paid out of research grants or by universities hungry for recognition.

At first blush, this sounds like a great leap forward. The government, through research grants and university budgets, will pay to make academic research available to everyone. Nothing could be more liberal.

Journals will charge academics a processing fee of Pounds 1,000-Pounds 2,000 per article to cover the costs of online publishing. Since most government research grants run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds, fees on this scale are a nuisance, not an obstacle. The Dame Janet Finch-led Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings cites the Wellcome Trust to estimate that publishing fees will consume about 1 to 2 per cent of the typical research grant.

And academics have every incentive to pay the fees. …

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