Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Green-Eyed, No Monster: Opinion

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Green-Eyed, No Monster: Opinion

Article excerpt

Gabriel Egan argues that the move to open access is desirable and inevitable for the arts as well as the sciences.

We continue to witness a lot of back and forth between publishers and open-access advocates about the merits of Research Councils UK's open- access policy - but where does it leave journal editors?

Some have echoed the publishers' fears that open access will ruin their business models or undermine journal quality by scaring off top international authors. But not all editors share this view.

I co-edit two humanities journals: one, Shakespeare, for the large commercial publisher Taylor and Francis; the other, Theatre Notebook, for a small learned society (the Society for Theatre Research). I believe that open access is both desirable and inevitable since, as we move towards virtually cost-free digital dissemination, charging readers seems increasingly unjustifiable.

Much throwing about of brains over the past decade still hasn't revealed how publishers might make technology their saviour rather than their nemesis. For a while the popularity of PDFs buoyed their spirits because academics believed that only specialists could create them. Microsoft killed that goose by adding "save file as PDF" options to its software.

Publishers also argued that registering digital object identifiers (a sequence of characters used to uniquely identify electronic documents) would relieve authors and librarians of the pain of ensuring long-term digital preservation. But DOIs can be registered by anyone and having one no more guarantees the availability of an article on the web than registering an ISBN number keeps a book in print.

Now publishers pin their hopes on "adding value", by, for example, linking footnoted references to the full texts. But by automatically labelling all their articles with DOIs, they have made it easy for anyone to create such links.

A further lifeline was thrown by the support offered by last year's Finch report for "gold" open access, whereby the journal's official version of an article is made free to the reader in exchange for a fee paid by the author. The problem is that while scientists supported by large external grants may find a figure of upwards of Pounds 1,500 insignificant, such fees present an insurmountable barrier to publication for lone scholars in the arts and humanities. …

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