The argument for open access

The other night I was sent a link to an article entitled ‘Is the Academic Publishing Industry on the Verge of Disruption?‘ by Simon Owens. The title had me intrigued, but it did not actually prepare me for what I was about to read. In his article Owens summarizes what we librarians already know – academic journals have become way too expensive for us to maintain our subscriptions. Libraries are cutting budgets left and right and having such high fees for journals is not helping.

What I didn’t expect was the tilt of this article toward the value of open access journals. The fact that in recent years open access journals have become more viable and accessible. I know that in the library science world I have many open access journals that I keep up with (because they have great info and are free for me to learn from). The Directory of Open Access Journals boasts of 7988 journals (I’m not sure how much more that is from previous years, but it’s a nice number), 130 of which are LIS Journals.

In his article, Owens points us to the situation specifically at Harvard:

In the quiet, restrained world of research libraries, any controversies that arise are, for the most part, cordial and largely academic. So some within the industry may have been understandably surprised by the widespread attention paid when, in April, Harvard’s Faculty Advisory Council sent a letter to the faculty concerning what it alleged was a crisis with its scholarly journal subscriptions.

The letter reported an “untenable situation facing the Harvard Library” in which “many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive.” The letter revealed that Harvard is paying $3.75 million annually in journal subscriptions and that they make up “10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires.” A few of the journals, it says, cost upward of $40,000 a year–each. “Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices.” Its conclusion: “Major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained.” To underscore the weight of what Harvard had just done by releasing this letter, one blogger headlined his post, “The wealthiest university on Earth can’t afford its academic journal subscriptions.”

Though the letter’s short-term impact was to inform the non-academic world of the growing tension between research libraries and journal publishers, many in the industry say its long-term effect lies in its list of recommendations for how to ameliorate the situation. Harvard implores its top researchers to “consider submitting articles to open-access journals” and to “consider resigning” from the editorial boards of journals that don’t provide open-access offerings. Because an open-access journal allows anyone to easily and without cost read any of its published material, a large-scale migration to the platform would ease many of the financial burdens posed by subscription journals.

The article goes on for 6 more pages with a lot of great info on how open access works and how peer review works, etc. It’s shocking to me (someone who has never been on the purchasing side of journal subscriptions) to see prices like those mentioned in this article. As an author I know that I get annoyed when my publications are priced out of the market – how can any journal article author expect to reach their audience with prices like those these subscription services are charging?

If you’re interested in learning more check out the entire article and if you plan on publishing anytime soon maybe check out the open access journals or at least talk to the journal publisher about what they charge for their subscriptions to make sure that the pricing is fair and is going to reach the widest audience. The one thing I haven’t experienced with open access journals in the LIS world is being charged as an author to submit articles – but that is something you’ll need to look out for if you do decide to go the open access route to reach your target audience.

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