Thursday, 7 April 2011

Heading for the Open Road: costs and benefits of transitions in scholarly communications


A report published today looking at how to improve access to academic literature suggests that open access is likely to have the greatest benefits to the UK scholarly communications system.

Open access, whereby research outputs are made freely accessible to the widest possible audience, is an issue to which the Wellcome Trust is firmly committed. The Trust provides funding to its researchers to cover open access publishing costs.

'Heading for the Open Road', a new report commissioned by the Research Information Network and other funders, including the Trust, supports this approach. It discusses a number of scenarios and suggests that the "Gold" scenario - the model in which author-side payments are levied to enable immediate open access to the published article - has the potential to achieve the highest benefit-cost ratio while lowering the UK's net costs for scholarly communication. It is also the only model that is considered to be fully sustainable.

However, the report also makes clear that there are risks associated with this approach, as the scale of the costs and benefits depends on the future level of charges levied on the author, which it may be hard for policy makers to influence. Moreover, there are likely to be significant challenges in the transition to this approach (possibly more so than in other scenarios), including the one-off costs to create the necessary systems and infrastructure, and the lags that mean ongoing net costs could rise before later falling because of the need to meet author-side payments while retaining existing subscription journals.

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, says: "This report shows that financial savings to the UK - and particularly UK academic institutions - can be realised if an 'author pays' publishing model is implemented effectively. This is a challenge and an opportunity to the best publishers of scholarly journals."

Image: The open road, by Dr DAD on Flickr.

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