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Who Will Pay For Open Access? 390

babble123 writes "IEEE is thinking about providing everyone with free access to its publication database (which has saved many a grad student from a trip to the library). The problem is, where will they get the money to fund the journals if not from subscriptions? In this article, they discuss one proposed alternative, 'author-pays,' but they certainly aren't enthusiastic about it, and I don't blame them. And yet, the money has to come from somewhere. Any better ideas?"
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Who Will Pay For Open Access?

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  • by StandardDeviant ( 122674 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @05:54AM (#11886648) Homepage Journal

    This question is hardly unique to the IEEE, all of science publication has been wrestling with these issues for about the last ten years in earnest (esp. since the widespread adoption of the net with viable mechanisms for scientific content delivery (html sucks for equations, but things like pdf make for easy distribution and consumption of papers and paper-like content)). Unfortunately, no good answers have been arrived at that I'm aware of. The professionals in the field want to publish in prestigous journals for their reputations, journals become prestigous in part through extensive peer-review processes and widespread publication, and all that takes time/staff/money. There have been some efforts and opening this process up, spurred by the high costs of institutional subscriptions (like, 20k+ USD per year for some of the chemistry journals I follow :P), but as yet I'm unaware of much adoption because, as mentioned above, an article in "" is not held in the same weight as one in, say, JACS. It's sort of a self-perpetuating cycle driven by social factors that will be very difficult to fix with technology (esp. given how very set in their ways most of the scientific community is... and I say this as a scientist).

  • by R.Caley ( 126968 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @05:55AM (#11886652)
    Only a politician could think author pays is a reasonable model, because that is how they publish, paying to dump masses of unwanted and seriously derranged literature on my doormat at every election.

    Positive and negative feedback needs to come from the output end to get useful results. Feed-forward from the input just creates instability. Early rocket pioneers found that out, which is why Goddard had an engine at the top, and von Braun had to develop complex gyro control systems.

    There is an existing model for making access more open while preserving the useful feedback from readers - public libraries. Money goes from the state to authors based on demand for the books.

    Imagine the public library which would result from the authors paying for inclusion. Come to think of it we are back to my doormat. I need to go throw away the junk mail and local politician's drivel now so I can open the door to get out to buy some coffee. Anyone have a shovel?

  • Strange question (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Eivind ( 15695 ) <> on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @06:01AM (#11886675) Homepage
    Distributing content online is extremely cheap.

    Even more so for content that is "dense", that is, a lot of information in a small file. A Scientific paper is maybe a single MB or two, and contains a lot of information (it is "dense"), a movie in contrast is a GB or more, and is frequently only entertainment for an hour and a half.

    I consider it extremely likely that simply *allowing* distribution will be enough, the net will take care of the rest by itself.

    It's harder if you insist that distribution takes place only from *your* servers, and forbid redistribution, but in that case your problems are of your own making.

  • by johansalk ( 818687 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @06:05AM (#11886695)
    In my humble opinion, they don't need to open up their library to everyone. Sure, it is useful, but it is mostly useful for a certain technical and professional crowd. This is not a library that the majority of the public will care about. Those for whom this library is relevant should afford to pay their IEEE membership costs, as $250 p/a is not much compared to many other disciplines and professions. Those in Academia such as students can use their Academic libraries; the IEEE does not need to subsidize Academic institutions and education.
  • by R.Caley ( 126968 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @06:09AM (#11886717)
    why isn't anyone talking about ADs ?. They are the natural revenue for an online magazine ?

    Because we aren't talking about magazines, but journals. Magazines are high circulation, low content. Journals are the reverse. A company might want to get their name in front of the eyes of the 50 top nuclear phycists in the world, but if they do they would be better off picking up the phone or writing personal letters than trying to create a half page add to describe why their superconducting filament is the best for bulding accelerators.

    The mass audience for journals is postgraduate students, but they have no money to speak of, and anyway there are already enough places to advertise beer.

  • Missing data... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ErikZ ( 55491 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @06:19AM (#11886759)

    How are we supposed to come up with a good solution if we don't even know the scope of the problem?

    ie:How much money are we talking about here?
  • by Tethys_was_taken ( 813654 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @06:23AM (#11886780) Homepage
    Dear IEEE,
    Please don't look to advertising.

    A random IEEE member.


    IEEE has a reputation of impartiality. If they do open their doors to ad revenue their integrity will be questioned. The last thing we need is corporate sponsored standards and reference material which shut out competitors and amateurs.

    Even if they do stay impartial, they will be questioned and it will lead to a whole quagmire of politics. It is inevitable.

    I know this comment doesn't help much, but I had to say it. I commend the IEEE for trying to make reference material avilable free, but please think about this. Anyway, I don't think IEEE will read this, so bleh.
  • by motte_fra ( 682157 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @06:50AM (#11886887)
    this is already what is happening... authors write papers, but authors also peer review other author's submissions.
  • by tigersha ( 151319 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @07:22AM (#11886981) Homepage
    T'is more expensive than you think. While costs (espceially for distribution) have gone down dramatically since the advent of the internet its still high.

    I have done this for years now (on the organisatory side, albeit more for conferences) and the editing and proofreading is quite expensive.

    Problem is that many authors ignore or do not use the formats provided. They use whatever they want, whenever they want and tell you to fly to hell. Some of them refuse to give you an unencrypted PDF and then whine that the things is not searchable on a CD.

    Publishing is cheap, high-quality publishing is not. Journals are expensive to produce and conferences, while funded by the attencance fees, usually make a loss in my experience. Publication costs are a large part of that.

    And before everyone whines that the researchers work and review almost for free, this is not the main problem. The researchers usually like to review the papers since it is in fields that interest then and reading new papers. You do not get paid for reading that Perl book you wanted to read either, geeks do it for the pleasure of it.

    The main work comes from simple things like secretaries and organisation. Despite the typical Slashdot whine that middlemen are useless and should be eliminated they still do a lot of good work, especially in keeping up standards.

    And organisation can be a lot. Think about it this way: For a conference with 500 submissions (not particulary large) each paper has, say, 5 reviewers. That's 2500 messages to keep track of and organize right there. And then to sort out the replies. And whining at people to get their work done. Deciding who gets to review what. Informing them. Getting their answers back and getting it to the lead reviewers. And so on. and so on. Lots of this can be done electronically, but lots of it also involves calling people and personal discussions.

    Summing up draft paper submission, reviews and revisions and you easily hit 5000 emails for one conference. Someone has to keep track of it or at least keep a eye on things.

    Its a lot of expensive effort, trust me.
  • Tax (Score:3, Insightful)

    by logicnazi ( 169418 ) <logicnazi AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @07:54AM (#11887106) Homepage
    Alright I know alot of people are going to be suggesting hokey solutions where no real person pays (or at least no one they know). Yet someone needs to pay for these journals and while editors and reviewers are likely to work very cheaply if not for free many of these journals need some staff and some money to encourage reviewers and boards. Unfortunatly, if we keep using the current system alot of people don't get any access (they aren't subscribers) yet no one benefits. The authors would like to reach a larger audience and it doesn't cost ieee anything for them to read the magazine either (at least not more than banner ads bring in).

    This is essentially a tragedy of the commons problem. Imagine what would happen if we tried to pay for national parks and forests entierly via usage fees and if you didn't pay for your camp permit or wilderness pass you couldn't use the area. Now perhaps a few tourist destinations might be accesible because of volume but probably the high prices would mean only the wealthy and dedicated could afford to use the forests and everyone loses. In short the private property model is really great at distributing goods which aren't duplicable (marginal cost is a large fraction of total cost per item) but goods which can be shared like parks and information is better supported by the people as a whole.

    How could such a system work? Simple, an internet version of the library tax used in uk and canada. Basically the government or sub contracted companies (this could be competitive and you could probably download from amazon and have just as much privacy protection as now) would record how frequent journals/books/whatever are used (and perhaps an estimation of how useful it was by the reader) and then compensate the author proportionatly.

    I know the standard reaction is to think this couldn't possible hand out money in the 'right' amounts. Yet this is just because you are stuck in the mindset that this is really property. There are no right amounts, or if there are we are far from them. When the most valuable and time consuming works (technical works, textbooks, high art) are generally the least profitable while novels make tons of money. In short we don't need to be very accurate to make sure books and journals get written just so long as we are in the ballpark of more readers=more money.
  • by Tim ( 686 ) <timr AT alumni DOT washington DOT edu> on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @08:12AM (#11887163) Homepage
    "Most journals, in contrast, employ copy editors to clean up the English, make sure that everything is formatted just so, make sure that all the citations are complete and in the correct format, etc."

    Har. In my own experience, these "copy editors" have the approximate technical skill level of a McDonald's fry-cook trainee...I know many researchers whose manuscipts have actually had errors introduced by the copy-editing process.

    In my own field (computational biology), the vast majority of the thinking work (peer review, subject-matter editing) is done gratis by professors, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. And when we publish, we pay dearly for the privelege of submitting our manuscripts and figures on a website, waiting several months for comments (from the volunteer reviewers), and signing over our copyrights to the publisher upon acceptance. Then you get to pay dearly to read the article we've written!

    Given that most journal access is electronic these days, I think the entire process is a racket, propped up by the notoriously conservative nature of peer-review and scientific reputation. If we could just agree that the mainstream publishers are useless, there'd be no need to support them. But of course, they're not useless (they're the arbiters of scientific quality, for better or worse), and therefore we pay for their "services"....
  • by Ohreally_factor ( 593551 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @08:14AM (#11887172) Journal
    This square peg should fit in this round OSS hole. I'll just pound on it a bit with my GNU/ Hammer. OSS is the solution to everything!
  • by DancesWithBlowTorch ( 809750 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @08:22AM (#11887210)
    The review process is by no means free. The peer reviewers have to be specialists in the field the article discusses. Sometimes, there are only two or three such peers world wide and they are just as hard working as the author. If you want them to sit down and think about an article they didn't write for a day, you have to pay them.

    Apart from that: "Author pays" is a really bad method. It keeps young authors from publishing frequently (since they're on a budget).

    Face it: For a peer-review process, some money is needed. It either comes from the author, which is bad, see above; from the readers, which is still better, since Universities -- the mayor subscribers -- have more money than the individual author; or from some third party, which is always a problem since it raises the problem of this third entities interests in publications. Example: Who is going to pay for a journal of Egyptian Studies, as opposed to one for Silicon Technology?

    The system of peer-reviewed publication lies at the heart of the modern scientific community. Sure, it's not perfect. The huge number of contemporary journals is a big problem for university libraries. But I don't see a better solution for the moment. But it would help if the journals would cut costs by, e.g., publishing only electronically, although I don't know how much of the price of the journal is actually accountable to printing.
  • Re:Government ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ohreally_factor ( 593551 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @08:22AM (#11887214) Journal
    Heh. Yeah, I wasn't actually thinking of the current President when I wrote that.

    Why the hell not? Just insert "Creation" in front of "Science" and it's a green light.
  • by Jonathan ( 5011 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @08:41AM (#11887309) Homepage
    It might seem to the uninitiated that societies like the IEEE are unbiased on the issue of open access, but they are about as biased about open access as Microsoft is about Linux. The fact is, while being "non-profit", these societies (and particularly their staff), make tons of money off journals. There was a a scandal recently when the head of a similar society, the ACS, was shown to be making $750,000/year. Therefore, they spread FUD about open access. They don't care about science; it's the bottom line they care about, and open access threatens those cushy salaries.

    The standard myths about open access just aren't true. There aren't people doing worthwhile science that can't afford to publish it. Even in the third world scientists are supported by grants. Author payment is the logical way to fund scientific publication. Heck, the IEEE *itself* charges page fees (basically the same thing) for papers published in its conference proceedings (and then turns around and charges twice!) . And it's not like the authors have to pay out of their own pockets -- just like attending conferences, grants can be used. And it's a trivial part of the grant. Typical grants these days are hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions. The $1500 needed to publish a paper in PLoS is a trivial cost compared to the cost of doing science (such as equipment, supplies for experiments, and paying grad student and postdoc salaries). What isn't trivial is the millions of dollars a year a typical university has to pay in journal subscriptions to "closed access" journals. The universities win with open access , the public wins (the get to see what their taxes pay for), the scientists win (more people read their papers) . The only losers are the publishers of closed access journals. Boo hoo hoo!
  • Editors (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DoctorNathaniel ( 459436 ) <> on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @09:46AM (#11887705) Homepage
    While the copy editors may be bad, and while the majority of the reviewing is done by peers, there is still very important jobs that you need good top-level editors for:

    - Throwing out the complete garbage, crackpottery, etc: seeing if the author exists, is at a real institution, etc.

    - Finding people to peer-review the article. This is not easy; it's often difficult to find 3 or 4 good people in the right sub-field who don't actually have a connection to the work. This means the editor has to understand the article to begin with.

    - Dealing with fraud, plagurism, etc. Not easy.

    You want smart, well-educated people for these jobs. And then you still need copy editors, layout, indexing, administration, etc etc, which don't come free.

    Yes, you still need money to run a reputable journal. But it's also clear that it's time for a change, and that the subscription model simply doesn't work very well anymore. What we really need is someone to fund the peer-review process, and then web-based citations, indexing, archiving, and retrieval of articles.
  • by Dashing Leech ( 688077 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @09:53AM (#11887758)
    "In the end the only system that works - is user pays."

    Unfortunately it's not that simple. Many would argue that the 'user pay' systems doesn't work. First, much of the research published is paid for by government grants via taxes, so taxpayers are paying for the "privilege" of reading about research they already paid for themselves. Second, the goal of disseminating research results is the progress of society, so that people can learn from each other's work. With the user pays approach, only the rich or "connected" (e.g., paid for by employer) can afford it. Libraries are an option for some, but not everybody lives near a university, not every university offers public access, and libraries obviously don't have all journals. My former university library stopped getting many journals (too expensive) and instead joined a program where you could order in articles from other libraries for free, as long as you were a grad student at the university.

    I'm not sure there is an ideal model for every case. I know I wouldn't have even a fraction of the papers I've read now if I had to pay for them myself. Citeseer [] has been a big help, and they seem to get by ok. Of course they don't publish their own (just a search for papers with links) and they get funded through sponsors, grants, donations, and have volunteers.

  • by CrazyMik ( 842019 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @09:58AM (#11887787) Journal
    Just opening the coffers is not practical, I know, I used to work on journals for the American Chemical Society. Some have said electronic submission and distribution to reviewers cost nothing, but these are custom made programs that handle this, and what about copy editing, layout, art, graphics. You won't believe the number of low res pictures researchers think can be published. So what to do. There should tiers of subscriptions. For instance, I would love to read papers on certain subjects, so for $5 a month let me look at 2 papers from Journal X (online only). That way, when a article on thin films shows up in JACS (Journal of the American Chemical Society), I could sign up for, inexpensive, occasional access and be happy. But for langumire (which is about films) I could buy the expensive all access pass since I know I would use it. Bundling these would also be good. Say your member ship in ACS or IEEE would give you access to 10 articles a month in whatever journal online. Sounds good to me, would solve some of the problems I believe. Also authors should have unlimited access for ever on their own papers. One more suggestion, if the government really wants articles from gov funded research freely available, I say let the original, un peer reviewed paper be free, and get the final one payed for. Then people woudl see how much work is involved in making them into publishble papers. Also, this might improve the quality of papers submitted. rambled on enough.... Journals are publishing departments outsourced so professors don't have to know how to do it. Its cheaper, more poeple can afford it, and maybe more people will subscribe to journals that are slightly outside their area of expertise to see the
  • by Wills ( 242929 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @10:06AM (#11887841)
    • there is still very important jobs that you need good top-level editors for:

      - Throwing out the complete garbage, crackpottery, etc: seeing if the author exists, is at a real institution, etc.

    These are all things which could be checked very quickly without any editor by peer reviewers.
    • - Finding people to peer-review the article. This is not easy; it's often difficult to find 3 or 4 good people in the right sub-field who don't actually have a connection to the work. This means the editor has to understand the article to begin with.
    The process of finding independent peer-reviewers could itself be well handled by peer review.
    • - Dealing with fraud, plagurism, etc. Not easy.
    Dealing with fraud, plagiarism is the easy part -- identifying it when it occurs is the hard part and editors are usually not the ones who identify fraud and plagiarism - it's peers who spot almost all such problems.
  • by Stephan Schulz ( 948 ) <> on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @10:12AM (#11887883) Homepage
    The review process is by no means free. The peer reviewers have to be specialists in the field the article discusses. Sometimes, there are only two or three such peers world wide and they are just as hard working as the author. If you want them to sit down and think about an article they didn't write for a day, you have to pay them.
    I don't know about esoteric fields, but in computer science, I have never heard about reviewers being paid by anybody. I am very certain that I have not received a cent for the 50 or so reviews I have written in my life. It's just part of the job. You want to get reviewed, so you review yourself.

    I also have rarely encountered copy editors, wether for journals or for conferences. That has changed over the last 15 years or so - my very first journal paper in 1997 was still copy-edited and re-typeset. But that was exotic and rare even back then.

    Editing a journal for content is real work, but again often done for the fame instead of for money.

    I agree with much of the rest, especially with your comments on "author pays" (which sucks).

  • by danila ( 69889 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @10:32AM (#11888109) Homepage
    IEEE clearly makes a big deal of archiving, pretending that it is a very challenging and expensive endevour. But I suspect that if magazines released their works to the public without restrictive copyrights (basically releasing them into public domain) after recoupering somehow their initial costs, then quickly a host of independent archievers would emerge, just like it happened with Wikipedia. These archievers would then take care of distribution, backups, data migration, offline distribution, interface innovations, etc.
  • by OmniGeek ( 72743 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @11:06AM (#11888478)
    The perception of the journal business as a parasitic racket is bolstered by the phenomenon of authors having to pay per-page charges to get articles published in these very expensive publications. Reminds me of the pharmaceutical industry...

    Yes, there is a need for someone, somehow, to finance the organized peer-review and publication of scientific articles. However, I flatly refuse to accept the proposition that $1500/year subscriptions and author-paid page charges are a good way to do this. Free interchange of information is essential to science; academic publishers on the present model, however, are NOT.

    The IEEE, based on my reading of the article in the dead-tree newsletter, is worried that they'll be innovated out of the academic publishing business, and they cannot imagine what will supplant it. This is a frankly bizarre attitude for an organization dedicated to technical advancement.
    Of course, as an IEEE member, I've seen a great deal of bizarre behavior from IEEE HQ.
  • First Uesrs Pay (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TomRC ( 231027 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @11:30AM (#11888743)
    Have the first person who "must read it" pay $100, the second $50, then $25, $15, $15 - about $200 net after credit card processing costs. Or whatever rate they figure out will be most likely to cover their costs.

    If there's no one out there that needs the article enough to pay $100, it probably wasnt worth writing. If an author thinks what they've written is important enough, they can pay the "opening cost" to get it available for free.

    Finally, IEEE should encourage companies to sponsor articles - it's a cheap way to get their name embedded into the text of an article forever, winning a little goodwill from everyone who reads the article for free.
  • by reptilicus ( 605251 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2005 @04:49PM (#11893114)
    As an editor, you'd think I'd know better.

    --- Of course, good journals reject a lot of papers, but the journal editors themselves do not review any of them---

    Sorry, you're wrong. I'm an editor with a scientific journal. I read (or one of my co-editors reads) every single paper that comes across our doorstep. We have to make a decision on every single submission--does it go out to reviewers, or is it rejected unreviewed. As I asked before, if a journal is rejecting 90% of submissions unreviewed (which is a solid number for a decent journal), that means if you eliminate the editors, your workload just went up 10X per journal you review for. Do you have that kind of spare time?

    ---I am a research scientist and I know what the workload of reviewing papers is like; most of my colleagues spend on average at most a few hours per week on reviewing activities---

    So you have 20-30 hours to spare? What about the time you'll be spending finding reviewers for papers, or chasing down late reviews? Now how about the time refereeing between authors and reviewers as to what changes are reasonable to request? Don't forget all the time you'll be spending proofreading and copyediting (nomenclature alone is gonna take you a while).

    Sorry you won't be getting any research done.

    ---I expect all scientific publishers will eventually be forced to adapt to the inevitable change to various forms of open-access publishing, whether they like it or not, because it is being demanded by the end users (the researchers) who, afterall, provide the publishers with free raw materials and free reviewing labour---

    1) I think we're more likely to see a compromise, something in between like what's happening now where journals make papers free to access after 6 months. You can't replace a successful system until you have something else that will work as well. So far, open access does not work as well.

    2) In my field, it's only a tiny vocal minority who really seems to care about such things. If you asked most scientists if they'd rather have everything be free, sure, they'd like that. But they're not adamant about it, nor are they spending a lot of their time worrying about it. They've got more important things to do with their time, like their careers. It doesn't make much difference to them whether they're going to have to spend $3000 to subscribe to a journal, or spend that same $3000 to get a paper published in an open access journal. They're out $3000 either way.

    --- It may come as a shock to some publishers, but that will not change the outcome or the reviewing workload one iota.---

    But it will drive the smaller journals out of business, and drive more power into the hands of the big conglomerates who can weather the storm.

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe