Research Article: A Changing Landscape

Date Published: December 22, 2003

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Helen Doyle, Andy Gass, Debra Lappin

Abstract: None

Partial Text: Open-access publication is inarguably valuable to science and to the public, yet skepticism about the long-term sustainability of open-access publications persists (see Nature, October 9, and Science, October 24). While some fear the effects of the open-access model—which shifts revenue streams from subscription fees to publication fees—on scientific societies and others, support for open access among funders is already increasing. Funding agencies that have announced policies supporting open access include the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Wellcome Trust (the largest private biomedical research funders in the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively) and, more recently, the Max Planck Institute, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), and other European agencies.

Many publishers are already exploring ways to increase access to their journals. PLoS Biology is one of many open-access experiments that are now up and running: BioMed Central has created over 100 open-access biomedical journals in the past two years and has recently published its 4,000th original research paper; the Company of Biologists, publisher of Development and other journals, has announced a free-access option supported by author fees; the Journal of Clinical Investigation has been free online to all users for several years; the American Society of Cell Biology has reduced the length of time to release Molecular Biology of the Cell articles to two months without seeing significant reduction in its subscriptions; and a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences survey suggests that the majority of its authors is willing to pay fees above current page charges to publish open-access articles. Many other publishers, from the Entomological Society of America to Oxford University Press, are testing open-access options in various forms.

As an open-access publisher, PLoS intends to maximize the savings and benefits afforded by open-access electronic publishing and collaborate with others to create more open-access journals. Significant savings can be realized by using a fully electronic production system, from presubmission to publication. While we will print and mail PLoS Biology on demand, the primary mode of publication for PLoS journals will be electronic, allowing enormous savings on printing and distribution. Because all our journals will be open access, we avoid the significant costs associated with subscription management.

Funders, librarians, scientists, members of industry, and of course publishers must ensure that open-access experiments proliferate—and, in time, open-access publications will no longer be seen as experimental. The readers who take advantage of open-access publications must share their excitement about the opportunity to access the latest scientific and medical discoveries. For they, like the pioneering authors who have chosen to publish in PLoS Biology and other open-access journals, fuel this movement. The tens of thousands of people who downloaded what the New York Times referred to as the “Monkey Think, Robot Do” paper (“Learning to Control a Brain—Machine Interface for Reaching and Grasping by Primates” by Carmena et al.) in its first three days online are simply the immediate and measurable beneficiaries of open access. What happens next is something to watch.



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