Research Article: Open Access and Scientific Societies

Date Published: May 11, 2004

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Helen Doyle, Andy Gass, Rebecca Kennison

Abstract: Societies are encouraged to consider their own open-access experiments within the context of the communities they serve.

Partial Text: This is the second in a series of three editorials that aim to address recurring concerns about the benefits and risks associated with open-access publishing in medicine and the biological sciences.

The confluence of forces in favor of open access says nothing about its fiscal implications for scientific societies. As any systemic change in research or publishing would, the movement toward open access has generated concern about its ramifications for the scholarly associations that often serve as the backbones of scientific communities. However, the strength of those societies and their essential role in the communities they serve are precisely what should allay fears about the revenue-eroding effect that some argue would plague societies if they converted their traditional subscription-based journals to open access.

There are a number of societies that have already begun to take transitional steps to wean themselves from subscription revenues. One of the earliest societies to commit to open-access publication, the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) has since 1996 provided the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) freely online and recently reaffirmed its commitment to open access: “The financing having been resolved, through author charges and other means,” John Hawley, the executive director of the ASCI writes, “the JCI hopefully can bring the greatest benefit to its authors and readers, regardless of who they might be. It is in this spirit that the JCI has always been free online, and will remain so” (Hawley 2003).

Reaching a “steady-state” system of open-access publishing by scientific societies will require three critical components: recognition that open access serves societies’ members and missions; diversified revenue streams not solely dependent on subscription or site-license fees; and society publishers’ making use of recent innovations in journal production and dissemination, which can dramatically reduce the costs of publishing. It is, after all, the increased efficiencies born of new technologies—from the Internet itself to electronic journal management systems—that have made the idea of open access possible. And while proponents of open access are confident that publication charges of around $1,500 per article will be sufficient to cover the costs of publishing an efficiently operated society journal, there is no question that many existing journals may need to update their infrastructure in order to make open access financially viable (PLoS 2004).



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