The Open Access Movement—Simple In Concept Yet Not Without Its Challenges
This week is Open Access Week—an annual global event to promote adoption of Open Access as a new norm in scholarly research. At K4Health, we are pleased to contribute to the Open Access movement particularly through our new peer-reviewed, open-access online journal, Global Health: Science and Practice (GHSP), which we’re expecting to launch in January 2013.
Open Access is a simple concept: Make results of research and other scholarly works freely available online and allow readers to use and reuse that information without restriction.
The goal of Open Access is rational: Reducing barriers to accessing information has the potential to speed up the pace of scientific discovery and encourage innovation. In some places, where there is a shortage of up-to-date and accurate information as in many low- and middle-income countries, removing those access barriers can literally mean the difference between life and death.
This summer, the UK government announced a new policy, based on recommendations from “the Finch Report,” that will require, by 2014, publicly funded scientific research to be made available for anyone to read for free. Some research funders have similar requirements, for example, the Wellcome Trust expects authors to make their results available for free by submitting full-text versions to PubMed Central within 6 months of publication. The U.S. National Institutes of Health also requires scientists to submit their articles to PubMed Central within 12 months of publication.
But as I help get the GHSP Journal up and running, I’m starting to see just how complex the implementation of Open Access can be for some journals.
Most journals want to be responsive to these Open Access requirements; many journal publishers are not-for-profit and agree that broader access to literature is a good thing. But they have the tough job of figuring out how to make this work in a sustainable way.
For starters, they have to decide what kind of Open Access options to provide authors. Generally, there are two routes for making an article Open Access:
- Gold Open Access: Publish the article in an Open Access journal. You can think of this as the publisher-provided Open Access route. Examples of Open Access journals include the Public Library of Science (PLOS) and BioMed Central. GHSP is also a Gold Open Access journal, but one of the things that sets us apart is we don’t charge authors fees to publish their articles in our journal.
- Green Open Access: Publish in any journal but the author also then deposits the full-text article for free public use in an institutional or central repository, such as PubMed Central. This is viewed as the author-provided route.
But then there are hybrid models, in which a traditional subscription-based journal will make individual articles Open Access if the article authors (or their institutions/funders) pay an Open Access publishing fee. That fee can range from US$20 to $3800 per article but averages around US$900, according to an (open access) article published yesterday in BioMed Central.
And article processing charges are just the tip of the iceberg. I was at a HighWire Journal Publishers’ Meeting yesterday (HighWire is the online platform that will be hosting our new GHSP journal) and learned that journal publishers also struggle with issues around licensing laws. What kind of license should journals assign to their articles? For example, a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license that allows others to distribute and build upon the work, even commercially, as long as the original work is credited, or a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial (CC BY-NC) license that only allows others to build upon your work for non-commercial purposes? The choice of the licensing law affects reprint revenue for journals, which could mean that they have to institute higher article processing charges. But if the journal is making revenue from more authors paying to make their articles Open Access, then shouldn’t that offset the price of subscriptions somewhat?
Luckily for GHSP, we don’t have to worry too much about these issues. Our goal truly is a simple one—to get practical information about global health program implementation issues into the hands of program planners, managers, and other professionals who otherwise support global health programs. And since we’re funded by USAID, we don’t have to worry about generating revenue. (We do have to show results, of course!)
Our vision is to provide free access to the latest global health best practices, lessons learned, and research findings to improve health programs on the ground. We especially want to encourage program implementers in the field to share their experiences and research with the global health community. There are absolutely no article processing fees for authors to submit and publish their work with GHSP. And there are no charges to readers to access the full-text articles; they will be freely available online immediately with no embargo period. We are applying the broadest Creative Commons license on all articles that allows readers to distribute and build upon the work of the articles with no restrictions, even for commercial purposes, as long as the original source is credited.
We are currently accepting manuscript submissions and expect to launch our first issue in January 2013. Read our Author Guidelines for information about specific types of manuscripts that we’re seeking and subscribe to be notified when the first issue is launched.