Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Macmillan CEO comments on the hybrid model

Richard Charkin, Of this and that, Charkin blog, September 4, 2006.  Charkin is the CEO of Macmillan, the parent company of Nature.  Excerpt:

Some interesting statistics from Oxford University Press about the reaction to their open access experiment for publication in the journals they publish. In essence they offer authors whose research has been accepted for publication the option of paying 1500 (or 800 if their institution already subscribes to the online version of the journal in question) to have their paper made available absolutely free to anyone in the world. Open access is being encouraged by a number of research-funding organisations and this 'mixed-economy' response is clever. OUP benefit from being seen to be scholar-friendly, they earn money from the author fees, they encourage institutional subscriptions and they still retain the vast bulk of their subscription income. They are also seen to be transparent in publishing the results of the experiment widely. However, none of this answers the fundamental question of why paying for publication is likely to result in better scientific literature than the existing subscriber sytem. Time will tell and it's great to see practical experimentation rather than hypothetical debate.

Comment. Charkin implies that when asking about the value of OA, the question is whether OA improves the quality of the literature.  It isn't.  The question is whether it improves access to the literature, hence the usefulness of the literature, hence the productivity of researchers and the pace of research.  Using a legible font doesn't improve the quality of the literature, but it's an obvious way to make literature more useful regardless of its quality.  That's what OA does.

There are subtle ways in which OA can improve the quality of literature, e.g. by removing incentives to compromise on peer review.  But we don't have to reach those in order to understand how OA makes every kind of literature more useful.  When Nature authors self-archive their articles (which Nature permits), the articles are more useful than they were before, even though they have not changed in quality.