Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More on the return of FRPAA

Randy Dotinga, Open Access Launches Journal Wars, Wired News, March 14, 2007.  Excerpt:

The $10 billion science publishing industry hasn't heard the last of a bill that would make publicly funded studies available for free.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has pledged this year to resurrect the Federal Research Public Access Act (S.2695), which would require federally funded research to become publicly available online within six months of being published.

"When it's the taxpayers that are underwriting projects in the federal government, they deserve to access the very things they're paying for," said Cornyn spokesman Brian Walsh. "This research is funded by American taxpayers and conducted by researchers funded by public institutions. But it's not widely available." ...

Groups including the Alliance for Taxpayer Access are rallying behind the bill. And the student organization has declared February 15 National Day for Open Access in support of the bill.

In response, publishers have hired Dezenhall Resources, a public relations firm famous for its aggressive tactics in high-profile cases, to disparage aspects of open source publishing.

According to e-mails obtained by Nature in January, the public relations firm advised the publishers to emphasize simple messages like "public access equals government censorship" and "paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles."

Critics say money is the publishers' main concern: "They want to preserve their profits," said Gunther Eysenbach, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and publisher of the open-access Journal of Medical Internet Research. "That's their prerogative, being commercial publishers."

But the publishers say there's more to it. They warn that government interference will harm science....

The bill would apply to only federally funded research, but that's more than half the research in science journals, and up to 30 percent of in clinical journals (the rest is mostly paid for by pharmaceutical companies), according to Peter Banks, a publishing consultant and former publisher of medical journals in Fairfax, Virginia.

Some journals are embracing the open model -- which might make the looming bill all the more worrisome. Since 2000, some publications have made their (also peer-reviewed) contents available to the public for free. They now make up as much as 10 percent of all research journals.

Some, such as those published by BioMed Central and Public Library of Science, have become well-respected. "A few years ago, publishing in open access would be a radical thing to do," said Matthew Cockerill, publisher of BioMed Central. Now, "there are many fields where open-access journals lead the way." ...

After about seven years in the business, the for-profit BioMed Central expects to break even this year....

According to tax records, the Public Library of Science had a deficit of $975,000 in 2005 and spent $5.47 million. Its total revenue was $4.49 million.

By contrast, The New England Journal of Medicine made $44 million in 2005, $30 million from advertising and $14 million from subscriptions, according to Advertising Age. And its rival, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, clocked in with $39 million in revenue, $33.2 million from advertising and $5.8 million from subscriptions.

How much damage could open access cause? Even if federal legislation passes, the journals could still sell subscriptions -- many scientists don't want to wait six months before seeing the latest finding.

Indeed, "for big journals, it's probably not a terrible risk," Banks said. "For someone like The New England Journal of Medicine or JAMA, I don't think many people are going to cancel their subscriptions because they're freely available after six months."

But more obscure journals published less than once a week, Banks said, could find themselves losing subscriptions. "That's the basis of the publishers' worries."