Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

IEEE SPS, already green, considers gold

Alfred Hero, Opening Access, Signal Processing Magazine, September 2007 (accessible only to subscribers).  Hero is the President of the IEEE Signal Processing Society (SPS).  Excerpt:

...[O]pen access to electronic media has become prevalent. This is particularly true in the biological and physical sciences where, in some subdisciplines, a veritable open access movement has taken hold. Some learned societies have responded to this movement by making at least a portion of their publications open access. Others have preferred to stay on the sidelines, waiting to see how things shake out. The stakes for an organization like the IEEE SPS are high.

What are the stakes? Our journals are among the most highly ranked in the discipline —for example, in past years, our IEEE Signal Processing Magazine and (cosponsored) IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging have been ranked number one in impact factor among all IEEE publications. Thus, we benefit from significant download activity within our journals on IEEE Xplore. A large part of Society income is derived from fees collected from these downloads. Loss of this income could affect the Society’s operations and our ability to invest in worthy causes and initiatives. On the other hand, if the
Society provided open access to our publications, it would potentially broaden the readership. This could translate into more citations, higher impact factors, and higher visibility. But at what cost?

It costs the Society several thousands of dollars to publish a typical article....Except for IEEE Signal Processing Magazine, which is partially supported by advertiser revenues, annual subscription income and Xplore download revenues have covered the full cost. A sustainable open access system would require a different financial model.

I know of three financial models that have been proposed for electronic open access, yet each has drawbacks, and none are provably sustainable. The author-pays model requires authors to pay all publication costs, shutting out those of insufficient means. The advertiser- pays model depends on “double-click” income, e.g., from pop-up ads on the Web server, a level of commercial intrusion that might be unsavory for some readers. The sponsor-pays model requires the cost of publication to come out of research grants to the author or foundation grants to the publisher, but few sponsors are willing to pay the full costs. A few for-profit publishers have adopted the author-pays model. Several not-for-profit organizations, such as the ArXiv, have adopted the sponsor-pays model. Other not-for-profit publishers have chosen the middle ground of limited open access: access to recent journal issues is restricted to paid subscribers while back issues are available as open access. The IEEE has begun experimenting with limited open access; selected articles in current issues of IEEE Spectrum are freely accessible.

While the IEEE SPS currently has no limited or unlimited open access journals, we are open access friendly. In the spirit of motivating reproducible research, authors of papers in our journals are encouraged to post open access electronic reprints and other supporting materials on their personal Web sites. When our new IEEE SPS Web pages come online in the next few months, you will see several open access features there. For example, the IEEE SPS e-newsletter will be publicly accessible there. Other open access features are being considered. As usual, I welcome your suggestions.


  • First I commend IEEE SPS for its bright green policy --not just permitting author self-archiving, but actively encouraging it. 
  • I also commend it for thinking about gold OA, and for doing so in public.  I appreciate that Hero recognizes three business models for OA journals, not just one (author-side publication fees).  But in fact there are more than three.  As I put it an article last year:  "Some no-fee OA journals have direct or indirect subsidies from institutions like universities, laboratories, research centers, libraries, hospitals, museums, learned societies, foundations, or government agencies.  Some have revenue from a separate line of non-OA publications.  Some have revenue from advertising, auxiliary services, membership dues, endowments, reprints, or a print or premium edition.  Some rely, more than other journals, on volunteerism.  Some undoubtedly use a combination of these means.  But we don't know how many other sources of revenue might be missing from this short list...."
  • Hero is right that OA "would potentially broaden the readership [which]...could translate into more citations, higher impact factors, and higher visibility."  But it would do more:  it would accelerate research on signal processing.