Open Access News

News from the open access movement


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Spinger-BMC deal could be tipping point for OA

Richard Smith, A great day for science, The Guardian, October 11, 2008.  Smith is a member of PLoS Board of Directors and the former editor of BMJ.  Excerpt:

Earlier this week, overshadowed by the collapsing of banks and largely unnoticed, something happened that is very important for the future of science. Ten years from now, that unnoticed event may prove to be more important than the banking catastrophe.

The event was that a major scientific publisher, Springer Science+Business Media, acquired BioMed Central, one of the first and most important "open access publishers"....

Once all of science is open access as it surely will be eventually then the value of our scientific deposits may be greatly increased: the totality has a value that exceeds the sum of the parts.

BioMed Central has shown that open access publishing can be profitable, and its acquisition by a major publisher means that open access publishing is becoming mainstream. At the moment, fewer than 10% of scientific articles are published open access, but Springer's acquisition may bring us to the tipping point where open access publishing will be the norm.

Other major publishers may have to follow Springer in promoting open access publishing. Eventually the traditional model whereby publishers make money by restricting access to scientific research will surely wither....

Most research is publicly funded, and when the internet appeared it made no sense for research funders to allow publishers to profit from restricting access to their research because the value added by publishers is minimal.

Indeed, publishers arguably subtract value by Balkanising the research. Scientific research is fundamentally different from a thing, a car or a banana, in that ideas can be exchanged and increase exponentially without anybody losing. The more people have access to scientific ideas, the more new ideas....

The Public Library of Science (where I'm now on the board) started as an advocacy organisation but soon became an open access publisher and has been able in a very short time to publish major open access journals that rival the traditional elite of Nature, Science, Cell, and the like. Following hard on the heels of BioMed Central, PLoS will soon be profitable....

Progress has been slow because traditional scientific publishers have resisted. This is unsurprising because publishing science has been enormously profitable, with gross margins of over 50%. The publishers came to own immensely valuable information without having to spend anything on generating the value. Robert Maxwell got rich through publishing science, not newspapers....