Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Competition for fee funding

Philip Davis, Paying for Open Access Publication Charges, Scholarly Kitchen, April 30, 2009.  Excerpt:

...The [RIN report on Paying for open access publication charges] first covers why central funds are necessary for funding publication fees [at fee-based OA journals]....

[B]ut the devil is always in the details, and I was particularly interested to see how the report would approach governance of these central pots of publication money, among them:

  1. Who gets to make the funding decisions?
  2. How does one determine financial support when articles include authors from other institutions?
  3. How does one establish priority for funding competing requests if funds become limited? And most importantly,
  4. How does one deal with appeals when funding requests are denied?

The report provides no answers to these questions except that each institution needs to address them.  Questions #1 and #2 are the easiest of the bunch.  Beware of #3 and #4.

The function of publication is not merely to disseminate research results — publication also serves as a way to evaluate faculty for promotion and tenure.  Those who deny a publication fund request must understand the implications of their decision on the career path of the authors.  The time during which a new faculty member must establish a track record in the literature is terrifyingly short.  A denied publication can impact the tenure decision of a junior faculty member.  Even the delay incurred over an appeal should not be taken lightly.

Unfortunately, I have read no open access publication policy that addresses these important issues:

[M]any library administrators are pushing for these author funds, and in many cases, the monies are simply being skimmed off existing library collection funds or were provided as a one-time gift from a Vice Chancellor before the economy took a nosedive.   As the RIN report states on page 23, there is clearly not enough money to support both author-pays and subscription-pays models.

If use of these author funds takes off, prepare for some road rage.

Comment.  Davis is right that universities launching these funds should be designing procedures to deal with appeals and conflicts.  If the demand on the funds is low today, it may grow steadily over time, just as the number of funds continues to grow.  He has raised these issues before (1, 2), and I responded to an earlier version this way:

I concede that these scenarios are ugly, but I still want universities to join foundations in their willingness to pay author-side fees, and to start thinking about allocation procedures that faculty will accept as fair....

[Note that] to the extent that no-fee OA journals spread, universities will not have to pay author-side fees or adjudicate disputes between rival professors applying for limited funds....

The problems may be tractable:  after all, libraries currently pay more (much more) for journals in some disciplines than others without triggering campus wars.  Or they might be as difficult and ugly as [Davis] predicted....