Back in April we had the announcement that the Wellcome Trust, one of the largest funders of medical research, had launched a free online platform to distribute academic papers. As the Financial Times pointed out, this could really shake things up within the world of academic publishing.
Now we have an official government announcement that the UK has decided to make academic research available for free on the internet. Now you’re talking. This could be highly disruptive for the publishing industry which has long come under fire for the high prices users have to pay for access to articles the publishers have obtained for free covering what, in many cases, is publicly funded research. That said, the FT does point out that top academics do enjoy the prestige that comes with publishing their peer-reviewed papers in such journals as Nature and The Lancet.
The new idea is more fully explained in a Guardian article. Challenge 1: how to allow free access without undermining the value, such as peer review, provided by the publishers? Challenge 2: how do you fund this?
A well-known sticking point – the “researcher pays” model – which I first encountered at a Royal Society meeting over a decade ago and still much debated, is that if research funders have to pay open access journals in advance, what happens to individual researchers who can’t afford to pay? There are many more issues and it will be interesting to see how the government report will address them.
I’ll bet university librarians up and down the land will be discussing this over the coming months, while eagerly awaiting the publication of Dame Janet Finch’s report.