Open Access Publishing: The Future of Scholarly Journal Publishing
There has been a growing perception over the past decade that the public, and the progress of scholarship in many disciplines, would be better served if peer-reviewed scholarly publications and data were distributed online so that they can be openly accessed and built upon, rather than through exclusive publishing agreements that restrict access and reuse. This perception has led to the emergence of policies that encourage or mandate open-access publishing, such as recent requirements by the National Institutes of Health, the European Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust.
At the same time, the continued shift towards an information economy has brought with it an increasing tendency to view scholarly writings through the lens of intellectual property, and there has been a concomitant heightening of concerns about copyright and licensing in academe. Alongside this has come an enormous increase in the cost of institutional subscriptions for scholarly journals in many disciplines, and an increasing imposition of licensing terms that restrict the reuse of scholarly works in teaching and research.
As faculty members at one of the world's premier academic institutions, we all have an enormous stake in how our scholarly contributions are published and disseminated.
In September 2008, Faculty Chair Bish Sanyal appointed an MIT Faculty Ad-hoc Committee on Open Access Publishing to coordinate a faculty-wide discussion of how our scholarly publications are and should be disseminated, with particular attention to the possibility of providing "open access" to those publications. The intent is for the faculty to discuss these issues in the fall and, if support for an open-access policy is established, for the Committee to draft a resolution to come before the faculty in the spring.
Committee members will be visiting departments over the coming weeks to explain the issues and receive feedback from the faculty. The Committee has also created a Website to provide background materials and to allow the faculty to submit comments. The purpose of this article is to provide a basis for a broad discussion by outlining the situation facing the MIT community.
In the Committee's view:
Following is a list that briefly summarizes some aspects of the present scholarly publishing system that can pose problems for some MIT faculty.
1. As scholars, many of us would like to make our work as widely available as possible, and the Internet facilitates this distribution at low cost. But this desire conflicts with the business models of some of the publishers who control the major journals in several fields and who limit access to those who pay fees.
2. Access restrictions and publication agreements may prohibit faculty members from distributing their own work even to students and colleagues. Authors might even be restricted from reusing figures and tables from their own articles. Legally, these writings are no longer theirs, once they have transferred copyright to a publisher.
3. Scholarly publishing has become subject to business consolidation, and monopoly pricing is becoming an increasing problem. The five largest journal publishers now account for over half of total market revenues. Over the past 15 years, the price of scholarly journals has grown roughly three times as fast as the Consumer Price Index, and library budgets, even at premier institutions, are straining under these pressures. One consequence has been a challenge to libraries' continued ability to purchase the books and monographs that are the major form of scholarly writing in some fields and to subscribe to new journals.
The figure shows the impact at MIT since 1986: While the Consumer Price Index has risen about 85%, expenditures on serials have risen more than 350%. In contrast, expenditures on books have tracked the CPI, and the numbers of books and serials purchased have remained comparatively constant.
4. Libraries pay fees for annual access to digital serials. If a journal subscription is terminated, the university and its faculty can lose access to prior issues even though these issues were "published" when the subscription was active.
5. In the digital environment, search, advanced indexing, and automated textual analysis are emerging as important tools for scholarship. Many publisher contracts with libraries explicitly prohibit these activities, with publishers beginning to offer these services as lucrative premium "extras."
Certainly there is much here to ponder as we consider appropriate MIT Faculty responses.
Please visit the comment site. We look forward to important and stimulating discussions!