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Heading for the open road: costs and benefits of transitions in scholarly communication

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The Publishers Association (PA) has welcomed the publication of this study on enhancing access to research papers as an authoritative contribution to the debate around the future of scholarly communication.

The research was commissioned by the Research Information Network (RIN), the Publishing Research Consortium (PRC), the Wellcome Trust, Research Libraries UK (RLUK) and JISC from Cambridge Economic Policy Associates and Mark Ware Consulting. The PA, through PRC, was represented on the steering group for this project, which is timely given the renewed energy currently applied to the open agenda and scrutiny of Higher Education budgets.

The project looks from an economic perspective at five possible routes to enhancing access, and assesses the costs, benefits, opportunities and risks that each entails. Crucially, and unlike all previous studies, the report examines the costs and risks of transition to, as well as the benefits of arrival at, a more open world. This is a closely researched and elegantly summarised study of a complex set of interactions that merits careful reading. It can be read as a UK cost-benefit analysis, and the authors stress that it is essentially an exercise in comparisons and sensitivities rather than absolute values.

The report concludes that there are benefits to be gained from open access, especially from a concerted policy in favour of the ‘gold’ (author/ funder-pays) route, but at a pace in step with developments globally. It suggests that prudent policy makers should also encourage the use of the existing ‘green’ infrastructure of repositories, on which considerable sums have already been invested, but not to push for reductions in embargo periods to the point where the sustainability of the underlying publishing model (on which the green route depends, having no business case of its own) is undermined. It also points to the high risks associated with the green route, which may not be self-sustaining.

The report is careful to point out that, despite the benefits, none of the scenarios modelled resulted in cost savings for the UK, except through take up of the gold (author/ funder pays) option at lower APCs (article processing charges) lower than a weighted average of around £2,000. This would still leave scope for higher charges by flagship journals with higher rejection rates.

The report avoids the common error of conflating open access with e-only journals. There are considerable cost savings to be made for all stakeholders from e-only journals whatever the business model, especially if the issue of higher VAT charged on e-journals can be resolved. Publishers are fully supportive of any initiative to leverage the transition to full e-only delivery.

UK publishers are eager to support the government in optimising the impact of UK research outcomes, and The PA is proposing a collaborative process to move forward on these opportunities involving senior representatives of UK research (researchers, universities, funders and publishers). Publishers invest in vital services for the research community, and we want to offer scaleable, sustainable and cost-effective solutions towards the goal of universal access. This report offers valuable insights into how that goal might be achieved.

Any questions or comments on the PA position should be directed to Graham Taylor, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .