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Academic journal publishing reform refers to advocacy for changes in the way academic journals are created and distributed in the age of the Internet and the advent of electronic publishing. Since the rise of the Internet, people have organized campaigns to change the relationships among and between academic authors, their traditional distributors and their readership. Most of the discussion has centered on taking advantage of benefits offered by the Internet's capacity for widespread distribution of reading material.
Before the advent of the Internet it was difficult for scholars to distribute articles giving their research results. Historically publishers performed services including proofreading, typesetting, copy editing, printing, and worldwide distribution. In modern times all researchers became expected to give the publishers digital copies of their work which needed no further processing. For digital distribution printing was unnecessary, copying was free, and worldwide distribution happens online instantly. In science journal publishing, Internet technology enabled the four major scientific publishers—Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, and Informa—to cut their expenditures such that they could consistently generate profits which exceed a third of their revenue.
The Internet made it easier for researchers to do work which had previously been done by publishers, and some people began to feel that they did not need to pay for the services of publishers. This perception was a problem for publishers, who stated that their services were still necessary at the rates they asked. Critics began to describe publishers' practices with terms such as "corporate scam" and "racket". Scholars sometimes obtain articles from fellow scholars through unofficial channels, such as posting requests on Twitter using the hashtag "#icanhazpdf" (a play on the I Can Has Cheezburger? meme), to avoid paying publishers' access charges.
Although it has some historical precedent, open access became desired in response to the advent of electronic publishing as part of a broader desire for academic journal publishing reform. Electronic publishing created new benefits as compared to paper publishing but beyond that, it contributed to causing problems in traditional publishing models.
The premises behind open access are that there are viable funding models to maintain traditional academic publishing standards of quality while also making the following changes to the field:
Open access also has ambitions beyond merely granting access to academic publications, as access to research is only a tool for helping people achieve other goals. Open access advances scholarly pursuits in the fields of open data, open government, open educational resources, free and open-source software, and open science, among others.
The motivations for academic journal publishing reform include the ability of computers to store large amounts of information, the advantages of giving more researchers access to preprints, and the potential for interactivity between researchers.
Various studies showed that the demand for open access research was such that freely available articles consistently had impact factors which were higher than articles published under restricted access.
Some universities reported that modern "package deal" subscriptions were too costly for them to maintain, and that they would prefer to subscribe to journals individually to save money.
The problems which led to discussion about academic publishing reform have been considered in the context of what provision of open access might provide. Here are some of the problems in academic publishing which open access advocates purport that open access would address:
Publishers state that if profit was not a consideration in the pricing of journals then the cost of accessing those journals would not substantially change. Publishers also state that they add value to publications in many ways, and without academic publishing as an institution these services the readership would miss these services and fewer people would have access to articles.
Critics of open access have suggested that by itself, this is not a solution to scientific publishing’s most serious problem – it simply changes the paths through which ever-increasing sums of money flow. Evidence for this does exist and for example, Yale University ended its financial support of BioMed Central’s Open Access Membership program effective July 27, 2007. In their announcement, they stated,
The libraries’ BioMedCentral membership represented an opportunity to test the technical feasibility and the business model of this open access publisher. While the technology proved acceptable, the business model failed to provide a viable long-term revenue base built upon logical and scalable options. Instead, BioMedCentral has asked libraries for larger and larger contributions to subsidize their activities. Starting with 2005, BioMed Central article charges cost the libraries $4,658, comparable to single biomedicine journal subscription. The cost of article charges for 2006 then jumped to $31,625. The article charges have continued to soar in 2007 with the libraries charged $29,635 through June 2007, with $34,965 in potential additional article charges in submission.
A similar situation is reported from the University of Maryland, and Phil Davis commented that,
The assumptions that open access publishing is both cheaper and more sustainable than the traditional subscription model are featured in many of these mandates. But they remain just that — assumptions. In reality, the data from Cornell show just the opposite. Institutions like the University of Maryland would pay much more under an author-pays model, as would most research-intensive universities, and the rise in author processing charges (APCs) rivals the inflation felt at any time under the subscription model.
Opponents of the open access model see publishers as a part of the scholarly information chain and view a pay-for-access model as being necessary in ensuring that publishers are adequately compensated for their work. "In fact, most STM [Scientific, Technical and Medical] publishers are not profit-seeking corporations from outside the scholarly community, but rather learned societies and other non-profit entities, many of which rely on income from journal subscriptions to support their conferences, member services, and scholarly endeavors". Scholarly journal publishers that support pay-for-access claim that the "gatekeeper" role they play, maintaining a scholarly reputation, arranging for peer review, and editing and indexing articles, require economic resources that are not supplied under an open access model. Conventional journal publishers may also lose customers to open access publishers who compete with them. The Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM), a lobbying organization formed by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), is opposed to the open access movement. PRISM and AAP have lobbied against the increasing trend amongst funding organizations to require open publication, describing it as "government interference" and a threat to peer review.
For researchers, publishing an article in a reputable scientific journal is perceived as being beneficial to one's reputation among scientific peers and in advancing one's academic career. There is a concern that the perception of open access journals do not have the same reputation, which will lead to less publishing. Park and Qin discuss the perceptions that academics have with regard to open access journals. One concern that academics have "are growing concerns about how to promote [Open Access] publishing." Park and Qin also state, "The general perception is that [Open Access] journals are new, and therefore many uncertainties, such as quality and sustainability, exist."
Journal article authors are generally not directly financially compensated for their work beyond their institutional salaries and the indirect benefits that an enhanced reputation provides in terms of institutional funding, job offers, and peer collaboration.
There are those, for example PRISM, who think that open access is unnecessary or even harmful. David Goodman argued that there is no need for those outside major academic institutions to have access to primary publications, at least in some fields.
The argument that publicly funded research should be made openly available has been countered with the assertion that "taxes are generally not paid so that taxpayers can access research results, but rather so that society can benefit from the results of that research; in the form of new medical treatments, for example. Publishers claim that 90% of potential readers can access 90% of all available content through national or research libraries, and while this may not be as easy as accessing an article online directly it is certainly possible." The argument for tax-payer funded research is only applicable in certain countries as well. For instance in Australia, 80% of research funding comes through taxes, whereas in Japan and Switzerland, only approximately 10% is from the public coffers.
For various reasons open access journals have been established by predatory publishers who seek to use the model to make money without regard to producing a quality journal. The causes of predatory open access publishing include the low barrier to creating the appearance of a legitimate digital journal and funding models which may include author publishing costs rather than subscription sales. Research reviewer Jeffrey Beall publishes a "List of Predatory Publishers" and an accompanying methodology for identifying publishers who have editorial and financial practices which are contrary to the ideal of good research publishing practices.
The Public Library of Science is a nonprofit open-access scientific publishing project aimed at creating a library of open access journals and other scientific literature under an open content license. The founding of the organization had its origins in a 2001 online petition calling for all scientists to pledge that from September 2001 they would discontinue submission of papers to journals which did not make the full-text of their papers available to all, free and unfettered, either immediately or after a delay of several months. The petition collected 34,000 signatures but the publishers took no strong response to the demands. Shortly thereafter, the Public Library of Science was founded as an alternative to traditional publishing.
HINARI is a 2002 project of the World Health Organization and major publishers to enable developing countries to access collections of biomedical and health literature online at reduced subscription costs.
The Research Works Act was a bill of the United States Congress which would have prohibited all laws which would require an open access mandate when US-government-funded researchers published their work. The proposers of the law stated that it would "ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector". Critics of the law stated that it was the moment that "academic publishers gave up all pretence of being on the side of scientists." In February 2012, Elsevier withdrew its support for the bill. Following this statement, the sponsors of the bill announced they will also withdraw their support.
The Cost of Knowledge is a campaign begun in 2012 specifically targeting the scientific publishing company Elsevier. It was begun by a group of prominent mathematicians who each made a commitment to not participate in publishing in Elsevier's journals.
Access2Research is a 2012 United States-based campaign in which open access advocates appealed to the United States government to require that taxpayer-funded research be made available to the public under open licensing.
PeerJ is an open-access journal launched in 2012 that charges publication fees per researcher, not per article, resulting in what has been called "a flat fee for 'all you can publish'".
Since 1998, PKP has been developing free open source software platforms for managing and publishing peer-reviewed open access journals and monographs, with Open Journal Systems used by more than 7,000 active journals in 2013.
Research Works Act