The announcement this week that Yale University will no longer maintain its membership in BioMed Central is another example of the growing pains involved as scholar publishing adapts itself to new business models and forms of distribution.
BioMed Central is an open access publisher that relies on author fees and institutional memberships to pay the cost of online publishing. The resulting 180 peer-reviewed electronic journals are freely available to all users. But open access is not free, and Yale decided to withdraw its institutional membership, which covered the fees for all articles published in BioMed Central journals by Yale authors, because the price was getting too high. In one sense, this is good news for open access publishing; it means that lots of authors from this prestigious university are publishing in BioMed Central journals. Clearly quality, peer-reviewed scholarship is compatible with open access. In its response to the news from Yale, BioMed Central points out that costs have risen because the journals have grown and asserts that, on a cost-per-article basis, its journals still represent good value.
Open access based on author fees is an important aspect of the movement toward new models of scholarly publishing, but it is just one model of how OA can be accomplished. The Yale decision offers a good chance to comment on the variety of publishing models with which authors and publishers are experimenting by pointing out this article on “The Nine Flavours of Open Access Scholarship” by John Willinsky, which is itself published in an open access journal. Willinsky categorizes the various flavors (his spelling is different because he is a Canadian), including the “author fees” model and the “dual mode” model practiced by the Journal of Post Graduate Medicine, which published his article. This brief article is also a good introduction to Willinsky’s superb monograph on “The Access Principle,” where he develops the economic, social and scholarly arguments for open access and also expands his list to include ten “flavours.” Yale is not happy with the economics of one particular kind of OA (although it is keeping its membership in the Public Library of Science, another important OA publisher using author’s fees), but there are many more options to experiment with.
UPDATE — Presumably BioMed Central is feeling better these days, with the announcement (August 20) that the second largest funder of biomedical research in the US, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has joined BMC and will pay the costs for publishing all the research articles it funds in open access form.