Updates on NIH Public Access

It seems like a good time to collect some of the interesting news items coming out lately about the NIH Public Access Policy, which has now been mandatory for just over 4 months. Most of these items come from Peter Suber’s Open Access News blog, to whom we direct a sweeping tip of the hat.

First is the important clarification that NIH issued about how author submission occurs. In greatly simplified language, the NIH outlined four methods by which submission can happen — publication in a journal that has an agreement to put all of its contents in PMC, arrangements with the publisher for deposit of a specific article, self-deposit of the article, or completion of the deposit process when the publisher has sent the final peer-reviewed manuscript to PMC. For more details, see the NIH policy home page.

Next came this report in Library Journal that submissions to PubMed Central have more than doubled in the six months since the mandatory policy was passed by Congress.

Then last week Oxford University Press announced that it would begin depositing articles that are funded by NIH for authors. In effect, this means that Oxford authors will be selecting the fourth of the methods NIH has identified, which is much easier for Oxford authors than the self-deposit on which they had to rely up till now.

Finally there is this note from Library Journal Academic Newswire, which both reports on the OUP decision and notes that NIH is confirming the fact that most journals which handle deposit for the authors are selecting a twelve month embargo on the articles, the longest embargo currently permitted by law.

Taken together, I think these reports indicate two things. First, the Public Access Policy is working, by which I mean that public access to bio-medical research is increasing dramatically without creating any real danger to the publishing industry. The announcement by OUP that they would cooperate in depositing articles indicates that publishers are coming to terms with the requirement and accepting it. Even the news that most publishers elect the 12 month embargo is a sign of growing accommodation; that overly-long embargo provides even the most skittish publishers enough security to adapt to the growing open access movement. Shorter embargoes are undoubtedly sufficient to protect publisher revenues, but the move to those shorter delays will have to take place gradually, as more and more publishers realize that, whatever the threats to their traditional business models are, NIH Public Access is not one of them.

Second, I hope that we are seeing an awakening realization on the part of scholarly authors that they have genuine choices as they consider how to disseminate their work. The soaring PMC submission rate, and the decisions by major publishers not to resist it, suggest that making submission easier for authors is rapidly becoming a competitive advantage. As authors realize that they have control over their work for as long as they retain copyright ownership, publishers might have to take on a service role they have never really played before, competing for the best scholarship by help authors meet the requirements of the funders who underwrite the research.