One of the observations that gradually dawned on me as I listened to the presentations made at the Berlin 8 Conference on Open Access was that there was a clear difference between those countries, like the US, where scientific publishing is dominated by commercial publishers and those where the majority of the publishing is still controlled by scholarly societies. Where commercial publishers are the dominant force, open access almost always involves some form of “author pays” model where article processing fees are used to substitute for the perceived loss of subscription income. In those countries, funding for open access is often difficult and controversial.
This model, however, is not the only option for supporting gold open access. Two different speakers reminded the audience that 80% of open access journals do not, in fact, charge article processing fees. Those journals seemed to be largely published by scholarly societies; that was certainly the case for the STM journals published in China, about which Mr. Chu Jingli of the Chinese Academy of Science reported. The support mechanisms for open access journals proved to be much more various once we got away from the scenario where commercial publishers, with their constant need for greater profits, dominated.
Dieter Stein from the University of Dusseldorf gave one example of a suite of successful open access journals in the field of linguistics. Stein is the editor of the e-Language portal for the Linguistics Society of America, which publishes six journals using the Open Journals System. Stein emphasized that neither author nor reader pays for publication in these journals. The society supports open access because it sees substantial benefits from publishing in that way. Stein indicated that the Society had seen a substantial increase in attendance at its annual conference, resulting in increased income, which it attributed to the broader dialogue about linguistics fostered by its OA journals. I was struck by the parallel with the music industry, where providing lower cost, and sometimes no cost, access to recordings has resulted in larger incomes for artists (if not for recording companies) from live appearances.
The clear message in all of this is that we need to think in new ways and realize that there are many alternative business models for scholarly publication. When we are told, as we often are, that “somebody has to pay for open access” we should remember that the unspoken subtext of this comment is usually that “someone has to pay me!” As we examine open access alternatives we must remember that the ultimate goal should be to facilitate the most efficient system of scholarly communications, not support any particular business or business model. The clear message from Berlin 8 was that we need to think outside of traditional boxes, not just about publication as a whole but even about open access support itself.