Publishers Roll out Alternative Routes to Open Access

  • 2020-03-11
  • Science

In the push for “open access” (OA)—making scientific papers immediately free to everyone—it’s easy to forget that publishing costs haven’t vanished. They have simply shifted from subscriptions paid mostly by university librarians to fees charged to authors. Those article-processing fees (APCs), which can be several thousand dollars per paper, raise concerns of their own. Universities fear they could end up paying more to help their scientists publish their work than they do now for subscriptions.

Now, two nonprofit publishers of prominent journals have debuted new ways to support OA journals without shifting the burden entirely to authors.

One approach, called Subscribe to Open and implemented today by Annual Reviews, would transform the nature of subscriptions. To make a journal freely available, institutions would be asked for a contribution equivalent to their previous subscription—minus a 5% discount that Annual Reviews is offering to retain a critical mass of paying institutions.

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) launched a different approach earlier this year. ACM is asking the institutions that publish the most papers in its 59 journals to pay more than they do now for subscriptions—in some cases about 10 times as much, or $100,000 per year. The higher fees will allow all researchers at participating universities to publish an unlimited number of papers in ACM journals without paying APCs.

Universities are also starting to embrace the ACM model. In January, several that produce the most ACM papers, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University, signed 3-year deals that lock in the higher payments. (Carnegie Mellon publishes more articles in ACM journals than any other publisher’s.) ACM is optimistic more universities will follow.

Even if the models succeed, it’s not clear how widely they would spread. The journals published by Annual Reviews, for instance, are unusual: Although each appears just once a year and contains only review articles, some are among the world’s most highly cited journals, making them must-haves for many libraries.