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The Open Access movement

August 16, 2010

Concept, story and status quo

In our last Thursday’s post, we discussed the emerging tendency of research and researchers opening their minds to the mass of people by going social. Now, we ask the question: have they been “open-minded” enough yet within the academics circle?

Research “knows no boundary.” However, traditional publishers of research papers and articles have created and maintained the boundaries between their subscribers and non-subscribers, which resembles the traditional mass media. While the traditional mass media have undergone a dramatic wave of going open pushed by the pervasive Internet and Electronic publishing technologies, the academic publishers has done a fairly “good” job of holding their ground, reaping money from their subscriptions.

Concept — Open Access

Recently, an Open Access movement across almost all research disciplines is going gangbusters. Open Access (OA) means that electronic scholarly articles are available freely at the point of use. OA can be provided in two ways:

  • Green OA: provided by authors publishing in any journal and then self-archiving their postprints in their institutional repository or on some other OA website. Green OA journal publishers endorse immediate OA self-archiving by their authors;
  • Gold OA: provided by authors publishing in an open access journal that provides immediate OA to all of its articles on the publisher’s website. (Hybrid open access journals provide Gold OA only for those individual articles for which their authors (or their author’s institution or funder) pay an OA publishing fee.)

Success Story & Business Model — arXiv

An immediate issue when considering OA as an option is the source of funding.  arXiv, the first free scientific online archive of  preprints, has made a good example of how OA publishers can survive and operate in a good shape. arXiv now includes postprints as well, and serves 2.5 million article downloads per month, ranging from physics, mathematics to computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance and statistics. arXiv was originally hosted at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and now by Cornell University. Current funding comes mainly from Cornell University Library and National Science Foundation, and a considerable part of it from 62 institutions (includeing a lot of renowned universities and research institutions) representing Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and all over the world. As of July 2010, arXiv has secured pledges from 85 institutions, totaling to $302,000 in contributions, well exceeding its $100,000 plan for this year. The current support model consists of 3 tiers with rates of $4,000, $3,200, $2,300 per year.

Now arXiv has been planning a sustainable use-based model, which in their business model white paper means “as a public good, arXiv should be supported by those institutions that use it the most.” They have compiled a list of the most active 200 institutions based on download data for 2009, which may suggest the funding levels for the next year to some extent. Currently, the top 5 heaviest users are Max Planck Institute, CERN, University of Cambridge, University of Tokyo, and Harvard University.

Status Quo of Open Access

This figure is from the paper Scientific Journal Publishing: yearly volume and open access availability. By B Björk, A Roos & M Lauri, 2009, Information Research 14 (1) paper 391, publicly accessible from Publishing Research Consortium’s website.

Bo-Christer Björk, Annikki Roos and Mari Lauri at Hanken School of Economics, Finland in their research paper of studying the 2006 volume and open access availability of published scientific journals, estimated that the total number of articles published in 2006 is 1,350,000, 4.6% of which became immediately openly available and an additional 3.5% of which after an embargo period of, typically, one year; 11.3% of the total scholarly articles have usable copies available in subject-specific or institutional repositories or on the authors webpages.

This figure is from the paper Open Access to the Scientific Journal Literature: Situation 2009. By Bo-Christer Björk, Patrik Welling, Mikael Laakso, Peter Majlender, Turid Hedlund, and Guðni Guðnason. Published online 2010 June 23 via the Public Library of Science, Creative Commons Attribution.

In Björk et al.’s latest paper, they studied the development of Open Access for the past year.

  • Of articles published in 2008, 8,5% were freely available at the publishers’ sites; for an additional 11,9% free manuscript versions could be found using search engines, making the overall OA percentage 20,4%.
  • Chemistry (13%) had the lowest overall share of OA, Earth Sciences (33%) the highest. In medicine, biochemistry and chemistry publishing in OA journals was more common. In all other fields author-posted manuscript copies dominated the picture.

Further Reading

A fight, between Nature and the University of California, or perhaps, the academics.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2010 8:09 am


    (Hyperlinks: )

    Cornell University Library has proposed a “Collaborative Business Model” for funding the worldwide Physics ArXiv that it hosts (see their white paper).

    “arXiv will remain free for readers and submitters, but the Library has established a voluntary, collaborative business model to engage institutions that benefit most from arXiv.”

    Here’s an alternative to this voluntary institutional sub-sidy/scription model whose sustainablity — through all economic times, tough and tender — is less founded on blind faith:

    Institutions have many self-interested reasons for wanting to host, archive, manage, monitor, measure and showcase their own research article outputs. The annual scale of their own local article output is also manageable and sustainable at the institutional level, within each institution’s existing infrastructure:

    Carr, L. The Value that Repositories Add
    Swan, A. The Business of Digital Repositories
    Harnad, S. Institutional vs. Central Repositories

    Hence what will happen is that instead of trying to sustain a central repository like Arxiv — most of whose costliness derives from the fact that it is a single direct locus of deposit and archiving from all institutions, worldwide — direct deposit and hosting (and its costs) will instead be offloaded and distributed across the network of institutional repositories, with Arxiv becoming merely another central harvester, providing global search services (sustainable if it provides functionality that can compete with other OAI services or Google Scholar).

    But voluntary sub-sidy/scription will no doubt sustain things for a while. (Things do seem to catch on rather slowly in this domain…)

    See OASIS for Green OA growth figures:

    • Cass Pei permalink
      August 17, 2010 2:07 pm

      Hi Stevan,

      Thanks for your informational reply!
      The OASIS website and your provide quite a lot of insights!
      I like the policy maker kind of perspectives in your articles and I found the following very interesting: Nature Publishing Group Keeps Misdescribing Itself As “Liberal” On Open Access


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