The open access movement, which seeks to provide widespread public access to peer-reviewed research and scholarship, has won in recent years the support of governments and funders, as well as many scholarly publishers and scholarly societies. Research is being recognized as a public good that can now be shared globally for the benefit of all. What has yet to be fully worked out are viable financial models for transitioning from subscription to open access models for this literature. Journal subscription revenues in excess of ten billion dollars annually worldwide suggest that there is more than enough money being spent on scholarly publishing to fund open access.
Although research libraries are as willing to support open access as they are to pay for subscriptions, the best transition path between the two models is in need of further testing and analysis, especially in the case of the social sciences and humanities. Journals serving the sciences, especially the bio-medical sciences, have developed a model for open access by having authors use their relatively high grant levels to pay Article Processing Charges (APC), which can run as high as five thousand dollars per article. Not only will APCs not work in the social sciences and humanities, it is putting a serious damper on support for open access among faculty in these two areas.
What may well be the way forward for all disciplines is to build on the cooperative spirit shown by research library community. To offer two examples: The University of Pittsburgh Library is hosting open access journals at no cost to the journals, utilizing the Public Knowledge Project’s open source publishing software which is also library based. With Knowledge Unlatched, a few hundred research libraries have banded together to underwrite the cost of open access SSH monographs from major scholarly publishers, again without charge to authors or readers.
This is the time, then, for further systematic data-gathering, analysis, and trials of a cooperative publishing model. Can a cooperative offer an economically responsible and sustainable open access to rigorously reviewed and professionally published research? A number of journal collectives and publishers have expressed interest in exploring a cooperative model and the MacArthur Foundation has granted a two-year award to the Public Knowledge Project, working in collaboration with the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) and other organizations, to assess the feasibility, as well as the structure, organization, and governance of such co-ops.
The goals of the Open Access Publishing Cooperative Study for the next two years include (a) gathering data from journals and organizations to create a business model and/or to participate in pilots of cooperative publishing with libraries; (b) to consult with stakeholders, including journals, societies, funders, publishers, authors, and readers on what would make cooperatives work or not work; and (c) develop open source infrastructure for conduct co-op pilots to assess journal efficiency and quality through cooperative publishing on a global scale.
If the results of the first three stages show sufficient promise, the Open Access Publishing Cooperative Study plans to hold a culminating “constitutional assembly” for stakeholders in scholarly publishing. The goal of the assembly will be to use what has been learned in the study to forge the principles and recommend the structures by which such cooperatives might constitute a means of bringing about sustainable and universal open access to research and scholarship.