Author-Pay a misleading alternative for Open Access journals

The OpenBusiness blog publishes an opinion contrasting the author-pays open access model to the commercial model of scientific publishing.

This immediately provokes the ringing of an alarmbell, as I find the author-pays model, which requires the author him/herself to pay for publication of a scientific article, to have serious problems of equity.

I asked Peter Suber for a commentary and he immediately wrote the following re-assuring words about the open access model of publishing:

One of my constant harangues is that the term “author pays” is false and misleading. Here’s an excerpt from my Open Access Overview:

A common misunderstanding is that all OA journals use an “author pays” business model. There are two mistakes here. The first is to assume that there is only one business model for OA journals, when there are many. The second is to assume that charging an upfront processing fee is an “author pays” model. In fact, fewer than half of today’s OA journals (47%) charge author-side fees. When OA journals do charge fees, the fees are usually paid by author-sponsors (employers or funders) or waived, not paid by authors out of pocket. This misunderstanding is harmful because it makes authors wonder whether they can afford to pay the fees. In fact there are many reasons why OA journals do not exclude the poor.

When OA journals do charge these fees, I call them “author-side” fees rather than “author fees”, since they must be paid by someone on the author’s side of the transaction, like a funder or employer, as opposed to someone at the reader’s side of the transaction, like a library.

But the main points are these: the majority of OA journals don’t charge any author-side fees, and for the minority that do, the fees are usually paid by sponsors or waived. Hence, authors rarely pay out of pocket. Long-term, as OA prevails, we can pay for OA journals with the savings from the cancellation, conversion, or demise of subscription-based (non-OA) journals. Then we can move from today’s situation, in which authors rarely pay out of pocket, to a situation in which they never do.

A related point is that a study last year showed that more non-OA journals than OA journals charge author-side fees. So if there is an effect to exclude the poor, non-OA journals are guilty more often than OA journals. I say more about this in an article in the June 2006 issue of my newsletter.”

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