For more than 300 years, publishing articles in scholarly journals has been the surest way to ensure that research is made available and read. Authors contribute the products of their research to journals, usually without compensation. Publishers manage important services such as the peer-review process, filtering, production, and distribution. Their services are paid for through a combination of page charges and subscription fees. The latter has the deleterious effect of limiting access to a work, but it has been the only way to ensure that publication and distribution would occur. Universities have subsidized much of the cost of scholarly publication by supporting researchers who contribute research papers and editorial and peer-review services. Universities also subscribed to the journals, thus making them available to a broader audience and minimizing the constraints on distribution that subscriptions inevitably impose.
The traditional model of scholarly communication is breaking down. The explosion in the number of published papers and journals means that no single library can reasonably hope to subscribe to all relevant literature. As a result, the ability of researchers to have their articles read and to read relevant literature is declining. Furthermore, the prices of many journals have become exorbitant, increasing at rates far above the rate of inflation. And while the cost of accessing scholarly articles is increasing, interest in providing access to that research in poorer areas of the world has also increased.
Digital to the Rescue
Fortunately, the emergence of digital means of communication holds the promise of reshaping the traditional subscription-based model for research distribution. Cornell University Library is conducting numerous experiments to test whether digital technologies can broaden access to scholarly literature or lower its cost.
Open-access scholarly journals have arisen as an alternative to traditional subscription scholarly journals. Open-access journals make their articles freely available to everyone while providing services common to all scholarly journals, such as the peer-review process, production, and distribution. Since open-access journals do not charge subscription or other access fees, they must cover their operating expenses through other sources. This has included foundation support, subventions, in-kind support, and, in a sizable minority of cases, processing fees paid on behalf of authors.
The Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity
The Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity is an experiment whose participants — currently Dartmouth, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley and Cornell — pledge to underwrite reasonable publication charges for articles written by their faculty and published in fee-based open-access journals when other funding sources are not available. The compact recognizes that publishers add value and seeks to minimize the financial risks to publishers willing to move to a fee-based open-access model.
Be an Advocate
If you believe that publishing in open-access journals in order to provide unfettered access to your research is important, please let us know. We are looking for researchers who will encourage others to publish their work in this manner.