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Open access, the way of the future?

8 December 2003

Open access is beginning to look as if it will transform online journal publishing. To date readers (and libraries) have paid subscriptions to academic journals, now mostly online, where research is published. With open access the model is turned upside down and the authors are charged for the publication of their articles. BioMed Central, the pioneer in this field, is charging $500 per article and claims that this can easily be paid for as part of the initial funding for the research. This is probably easier in some disciplines than others, depending on how the research is actually funded, but BioMed claim that it has managed to make this new model work.

Open Access started as a campaign by a group of breakaway academics who wanted to establish free access to published research. At the time when it first entered the general, as opposed to the academic, consciousness, it looked like a rather idealistic campaign to extend the 'open access' of the Internet to the academic world. Since many academic journal publishers are highly profitable, it was never likely that they would greet this new model with much enthusiasm. But the fight between the idealists and the publishers no longer looks quite so much of an un-winnable version of a 'David and Goliath' battle as it once did. BioMed now have 4,300 open access papers online and there are currently 500 open access journals. This is still less than 5% of the total, but there is strong support for the idea of open access from many sectors of the academic community.

If Biomed have created an alternative funding model, other publishers can follow suit. Academic research may yet end up being freely available to all.