Your guide to Open Access publishing and Open Science

Journal publishers’ prices are too high, even for the University of Harvard

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Open Access was designed to reduce the cost of publication and to allow free access to scientific achievements for the global readership. Although Open Access is not a publishing model without any costs, it does however compete on many levels with the traditional method of publishing, which has simply become too expensive. This situation was brought to light in the announcement made last year by Harvard University that it cannot afford subscriptions any more.

The debate on the costs generated by the traditional publishing model flared up again. Although this topic is not entirely new, it has been revisited however once again in the aftermath of the tragic death of Aaron Swartz.
Harvard announced that it cannot afford journal prices charged by publishers and wants scientists to make their work available for everyone and not hide it behind pay-walls. The University of Harvard is hardly penniless. On the contrary, it is one of the richest, most affluent universities in the world. And if Harvard says that it cannot afford something, then what is the situation of less well-placed institutions?

How much does an access to scientific journals cost? The amount is staggering – $ 3.5 million per year! As stated, the cost of access to the online version of journals increased by 145% over the year, and some subscriptions cost Harvard as much as $ 40,000 per annum.

Of course, Harvard is not the only university that cannot handle subscription costs. If the wealthiest university in the world has a problem with publishers’ fees, what about the smaller players? For example, a college in New York – SUNY Potsdam, recently decided to cancel subscriptions to journals published by the American Chemical Society. Cancellations of subscriptions are becoming more common, but it is only part of the whole story; some universities, small and large, simply cannot afford subscriptions to any journals, and thus do not provide their faculty and students access to the latest achievements in science.

The current, “traditional” publishing model could become, in fact, art for art’s sake. If no one can afford it to take up subscriptions, scientists, who publish their research in this model will not be able to reach anyone at all, save their immediate colleagues. The flow of scientific information and innovation will be restricted to a narrow inner circle.

Open Access, with all its shortcomings, is a way by which authors can reach a wide readership. This is also a way for the majority of small and medium-sized universities to access scientific information and to connect with the flow of knowledge. It is also probably the only opportunity for those who are not part of the academic world, to access scientific knowledge. Of course, the full transition to Open Access is still in its early stages and is rather slow, but in the end it can deliver substantial benefits to all involved.

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