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Millions for journals’ subscriptions. Can Open Access change it?

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The costs of subscribing to scientific journals are notoriously high. Universities and libraries all over the world struggle with shrinking budgets and rocketing subscription prices. The system where publicly funded research is published behind pay walls has a long story of contention.  One of the reoccurring arguments, of course, is a dissemination of Open Access model.

The mounting costs of subscriptions affect even the seemingly most powerful (read: wealthiest) universities – University of Harvard comprised. A while ago Harvard announced that it wouldn’t be able to afford journal prices charged by publishers. The university wants its scientists to make their work available for everyone for free and not to hide it behind pay-walls; Harvard pays almost 3.5 million dollars per year for these subscriptions. And as impressive as the sum is -there are other universities who have to dig much deeper in their pockets to cover the subscriptions costs.

The Northwestern University pays more than $7.5 million per year for electronic subscriptions to academic journals. $ 7.5 million! It is astronomical amount of money; and these funds are used only for gaining an access to the research results.

This situation is somewhat absurd. In simple terms it can be said that taxpayers pay first for research to be conducted, and then, they pay for results of the same research to be published; somewhere along the line, taxpayers have to put money on the table twice for the same product. So…can Open Access change it?

OA is not a gold remedy for everything. And it would be naïve to claim, this model facilitates publishing for free; it does generate costs as well. For Green OA, there are costs of infrastructure of repositories, for Gold OA – APCs. But definitely, this model is for sure much cheaper and what seems to be even more important, it can help in managing funds. At OA model, there are almost always initial costs, but the final product is free. It gives an opportunity to universities and institutions to relocate funds and manage them more effectively. Money for journals’ subscriptions can be diverted to research grants. Even if the part of these funds will be dedicated to cover cost of OA publishing, universities can still use them to fund research in these areas of science, which suffer from the lack of proper funding, for example HSS. Of course, this is just an idea, but I think, that money spent on subscriptions can be used more soundly and effectively; the introduction and transition to OA model may help with it.

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