May 11, 2004

Costs and Business Models in Scientific Research Publishing

The Wellcome Trust has recently released a study of "Costs and Business Models in Scientific Research Publishing", as a follow-up to its September 2003 study "An Economic Analysis of Scientific Research Publishing", and its January 2003 report "Sharing Data from Large-Scale Biological Research Projects".

The new resport's conclusion is that "Open access publishing should be able to deliver high-quality, peer-reviewed research at a cost that is significantly less than the traditional model while bringing with it a number of additional benefits." The basic distinction here is between "the current 'subscriber-pays' model, where publishing services are free to authors and the article is published in a journal available via subscription, and an 'author-pays' model where the author (or their funder or institution) pays for the publishing services but where the final paper is published in an open access journal, available for free via the Internet to all who wish to use it."

A news article from the May 8 British Medical Journal includes this quote from Dr. Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust:

"The results of scientific research must be freely and widely available to help scientists throughout the world make the discoveries we need to improve health. That is why we have supported the principle of open access publishing.

"However, up to now there have been unanswered questions about the economic and practical viability of this system. Our report now shows this is a win-win situation: high quality, peer reviewed research available to everyone free of charge within a sustainable online market—plus savings of as much as 30%."

In a related development, the Public Library of Science has announced an international open-access medical journal, "PLoS Medicine", to start publication next fall. According to this ProMED-mail post:

"Thanks to the Internet and new strategies for financing publication costs, it is now possible to share the results of medical research with anyone, anywhere, who could benefit from it. How could we not do it?" argued Dr. Harold E. Varmus, Nobel laureate, former National Institutes of Health Director, and one of the co-founders of the Public Library of Science.

I have a parochial interest in this problem, through my work on information extraction from biomedical text, where open access would certainly make research and development much easier.

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 11, 2004 08:15 PM