The University of Calgary will join several other library initiatives in providing an Author’s Fund designed to pay for Open Access publication fees. While the C$100,000 fund sounds impressive at first, it amounts to only 33 articles published with Elsevier and Springer, or 38 articles published with Blackwell.

To get a sense of the scholarly output of this institution, I searched the Web of Science and found that U. Calgary faculty published nearly 3,000 articles in 2007 (a conservative estimate considering the limited scope of ISI). This means that if the new Author’s Fund is successful, they can aspire to cover about 1% of Open Access author processing fees.

While some argue that the majority of Open Access journals charge no fees, these are generally not the same caliber of journals that a research-intensive university faculty submit their articles. We should not expect that authors will start submitting their manuscripts to Acta Médica Portuguesa instead of JAMA. Those critical of the economic reality of author fees would be better off arguing that academics get rid of journals altogether and simply post their manuscripts on personal websites.

The idea of creating an author fund is not new — SPARC proposed the same idea several years ago and it created some lively discussion on liblicence-l on the difficulties of managing such a fund. Nevertheless, I was mostly surprised by the university librarian’s argument used in supporting this decision:

Open Access publishing is emerging as the best hope for a sustainable and responsible course of action for the future of scholarly communication.

Did I miss something? When did publishing in Open Access journals become a sustainable and responsible course of action? Even early calculations at $1,500/article demonstrated that research-intensive institutions like the University of Calgary would pay far more money in an author-pays model than the traditional subscription model. Moreover, author charges are exceeding the price inflation of subscription journals by orders of magnitude. Is this an argument for sustainability? It certainly isn’t one for fiscal responsibility.

The argument for Open Access appears to be shifting rhetoric. The serials inflation argument seems to have gone out of fashion, and we have moved to free access as social responsibility. We are seeing a publishing model that has roots in cold, hard currency transformed into an idolatry of ideology.

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Phil Davis

Phil Davis

Phil Davis is a publishing consultant specializing in the statistical analysis of citation, readership, publication and survey data. He has a Ph.D. in science communication from Cornell University (2010), extensive experience as a science librarian (1995-2006) and was trained as a life scientist.


1 Thought on "OA Author’s Fund — 1% Solution, 99% Ideology"

A related consequence of OA is its potential to ‘plutocratize’ academia.

OA favors cash-rich disciplines such as molecular biology (where grants are big), but not cash-poor disciplines such as math or the humanities (where grants are small or non-existent). Under subscription-based models, librarians can in theory offset the discrepancy by picking journals according to the perceived need for the title – essentially the system is meritocratic rather than plutocratic.

The OA solution to the problem is of course waivers. But while I’m sure biomedical funding bodies are happy to pay a bit extra in OA fees to subsidize the odd ecology article in PLoS Biology, I can’t see them happy to fund an entire history journal.

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