The scientific and medical library at Yale University recently
announced that it would cease its BioMed Central membership. Whilst we are
disappointed that the library has taken this decision, we welcome the opportunity to
clarify BioMed Central’s approach to sustainable funding for open access
The main concern expressed in the library’s announcement is that
the amount payable to cover the cost of publications by Yale
researchers in BioMed Central’s journals has increased significantly, year on
year. Looking at the rapid growth of BioMed Central’s journals, it is not
difficult to see why that is the case. BioMed Central’s success means that more
and more researchers (from Yale and elsewhere) are submitting to our journals
An increase in the number of open access articles being
submitted and going on to be published does lead to an increase in the total
cost of the open access publishing service provided by BioMed Central, but the
cost per article published in BioMed Central’s journals represents excellent
to other publishers.
The Yale library announcement notes that it paid $31,625
to cover the cost of publication in BioMed Central’s journals by their authors
in 2006, and that the anticipated cost in 2007 will be higher. But to put this
into context, according to the Association
of Research Library statistics, Yale spent more than $7m on serial
subscriptions. Nonetheless, we do recognize that library
budgets are very tight and that supporting the rapid growth of open access
publishing out of library budgets alone may not be possible.
The Wellcome Trust report, ‘Costs and
business models in scientific research publishing‘, published in 2004, notes
that the costs of open access publishing need not be any higher than the costs
of traditional subscription-based publishing. In principle, therefore, the
total amount currently spent by libraries on subscriptions would be sufficient
to cover the cost of peer-reviewed open access publication for all research
articles. Clearly, though, libraries cannot simply transfer their acquisitions
budget from subscriptions to open access overnight, since access to the
subscription-only archival content currently controlled by publishers is vital
for their researchers.
If library budgets were the only source of funding to cover
the cost of open access publication, this would be a significant obstacle.
Fortunately, however, there are other sources of funding that are helping to
accelerate the transition to open access.
Biomedical research funders around the world already spend
billions of dollars to support research activity. These funders are
understandably concerned to ensure that the results of that research are as
widely disseminated as possible so that they obtain the good value from their
research expenditure. For research to be worth doing, it must be read, used and
built on — open access maximizes the opportunity for such use.
The Wellcome Trust report estimated that on average the cost
associated with publishing a peer-reviewed research article is less than $3000,
and further estimated that this represented only 1-2% of the typical investment
by a funder in carrying out the research that led to the article. It is not
surprising therefore, that major biomedical research funders such as NIH and HHMI now encourage open
access publication, and are willing to provide financial support for it. BioMed
Central’s list of biomedical
funder open access policies provides further information.
Authors may, of course, pay articles from their own grant
funds, and around half of articles published in BioMed Central journals are
indeed paid for in this way. However, relying on authors to pay for the cost of
open access publication themselves puts open access journals at a significant
disadvantage compared to traditional journals, which are supported centrally
through library budgets, and so are often perceived to be ‘free’ by authors.
That is why BioMed Central introduced its institutional
membership scheme, which allows institutions to centrally support the
dissemination of open access research in the same way that they centrally
support subscription journals, thereby creating a ‘level playing field’.
In order to ensure that funding of open access publication is
sustainable, we have encouraged institutions to set aside a small fraction of
the indirect funding contribution that they receive from funders to create a central
open access fund.
Over the last several months, BioMed Central has hosted
workshops on the issue of sustainable funding for open access at the UK’s
Association of Research Manager’s and Administrators annual conference and at the Medical Library Association’s meeting in Philadelphia [see
report]. Further such workshops are planned.
In this way, by helping research funders, administrators,
VPs of research and librarians to work together to provide sustainable funding
channels for open access, we aim to "provide a viable long-term revenue
base built upon logical and scalable options", as called for in statement fromYale’s library.
We are heartened by the library’s strong support for BioMed
Central’s underlying goals as open access publisher:
"We believe in the widest possible access to
scholarly research supported by workable business models and should BioMed
Central develop a viable economic model which allows them to more equitably
share costs across all interested stakeholders, we would consider renewing our
financial support. "
We look forward to working with librarians and research
administrators at Yale to develop a solution that will make it as easy as
possible for Yale’s researchers to continue publish their
open access research articles in BioMed Central’s journals.
Publisher, BioMed Central