Commentary: Open questions on transitioning to open access

The business model issue in the scholarly publishing industry is quite complex and it will require that all key participants (publishers, academic institutions & researchers) truly work together towards a new model. There are quite a few concerns over the author pay model that the community has not fully addressed.

If the UK's model of the author paying for the publishing of the articles, goes into effect, who is going to bear the tremendous transition cost that the publishers will bear? The scholarly publishing industry is a $27B dollar industry1 (at least in the science, technology and medical sector of it), and if the academic libraries canceled all of their subscriptions in anticipation of this new model it will create havoc on the whole industry. The industry as a whole really needs to give thought as to how the business model can be transitioned to achieve the objectives of all parties. It will require the publishing community to take reasonable risks, but not risks that are going to undermine the integrity of not only the publishing process but the peer review process as well.

The UK report did not address how the institutions will manage the process of determining which researchers will be provided the necessary funds to publish their papers. Will this new process slow up the publishing process? Will they need to have a peer review process to determine which papers warrant the necessary institutional funding to support the page charges?

If this new process were to be put in place would some researchers be on the outside, as their papers might not be considered for the institutions funds due to a host of reasons? This new process would create a double peer review process. In one way this process may ensure that any article presented for peer review has been truly vetted and does represent sound scientific research. However it will no doubt add precious time to the all ready time-consuming peer review process.

As this industry has developed over the past few centuries, it is very important that we allow the natural forces of the marketplace to take hold and yield a new model. By allowing these natural forces to take hold, it will allow for innovation, good competition and a steady progression to a new model. We all agree that the peer review process is vitally important to the scholarly process, as we only want quality research to be published. Over the years the scientific community has benefited from the research of others by augmenting their research and taking a specific topic further.

What about the issues and concerns over the ethics of the author pay model? Some folks have questioned the validity of some of the articles published and have suggested that they would not have been published if they were submitted to a commercial publisher. What is the answer to this industry problem? I would suggest that it is a business model problem that we must allow the scholarly publishing industry to solve. We have seen new developments like elifesciences.org that is offering to publish submitted and peer-reviewed articles at no cost to anyone. While they have received funding from the Wellcome Trust, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft and Howard Hughes Medical Medical Institute to help them launch their initiative, this funding does have an expiration date. This type of initiative is going to allow the scholarly publishing industry to gain further experience over the next few years while maintaining the high level of peer review and integrity.

We are also seeing the commercial publishers launch more open access journals as well. We really need to give the industry time to migrate towards a model that will allow all of the required quality inputs that are needed to publish quality scholarly literature.

As the UK moves forward with their position on open access, the scholarly publishing community will no doubt have to create the journals that the authors will need to submit their articles. The big question is how will this transition be managed and will it have positive or negative effect on the quality and timeliness of the articles published.

These are just a few of the many concerns that this new provision raises and it will be vitally important that the industry aggressively address. However it does represent a new frontier for the scholarly publishing industry. This new frontier is full of fresh opportunities. Fresh opportunities for the scholarly publishing industry to blend the time trusted best practices of scholarly publishing with the new and exciting technology and tools that are at our disposal to use.

How will semantic technology, video coupled with SmartTV and other devices enhance the delivery of scientific research? These questions and others will be answered over the 12 36 months. There is one thing that we can be sure about and that is change. It will be essential that the scholarly publishing community come together to solve this business model problem.

Darrell W. Gunter — President & CEO, Gunter Media Group

Darrell Gunter is one of the leading advocates of semantic technology and social networking in the Science, Technical and Medical Industry. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at many information industry events advocating the benefits of semantic technology and social networking.

Over the course of his 30-year career he has worked for the leaders of the electronic intellectual property industry. Xerox, Dow Jones Financial News Services, Elsevier, Collexis, American Institute of Physics and Allerton Press, Inc. He heads up his own strategic consultancy firm the Gunter Media Group.

A graduate of Seton Hall University's Stillman School of Business, where he obtained his BS in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. He also earned his MBA from the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

He is an Adjunct Professor at Seton Hall University and served on many boards including the Content Board of the Software Information Industry Association up until May 2011, Olin College of Engineering Library Advisory Board, Seton Hall University Advisory Council and the Women's Venture Fund. His radio program "Leadership" airs Saturday mornings at 9:00 am on WSOU HD 89.5 FM / WSOU.net. His Twitter name is @Dwgunter.



1 Outsell