Open-access publishing brings cost savings

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Research institutions could make surprisingly big savings if their researchers paid to publish their articles with an open-access model rather than using the traditional subscription model. And the savings could be even bigger if they simply self-archived their work in an institutional repository.

These conclusions come from a new study into scholarly publishing in the UK led by John Houghton from the Centre of Strategic Economic Studies at Melbourne’s Victoria University, Australia and Charles Oppenheim at Loughborough University, UK. In addition to looking at the costs and savings of different models, the study also examined the additional cost-benefits that might arise from enhanced access to research findings.

In 2007, the report estimated, publication of everything under the subscription model would have cost UK institutions £230 million. In contrast, the estimated cost for publishing everything under the open-access model would have been £150 million. The main cost savings with open-access publishing, according to Houghton, would be in the licensing negotiations required with the subscription model.

The study also looked at the cost for self-archiving the articles instead and estimated this at just £110 million. The costs for this mainly arise from the cost of maintaining the repository. However, as Houghton pointed out, there are quality controls in place with repositories too. ‘If you are self-archiving at an institutional level there is clearly some sort of peer review. People cannot just put anything into the repository.’ He sees it as a staged approach. People might put a conference paper in the archive, with a date to show the first time that this research was reported, but then publish a paper on the research findings at a later date.

‘Exactly how research libraries would handle open-access resources is still an open-ended question,’ said Houghton. ‘Clearly budgets would have to be moved but in a transition period there would need to be money for both subscriptions and for author payments.’

‘I wouldn’t expect a quick transition to open-access publishing or a full transition to it,’ he continued. ‘After all, none of these models are new.’

This research project was funded by JISC and focused on the UK. However, Houghton said that the proportions would be roughly the same for different countries too.

Neil Jacobs of JISC said that the funding body has already been in touch with major publishers about the study’s findings and hopes to meet with them within the next month.

There is more to do with the research too. Houghton said the implications of including open-access data and of considering preservation plans in the various models deserve further investigation. Houghton is also working on some similar studies for other countries, including the Netherlands and Denmark.