To the outside observer, the debate on open access to scientific publications seem to be all about a battle between the researcher groups and commercial publisher giants, fueled by anger at the greed, real or perceived, of commercial publishers. But the real world is more complex than that.
The important role of many scientific societies and organisations as publishers is often neglected in the debates. As not-for-profit bodies, they ensure revenues from publication activities flow back to science. The income from journal revenue constitutes between 30% to 95% of the budget of some of the most active and renowned societies. They provide a large variety of services to science communities, ranging from fellowships for young researchers and awards to science history programmes. Grants enable researchers from poorer countries and institutions to participate in conferences that are key to their professional development and scientific success. Other fields of activity of the learned societies include science policy, networking opportunities for young researchers, science education and scientific outreach.
These activities are endangered if income from journal subscriptions drains away. The smaller non-commercial publishers that will most likely suffer more strongly from abrupt changes in the system than the large commercial publishers that have a more solid financial backing to adapt to new situations.
This is why we believe that now is the right time to initiate a debate about this issue. In particular, we would like to hear your opinion on the following issues:
- How will changes in the publication system impact the overall science system?
- How can a sound financial basis for the activities of the learned societies and scientific organisations be ensured?
- How can the learned society journals be supported in the transition phase to Open Access? Could, for example, an embargo period of 12 months as a rule (instead of 6 months) for the transition of 5 years be a good solution?
- Should societies be supported by direct government grants? Is that a realistic scenario? Would the societies loose their independence?
- Should membership in learned societies be an eligible cost in all PhD and postdoc fellowships programmes as part of their training expenses? Would that raise the numbers of society members, especially among the young researcher population and strengthen their financial and human capacity?
We are looking forward to your comments, either in the box below or by writing to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wolfgang Eppenschwandtner (email: ise[at]i-se.org)
Executive Coordinator, Initiative for Science in Europe
Featured image credit: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by biblioteekje
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