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UC Davis Project Looks at Real Cost of Open Access Publishing

The concept of "open access" doesn't necessarily equate to free — at least not for the universities that are publishing the scholarship. A new project based at the University of California, Davis will research just what an article processing charge (APC) model would actually cost large North American institutions. The goal is to figure out how sustainable and desirable the APC model would be for those schools, as well as authors and publishers, compared to current subscription costs for comparable content.

In the APC model, also called "gold open access," authors pay their publishers in advance to publish research — typically with the support of their institutions or funders. By paying in advance, they ensure that readers gain free access to the work through the publisher's Web site or a scholarly repository. According to a document that lays out the scope of the project, typical publication fees are about $3,000 for hybrid open access journals — subscription journals that allow selected articles to be published via APC. However, noted the researchers, that amount varies by journal and discipline.

Researchers at the University of California (UC) System, which is a major supporter of open access, publish a large proportion of the scholarly literature — nearly two percent of the total in large publisher bundles licensed by the California Digital Library; that percentage is even higher in the most prestigious journals.

While UC Davis' University Library and the California Digital Library will lead the project, other participants include The Ohio State University, the University of British Columbia and Harvard. The work is being funded with an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Through a series of focus groups and surveys, as well as data collection, the partners will produce a financial model to help university administrators and librarians develop open access policies and strategies.

Besides experts in scholarly communications, the project will also explore authors' attitudes toward open access publishing fees and collaborate with information providers Elsevier, which produces Scopus; Thomson Reuters, which produces Web of Science; and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, whose membership includes several hundred scholarly and professional publishers.

"Research libraries are excited by the prospect of free open access to scholarly journals but worry that financing it via article processing charges may become even more expensive than the current journal subscription model, particularly for large research universities like the University of California and our partners," said MacKenzie Smith, UC Davis university librarian and lead investigator of the project. "Our mission as libraries is to ensure access to research, and open access is a promising means to that end. But we must be proactive in working with the publishing community to achieve that goal in a sustainable manner."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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