I recently had a conversation with someone (I’ll call him D) whose opinion I greatly respect, a staunch supporter of broadening access to the scholarly literature, who expressed a view I was quite surprised about. D is of the opinion that the publication fee business model for open access journals is economically flawed, so flawed that he thinks it is not worthy of support, for instance through university and funder commitment to underwrite publication fees as envisioned here and here and in nascent implementation.

D thinks that the only worthy alternative is what is sometimes called the “public access” business model, in which access is limited to subscribers but only for a short embargo period of, say, six months or a year. This model can effectively be mandated by having funders require public access for articles they fund. ┬áThe NIH policy is an example of a public access mandate, and the pending FRPAA legislation would broaden the mandate to essentially all US-government-funded research.

Certainly, I am a staunch supporter of public access mandates, and the shorter the embargo period the better. Harvard University is on record supporting the approach, as am I. But I also think that the publication fee model is viable, and indeed preferable in the long term. ┬áThinking about D’s argument has led me to write this post explaining my contrary view. Read the rest of this entry »