You know, I think that we really are seeing the breakup of the current model of scientific publishing. Spät kommt er, doch er kommt: it's coming on slowly, and in stages, but it's looking more and more inevitable. Take this news from the Wellcome Trust, one of the largest funding agencies in the world for medical research:
Sir Mark Walport, the director of Wellcome Trust, said that his organisation is in the final stages of launching a high calibre scientific journal called eLife that would compete directly with top-tier publications such as Nature and Science, seen by scientists as the premier locations for publishing. Unlike traditional journals, however, which cost British universities hundreds of millions of pounds a year to access, articles in eLife will be free to view on the web as soon as they are published. . .
Walport, who is a fellow of the Royal Society, Britain's premier scientific academy, said the results of public and charity-funded scientific research should be freely available to anyone who wants to read it, for whatever purpose they need it. His comments echo growing concerns from scientists who baulk at the rising costs of academic journals, particularly in a time of shrinking university budgets.
That journal is being launched with the Max Planck Gesellschaft and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, so it's definitely something worth taking seriously. And outside of that new journal, they're going as far as considering sanctions in funding for any researchers who don't adhere to their open-access policies (basically, free within six months of publication in a journal). I was looking up some papers from back in the 1980s the other day, and was reminded, by contrast, of the policies of some of the commercial publishers: never free, ever, no matter how old it is, or who funded it. Gold, those journal archives are: the costs are long gone; it's all been digitized for years and sits on the servers. But anyone who wants to look at a thirty-year-old paper in Tet Lett had better get ready to pony up. Patents expire, as they should, but copyright? Hah!
Elsevier says in the article that they're committed to offering their customers "choice", and that gosh, the subscription model is just so darn popular that they don't see how they can go against the wishes of their customers by getting rid of it. I particularly enjoyed this quote:
A spokesperson for Elsevier said the company was open to any "mechanism or business model, as long as they are sustainable and maintain or improve existing levels of quality control".
This is the Elsevier that can't manage to fix their own RSS feeds for months, that set up a whole fake-but-real journal division for the advertising revenue, that solicits good textbook reviews on Amazon in exchange for $25 gift cards, that charged people $4500 a year to read a journal stuffed with the editor's own nonsensical papers, and whose chemistry titles repeatedly let through howlers that even undergraduates could have spotted?
That level of quality control is going to be quite a strain to keep up. And yes, I know that the other publishers hardly have clean records, but they managed not to be quoted about their quality control. This time, anyway.