Changes in academic research due to the innovations from the Digital Era have affected almost every aspect of the scholarly landscape, including publishing practices. The advent of open access platforms has shifted how publishing companies make their money since they no longer have as much of a monopoly on charging people to access the articles they publish.
Research and development areas from funding organizations have stepped in to formulate a way to balance these open-access platforms with a way to bring in a revenue stream. Financiers have created their own ways to help open access articles expand while still allowing the funders to make a profit with their publishing. ‘Free publishing’ doesn’t exist completely, since someone has to pay, whether it’s the author of the publication or the reader. Mixing profit with free publications, which is what these funding platforms do, leaves a lot of questions as to whether they are advantageous or disadvantageous to the open-access cause.
The History of Open Access Publishing
Between the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the major changes in academics brought by the Digital Era, there was a major problem that had to be addressed, known now as the “serials crisis.” The issue was that the increasing cost of publishing journals was becoming so exorbitant that librarians couldn’t afford to keep them stocked and were being forced to make decisions between which titles to keep and which to cancel.
Because the internet was becoming so prolific at the same time, it became a natural byproduct of these expensive decision-making policies to use the internet as a publishing avenue instead of costly printed journals.
Taking this same idea and making it even better for the collective good was the idea of allowing everyone to access the research information for free with the Free Software Movement. Scientists were encouraged to put their pre-published articles in an online depository where they would self-archive their work and then any online distribution journal that wanted to offer the work for free could access and disseminate it for public use. When the government got on board with the idea, formal definitions of what open access meant, and a framework of guidelines to follow were created.
Why Funders Stepped into the Scene
Like with any new technologies, there are always people who want to try to make a profit off of it. But when you’re offering free research to anyone who wants it, it’s difficult to do this ethically. However, funding companies have been working on ways to do both - create open-access platforms while still making a profit.
Over the years, there have been multiple different attempts at balancing this. Some journals make their content available for free but ensure that the hosting sites are research institutes or departments. Commercially developed publishers stepped in and started to develop new business models in which authors had to pay hosting costs in order to have their work published on these open-access platforms. The costs were sometimes hefty, but researchers who wanted to get their work into the hands of readers in order to make an impact understood that it was still an important part of their publishing steps. Publishing journals used these fees to offset the loss of their paper subscription services.
Since the early to mid-2000s, funders have worked to enact policies to push for OA publications to become more widespread. Inside the grants and other funding methods, many researchers now see this cost blanketed into their resources. Some funders require a say in where the work is published in order for the costs to be covered, but many funding organizations understand that this limits academic freedom and can be seen as a bias, so they allow the researcher freedom of choice in the publication platform.
As long as funders continue to support free open access forums, even within their own platforms, and allow researchers to choose where the publication happens, the relationship between funding organizations and the OA platforms remains an unbiased one. However, these policies and mandates are still a work in progress and must continue to evolve for the structure to occur universally.