The Debate Over Open Access

What is open access? Open access refers to publications that are made freely available in the public domain. Recent debate about open access has centered on publicly funded research, such as the publication of medical research funded by the National Institutes of Health. Free access to such publications is consistent with the expectation that taxpayer-funded research should be accessible to the public, whether through the Internet, libraries, and various forms of printed or online material.

The topic is important to ASEV, as some of the articles published in AJEV are largely taxpayer funded through organizations such as the USDA and the Viticulture Consortium. There are several key issues surrounding open access. The drive for open access was initially motivated by concerns over the rising costs of research and academic journal subscriptions, particularly those published by commercial publishers. Such costs were becoming prohibitive to libraries, which otherwise would provide free access to all readers. In many cases library budgets cannot keep pace with the dramatically rising costs of subscriptions. Another issue is the growing demand by granting agencies that publicly sponsored research be freely distributed in a timely manner. Authors of research articles also have a vested interest in open access, as it would mean that their research would be more easily available to their colleagues throughout the world. Additionally, consumer groups are applying pressure under the freedom of information act for public access to publicly funded research. As a consequence, legislation is being considered to compel researchers to ensure that their articles are freely available, either through the publisher or through various centralized national databases. In anticipation of such legislation, institutions such as the University of California are crafting their own requirements for research published by their faculty.

How does open access affect publishers? Nonprofit publications, such as AJEV, which rely on subscriptions and member dues to cover their costs of publication, would likely lose these sources of support if articles were freely available. For example, response from the recent ASEV member survey indicates that the Journal is highly valued and for many members is the reason they join the society. If the journal were freely available, then some of these members would likely be lost. Publishers provide services that include an impartial, rigorous review process; manuscript editing of text, tables, and figures; design and layout; and both print and online distribution (most publishers calculate the costs of publishing one article as over $3,000.00). Without a source of income, such services could not continue, whether they be provided by a publisher or an educational or research institution. To compensate for the loss of income, researchers and granting agencies would need to bear the full cost of publication. That would reduce funds available to meet critical research needs in an era of ever-shrinking funds.

The AJEV editors are well aware of these issues and are actively considering the options available for AJEV. Such options include the development of other member-benefit publications that are not primarily research based and new ways to structure publication fees for authors. As always, we welcome your comments and insights.
-Linda Bisson, AJEV Science Editor; Judith McKibben, AJEV Managing Editor