An open chat with…Stuart Ferguson – Wright – – FEBS Open Bio – Wiley Online Library

“[Q] What is your opinion on Open Access versus the traditional subscription publishing model?

[A] I start with the observation that there was not one traditional publishing model. On the one hand, there are commercial publishers such as Elsevier but also Nature, Cell Press, etc., who published a whole range of journals from the very prestigious to the not so prominent and made their money by charging often high fees to libraries and in some cases individual subscribers. These attracted increasing disapproval because they were publishing work that had been funded by public bodies and/or charities who were interested in discoveries and not publications/publishers’ profits. On the other hand, there are journals published by learned societies such as the Biochemical Journal (UK) and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Here, the income, again mainly from libraries, was used to support the scholarly activities of the sponsoring societies, but even here there was variation; some journals such as the Journal of Biological Chemistry charged their authors’ page charges, whereas others, such as the Biochemical Journal, did not. In general, those that did not impose page charges charged higher prices to libraries. A third model was that of FEBS who have always worked with commercial publishers to generate revenue for FEBS from their journals. All these journals made additional money from the sale of reprints. Most of the content of these journals was available only to subscribers, of which the majority were affiliated to institutional or company subscribers. The idea that all publicly funded knowledge should be available to all was given impetus by the move to online publication when it became feasible for an individual, almost anywhere in the world and without institutional or company connection, to gain access to all publications provided there was no paywall. I have always questioned how many such individuals exist, but to make publications truly open access, the costs of publication have had to shift to investigators and their institutions. At my own institution, the large sums allocated for this purpose were exhausted before the financial year was complete, thus leading to delays in publication. It is now understood that spending large sums of money this way instead of on research is unsustainable. The dream, of course, is deposition of papers on the internet at close to zero cost, but then who would organize review and proper presentation? Some will argue that we don’t need review—rubbish will sink ignored—but then how would we know about papers hosted only on an institutional website? Overall, I am inclined to think the traditional model had much to recommend it and it is not clear to me how the scientific community can stop profit-driven commercial publishing, an original aim of open access, other than boycotting of certain journals….”

Leave a Reply