A few months ago the UK government announced that it wanted all UK research that is funded from public money to be available through open access. Now they have told us how they plan to do it. They will pay the journals a fee for each paper they publish.
In the traditional publishing system journals charge people to read a paper, or libraries are charged a fee to hold copies of the journal. In recent years this has moved largely to electronic systems but the principle remains the same. In some cases the authors may pay the journal a fee for their work to be available to everyone for free, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Now UK researchers will have to use the open access system for all their publications if it is publicly funded. This has to be a good thing because it will make the research more widely available, but how will it alter the dynamics of research?
According to an article in the New Scientist the UK government has set aside 1% of research budgets to pay the open access fees, but the fees are estimated to be £2000 per article. This means that there will be enough to pay for one publication for every £200,000 spent on research. This does not sound like very much, especially in subjects like theoretical physics where many papers are produced by doctorates and post doctorates who dont cost much. Is it enough? Will the money be distributed unevenly with theory departments getting much more of it? Let’s look at it another way. The total amount they have allowed for to pay for the fees is £50 million. At £2000 a paper that is enough to pay for 25,000 papers each year. So how many research papers does the UK produce each year. The answer is at least 100,000 and perhaps several times that. Clearly it does not add up. So how will the system shake out? It will be interesting to see.