FREE online publication of scientific research - so-called open access - could cut scientific publishing costs by 30 per cent and still provide a viable business model, according to research released by the Wellcome Trust.
Open access, whereby authors pay fees to cover e-publishing costs, is challenging the traditional subscription-based journal publishers such as Reed Elsevier, Walters Kluwer and Blackwell, which dominate the $7 billion global field in science publishing.
Wellcome, which funds pounds 400 million worth of medical research a year, is one of several supporters that believe open access will advance medical progress by loosening the stranglehold of a few big publishers over the distribution of publicly funded research.
'We pay for the research, then we have to pay again to look at it,' said one person in the field. The NHS, Britain's largest medical researcher, can freely access only 30 per cent of its own research, he claimed.
Discontent with the status quo has been fuelled by journal price rises of 200 per cent over the past decade, prompt ing interest in internet-based publishing. But though open access has many enthusiasts, doubts over quality and the long-term viability of the model have been raised.
The Wellcome report suggests open access could cut publishing costs per article from $2,750 (pounds 1,553) to $1,950 (pounds 1,100) for a top-line publication by slashing distribution and publishing costs.
However, Reed Elsevier, the biggest commercial publisher, said it would question these figures.
A Parliamentary select committee is now investigating the issue of open access.
The Observer, 2 May 2004