Turning the old publication model on its feet

The Heinz Nixdorf Foundation ushered in the transformation of the scientific publication model at the Max Planck Society through its sponsorship of the Heinz Nixdorf Center for Information Management.

Scientific findings are mainly published through articles in specialised journals. Income is generated through the “reader pays” model: publishing companies sell the articles back to the scientists and other readers. This means that the tax payer ends up paying for the scientific work twice: once for the research itself, and a second time for the access to the published results. This is not the case with Open Access. This model provides free access to articles, for both scientists and the general public.

The “reader pays” model was justified in the age of the “Gutenberg Galaxy” and its printed book. However, the cost of specialist journals increased much faster than inflation and library budgets. As a result, even libraries in prestigious universities like Harvard had to cancel subscriptions for budget reasons. This causes huge problems in relation to access.

In contrast, Open Access makes scientific literature accessible on the internet free of charge. Anyone who is interested can read the full texts of scientific articles, download them, copy them, print them, search through them, refer to them and use them in any other conceivable legal way without having to overcome financial, legal or technical barriers. The publication costs, the reviewing process, the archiving etc. are covered by fees or subsidies from foundations. Consequently, Open Access solves the problems of high costs and access, and even the legal difficulties surrounding the dissemination of scientific content. Unlike in other sectors, scientists have a strong interest in the widest possible dissemination of their intellectual property.

The developments appear to be happening hard and fast, the Open Access movement is gaining increasing numbers of supporters. Over 12,000 influential scientists now speak publicly against the business model of the major publishers and are refusing to publish with them. The first German excellence universities are cancelling subscriptions. In an official petition to the White House, thousands demanded free access to state-financed research. The British government and EU Commission also commented on the topic recently. Both would like to see the majority of research being published under Open Access in the years to come, and to witness the world of publishing being turned on its head.

The Max Planck Society is a co-founder of the Open Access movement. With the publication of the “Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities” in 2003 and the subsequent annual conferences a process was launched that increased awareness of the topic of Open Access throughout the world.

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