The concept of open-access (OA) literature revolves around its digital, online nature, being free of charge, and largely unrestricted by copyright and licensing constraints. Its viability is rooted in the interconnected world of the internet and the willing cooperation of authors or copyright holders.
Unlike many other creative fields, scholarly journals in most disciplines don’t financially compensate authors, allowing them to embrace OA without sacrificing income. This unique position of scholars and scientists separates the debates surrounding OA from those in the music and film industry.
Crucially, OA is fully compatible with the peer-review process, a fundamental aspect emphasized by major OA initiatives in scientific and scholarly literature. Authors contribute their work, as do journal editors and referees involved in the peer-review process.
While OA literature isn’t cost-free to produce, its expenses are often lower than traditionally published literature. The real question lies not in making scholarly literature costless but in exploring alternative means to cover expenses rather than relying on reader charges and access barriers. The business models supporting OA hinge on how it is delivered.
There are two primary avenues for providing OA to research articles: OA journals and OA archives or repositories.
OA archives or repositories, lacking a peer-review mechanism, freely share their contents with the world. They may include unreviewed preprints, reviewed postprints, or both. Archives can be affiliated with institutions or disciplines, and authors typically have the autonomy to archive preprints without additional permissions. When archives adhere to the Open Archives Initiative’s metadata harvesting protocol, they become interoperable, enabling users to access content seamlessly.
OA journals, on the other hand, undergo peer review and subsequently offer approved content freely. Their expenses cover peer review, manuscript preparation, and server space. Similar to broadcast media, OA journals secure funding from parties interested in disseminating content, ensuring free access for users. This might involve subsidies from hosting institutions or professional societies, or processing fees charged to authors or sponsors. Journals often waive fees in cases of economic hardship, and some institutions negotiate fee discounts. Creative solutions, such as income from other publications, advertising, or auxiliary services, further contribute to sustaining OA journals.
In essence, the landscape of OA is dynamic, with various models and funding sources allowing for flexibility and ongoing exploration of innovative approaches to support peer-reviewed OA journals.