Open Access. The concept is shaking up the publishing industry more than anything since the printing press. At its heart is a noble desire to disseminate knowledge as widely as possible, regardless of one’s means. But, it runs into the practical realities of economics, copyright, and how the web is run.
Websites offer great economies of scale, but they can not be run for free. I know. I’ve managed a huge public website (water.usgs.gov). Content must be organized, authenticated, checked for quality, maintained to changing standards, updated as needed (discussions, replies, and errata come to mind), monitored, and made available at high speeds all the time. You can’t do this on the cheap, which, unfortunately, seems the fate of too many government and university repositories. Maintenance is not glamorous, but once you put a journal paper online, you must serve it forever.
In an earlier posting, I talked about some of the problems which occur when duplicate, unofficial copies of papers appear on the open web. Nevertheless, some natural-resources agencies are beginning to insist the research they fund be made freely available to the public. The Wiley-Blackwell answer to this is OnlineOpen, whereby authors pay a fee to make the official online copy of their paper available to all. The process is compliant with all major public-access requirements. Authors and institutions are freed of the burden of serving the paper. Search engines see a single version for classifying and ranking. The paper is presented in the context of its journal, where it may be compared to other papers and more properly evaluated by readers. AWRA and Wiley-Blackwell have an obvious interest in making sure JAWRA’s content remains current and adjusts to current standards.
OnlineOpen papers can be identified on our website with the green “Free” icon next to their title. (Some papers are temporarily made free for promotional purposes as well.) Overall, I think OnlineOpen is a win-win situation for those who need it. Researchers get their work distributed in a legal, effective manner under an economically sustainable publishing model.