Opponents say this puts publishers at a financial disadvantage. "The argument that the taxpayer pays for it, and therefore the taxpayer should have it for free, is weak in my view," said Martin Frank, the executive director of the American Physiological Society. " … You and everyone else can identify the fact that there's lots of stuff in our society that has been developed through taxpayer dollars that we still end up paying for."
Even though Frank opposes the NIH policy of forcing grant recipients to deposit their articles in PubMed within one year, his society's 14 journals make their articles available free of charge after the same time period. While it may seem that there's a discongruity in these two statements, Frank is of the belief that it's the one-size-fits-all approach of the NIH that makes it so harmful. The American Physiological Society is able to release its articles for free after a year because its journals publish on a monthly basis and most of the value derived from those articles occurs during the first year. In the harder sciences, the adoption and dissemination of research happens at a much quicker pace, but in other sciences, he said, academics might not stumble upon a journal article until three years after it's published. So journals that specialize in these fields are put to a disadvantage by the NIH's 12-month policy. "Twelve months might not work for them because they have a very small subscription base, and if the subscription base becomes too small because people are willing to wait 12 months or six months, then you might have a problem sustaining it."
Other opponents of the policy have sought to find a middle ground. Fred Dylla, the executive director at the American Institute of Physics, has proposed a system in which agencies do a better job identifying which articles are based on government-funded research. "We will code the funding agency right into the article as it goes into the publisher," he explained. "And when this is up and going, the random member of the public can come to the National Science Foundation site or the NASA site and get a list of all the articles that resulted from NASA funding."
Under this system, when the person finds the article he wants to read, clicking on it brings him to the publisher's page, where it's available for download. "I've been working with a group of publishers that include more than 40 now that have been experimenting with a simple iTunes-like rental model," Dylla said. "When you land on the site and you don't happen to have a subscription, you can rent the article for a nominal price." He said he couldn't disclose the price because of antitrust issues, but he compared it to the "price of a cup of coffee."
Heather Joseph has what could be considered a bird's-eye view of the academic publishing field. She spent 15 years in journal publishing, mostly working for various societies, but this also includes nearly a year at Elsevier ("I did not last a full year," she said. "I lasted 11 months. The business model was not in alignment with what I learned journal publishers did."). These days, she's the executive director of SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, which was developed by the Association of Research Libraries. One of its chief goals is to provide "a way to keep scholarly societies publishing independently to keep from selling out to commercial companies." Though she would consider herself an advocate for open access publishing, her main drive is to help societies produce their own journals instead of outsourcing the process to companies like Elsevier and Wiley.
This is partly done by providing online platforms to ease the process and overhead of putting out a journal, but it also includes forming a strength-in-numbers approach to ensure the same kind of guaranteed revenue stream a commercial publisher offers through bundling. "University libraries are about 80 percent of the average publisher's revenue stream," she said. "We're the revenue base, and if we're part of the business equation saying we're sort of guarantors on this project, then it makes small publishers more willing to take a risk and go into this kind of venture."