Until recently, Joseph said, the growth and expansion of open access publishing had been steady but slow. It's only in the last year-and-a-half "when we really saw an incredible explosion of new outlets, new models in particular, coming into the marketplace. I think there's a sea change that's happening right now."
SPARC exists on the other end of the debate with regard to how the public should be able to access the fruits of taxpayer-funded research. It has been a firm supporter of the NIH policy and is advocating the expansion of it to other government agencies. One bill it supports, called the Federal Research Public Access Act (or FRPAA), would require that all agencies with research budgets of $100 million or more provide public access to articles stemming from that research within six months of publication. "There's about $60 billion of government-funded research--non-defense, non-classified research--that's done every year," said Joseph. "About $30 billion every year comes from the NIH. There are 11 other agencies in departments that make up the other half of the pie chart. The calculation we're making is that this extension is not a risky bet. We've had a policy in place on half of U.S.-funded research for four years that's been effective, that's provided access where half a million a day hit NIH's database looking at this stuff. And no publisher has reported financially that they've been hurt from it. So there's a safe spot that's balancing for the first time the public's ability to get access to this without destroying the subscription publisher's ability to exist."
There are many public access advocates who hope that the Obama administration will enter the fold, and there's been some indication that the White House will get behind expanding the NIH policy. But regardless of when or if that happens, the drumbeat for open access, both as a business model and as government policy, is only growing. There may soon be a day when the market share of the big commercial publishers begins to slip. But lest one gets too excited about the large boycotts of closed access journals and Harvard's vocal endorsement of open access, it's important to remember this isn't the first time these kinds of battle cries have occurred. In fact, PLoS's first journal was founded in the wake of just this sort of outcry nearly a decade ago.
"Individuals were invited to sign a petition with the Public Library of Science to never publish in a subscription journal and never review for a subscription journal," said Frank of The American Physiological Society. "They have over 30,000 signers, but very few of them actually abided in action by the terms of the petition. So just because Harvard has issued a letter it doesn't mean that Harvard's faculty going to do what the university wants.