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Welcome Trust journal announcement a game changer?

April 10th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

The announcement that the Wellcome Trust has teamed up with the Max Planck Society in Germany and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US to set up a new open-access journal called eLife probably marks the turning point in the campaign for open access publishing. Yet what is surprising is how resilient the traditional journal publishing model has been, and how long it is taking to change it.

It is relatively simple to set up an open access web journal. And most open access journals share with traditional journals the same system of peer reviewing. Despite publishers claims that they need to charge relatively high costs for journals due to the support they provide for editing and reviewing, I am dubious. I have reviewed many submissions for both closed and open access publications and the differences seem to lie more in the difference of the effort, commitment and outlook of individual editors, rather than the support of the publishers.

Where the traditional publishers do spend, I suspect, is on marketing. Yet a series of reports have suggested that papers published in open access journals get more readers than those in traditional subscription based print journals. In terms of getting readers and feedback, I have tended to find web self publishing the most effective!

So why has is taken so long for open access journals to emerge? Firstly, I suspect is the deep adherence of educational culture and institutions to print media. The web is simply seen as second best. And most importantly, is the various academic rating lists for journals, which vastly favour the closed journals promoted by the academic publishers. Many of my friends would far prefer to publish in open access journals but feel forced to submit to educational publishers as they see it important for their future careers.

That is why the Welcome Trust announcement is so important. The publication of a range of prestigious open access journal is likely to open up the floodgates.

Yet the time it has taken for this to happen show the challenges for the wider open education movement.

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