Reed Elsevier facing fresh threat to science journal profits

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The Independent Online

Five more leading science journals are to partly or fully abandon charging subscriptions and take up the "open access" model, it has emerged, in a blow to traditional publishers in the sector such as Reed Elsevier.

Five more leading science journals are to partly or fully abandon charging subscriptions and take up the "open access" model, it has emerged, in a blow to traditional publishers in the sector such as Reed Elsevier.

An influential government-funded organisation, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), will announce later this week that it is providing funding to the journals in order to aid the transition to the "author-pays" or open access.

Fred Friend, a consultant to the JISC and a leading advocate of open access, said: "Reed's problem is that it's had a very easy life for a number of years, based on secure funding from libraries. That gravy train's coming to an end because libraries cannot afford it any more."

The publications involved in the JISC initiative are The New Journal of Physics (published by the Institute of Physics Publishing); Nucleic Acids Research (Oxford University Press); Journal of Medical Genetics (British Medical Journals); the journals of the International Union of Crystallography; and The Journal of Experimental Botany (The Society for Experimental Biology).

The open access movement in science and medical publishing has developed over the last three years in response to the increasing difficulties that academic libraries have had in meeting the soaring costs of journal subscriptions. Under the new model, the author of the research article - in practice the funders of the research - pay for publication in a journal, which is then made freely available to any interested readers.

So far, it is a tiny proportion of the multi-billion pound science publishing market has gone open access. and Reed Elsevier, the leading player, has dismissed this alternative as unviable and a threat to standards. The company's journals include The Lancet and Cell.

The Department of Trade and Industry has so far failed to back open access - most research is publicly funded. The JISC, a committee of further and higher education funding bodies, is also a tax-funded organisation but it is independent in terms of policy.

The JISC will meet the costs of publication for UK authors submitting articles to the five journals involved in its initiative, allowing the publications to waive part or all of the fees that would normally be required from authors under open access. The project will cost around £150,000.

Martin Richardson, managing director of journals at Oxford University Press, said: "Open access has not so far been shown to be commercially viable. This JISC grant will ensure a sufficiently large sample to see how well it works."

JISC's had previously backed a smaller trial, involving some of the same journals. It said yesterday that the results had been extremely encouraging. For instance, the New Journal of Physics saw a 300 per cent jump in author submissions, while the Journal of Experimental Biology saw access rise by 27 per cent.

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