Open Access: A Primer

Given current publishing trends, it is likely that in the next three-to-five years, most scientific journals, including Biophysical Journal (BJ), will become completely open access (OA) upon publication. Open access is the practice of providing unrestricted access to scholarly articles. Various countries’ governing bodies and funding institutions have different and shifting OA requirements for articles based on research they have funded. As trends change and more laws begin to dictate OA, scientific journals, including BJ, will continue to navigate these regulations while maintaining benefits to authors and readers alike.

There are various models of OA, but all of them have this in common: they shift the bearing of publishing costs from the end user (reader) to the creator (submitter/author). While open access might mean “free” to the general public, models providing OA show that it is not really free at all, but has simply shifted the cost to the author or author’s funding agency or institution.

What Are the Agency Requirements?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) requires that all reviewed and accepted NIH-funded research be published on PubMedCentral and made OA after 12 months. NIH does not recognize OA when provided from a publisher’s website, and it does not provide any additional funds to the publisher or author for OA fees. Biophysical Journal has from the very start complied with NIH requirements by providing final redacted copies of all accepted papers to PubMedCentral at the time of publication, and allowing OA after 12 months.

Research Councils UK (RCUK) will require, effective April 2013, that all UK-government funded research is made available through OA after six months. OA material may reside on the publisher’s website. The UK government has also agreed to pay for publisher’s OA fees, agreeing that publishers provide added value through peer review and editing. Other funding institutions have also established OA rules for the research they fund, including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Burroughs Wellcome Trust (BWT). These organizations require that research they have supported be available through OA after six months of publication. Like the UK government, these groups have agreed to pay OA fees. Because so many groups have such varying requirements, be sure to research any requirements your funding agency or institution may have before submitting your paper.

What Does Open Access Cost?

Completely OA journals (at publication) are still in the comparative minority to closed or hybrid-model journals. Some examples of completely OA journals include Cell Reports and the PLOS journals. Hybrid examples include Biophysical Journal, AIP Journals, Journal of Biological Chemistry, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Journals that do not offer OA at time of publication include The Journal of General Physiology (JGP), The Journal of Cell Biology (JCB), and The Journal of Experimental Medicine (JEM).

Each journal has a slightly different pricing model for making articles fully OA. PLOS journals, for example, charge authors a publication fee, making OA immediately funded by authors or their funding agencies. Other journals, including Biophysical Journal, offer a ‘hybrid’ model, where the author has the choice of making the article immediately available through OA or not, while other articles remain available through subscriptions. The chart below outlines the models and OA fees of several journals, including BJ.

December 2012 Table of Contents