Intended for healthcare professionals


Scientific literature's open sesame?

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 03 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:945

Charging authors to publish could provide free access for all

  1. Tony Delamothe, web editor,,
  2. Fiona Godlee, director,
  3. Richard Smith, editor
  1. BMJ Knowledge
  2. BMJ

    How could you make the results of the world's original biomedical research freely available to anyone who wanted them? This question remained hypothetical until the arrival of the world wide web, which allows distribution of material at only a fraction of the cost of distribution on paper. But publishing peer reviewed original research has some costs that the internet cannot magic away. Recently, a way to meet those costs has become clear. The goal of original research being free to everybody everywhere could be very close.

    Currently subscribers to journals, mostly academic libraries, pay for access to scientific information. In the new model, authors (or, more likely, those who employ them or fund their research) would pay the costs of peer reviewing and electronically disseminating their articles. This one off processing charge would ensure that the article was freely available to all, forever. Journals' estimates of how much this article processing charge would need to be to cover their costs vary between $500 (£314) and $1800 per article.1 In disciplines where authors already pay submission and page charges the change would be small.

    Experiments with the “author pays” model are already under way. Over the past two years, the publisher BioMed Central has set up 90 electronic journals adopting this model. The two new journals planned by the Public Library of Science (a pressure group set up to promote open access to the world's primary research literature) will be funded this …

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