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AFRO-NETS> Market-Driven Free Access to Journal Articles

Market-Driven Free Access to Journal Articles

The Scientist 15[12]:43, Jun. 11, 2001

By Thomas J. Walker

Authors of journal articles want their efforts certified by peer re-
view and made conveniently available to the widest possible reader-
ship. They do not expect royalties nor do they receive them. What 
they hope for is impact. More specifically, they hope for attention, 
especially from other researchers, and recognition, especially from 
those who decide which researchers should be hired or promoted. Jour-
nal articles have greater impact if they are immediately and widely 
accessible. In this Internet Age, maximum impact is achieved by toll-
free Web access concurrent with paper publication. Publishers of 
journals, whether societies or commercial publishers, wish to meet 
expenses and make a profit. Commercial publishers strive to maximize 
profits, which has led them to increases in journal prices at rates 
far in excess of inflation. This, in turn, has led to the "serials 
crisis" in which research libraries must cancel subscriptions that 
their clients consider essential. Reduced subscriptions have led to 
still higher journal prices (to maintain profits), further aggravat-
ing the crisis.

Journal publishers are taking advantage of the Web's quick, conven-
ient delivery of information by creating electronic versions of their 
traditional, print journals. To protect their subscription revenues, 
they have made the e-versions accessible only to those who have paid 
for a subscription or who are clients of a library that has paid for 
a site license to the journal. Authors who want their refereed work 
to be accessible toll-free on the Web concurrent with paper publica-
tion are not offered that option.

The Entomological Society of America (ESA,, publisher 
of four leading entomological journals,[1] now offers that very ser-
vice to those authors who are willing to pay for it. For authors who 
buy the service, ESA immediately posts their articles, toll-free to 
all users, on ESA's server ( Anyone with 
Internet access can download these articles in portable document for-
mat (PDF) without charge. The success of this service, which can be 
termed Immediate Free Web Access (IFWA), suggests that a market-
driven transition to toll-free access for all articles in all jour-
nals is possible.

ESA's business plan for its journals is simple: The price of IFWA 
will be based on its cost and no author will be required to purchase 
it. If nearly all authors buy IFWA and subscriptions are lost because 
content is increasingly available for free, ESA will compensate by 
increasing the price of IFWA. If higher prices cause fewer authors to 
buy IFWA, subscription revenues should stabilize.

The endpoint of this plan is uncertain, but it may lead to the demise 
of paper publication and subscriptions, because authors and the in-
stitutions that support them are likely to embrace the benefits of 
IFWA and strive to reduce the high costs of the present system. Mone-
tary costs of the present system include printing paper issues, lim-
iting access to electronic versions, and making past and present vol-
umes of journals accessible in hundreds of research libraries. Intan-
gible costs are that the present system lessens the impact of arti-
cles and severely restricts access by researchers in lesser institu-
tions and in developing countries. Nonetheless, many of the stake-
holders in the present system believe that printed issues, or at 
least tolls in the form of subscriptions and site licenses, will con-
tinue indefinitely.

ESA began offering IFWA in January 2000. Its price to authors for the 
service is 75 percent of the price of 100 paper reprints. For exam-
ple, the charge for a seven-page article is US$ 90. This price pro-
vides a greater profit margin than for paper reprints, which are ex-
pensive to produce and deliver. IFWA requires only that the PDF file 
of the article be made freely accessible on ESA's Web server. During 
the first two months of the service, authors bought IFWA for 13 per-
cent of the articles. The purchase rate has risen steadily, and for 
March and April 2001 it was 59 percent.

Courtesy of Thomas J. Walker

The difference between Fee Access and Free Access to materials on the Web

If IFWA is a profit-making service that many authors want and are 
willing to pay for, why is ESA apparently the only publisher that 
sells it? For scientific societies, the answer is probably that their 
institutional inertia is great and their members have yet to lobby 
for IFWA--as ESA members did. For commercial publishers, it may be 
that they fear that selling IFWA to those who want it will abet a 
transition to IFWA for all articles. If that should occur, revenues 
from subscriptions and site licenses would cease, ending an advantage 
commercial publishers have long enjoyed--namely, financing their 
journals largely through high-priced library subscriptions.

On the other hand, societies have supplemented modest incomes from 
lower-priced library subscriptions with member dues and page charges. 
In a world without journal subscriptions, societies and commercial 
publishers alike will collect page charges to pay for refereeing, ed-
iting, and composing. Publishers will pay nothing to make the refe-
reed articles freely Web accessible, because research libraries and 
PubMed Central will post them without charge.

Authors should encourage their publishers to provide IFWA at a fair 
price. Other things being equal, many authors will prefer to publish 
in journals that provide it, especially as electronic literature in-
dexes begin linking directly to the e-versions of articles. Most au-
thors would like nothing better than for their articles to be avail-
able in full-text, without tolls, via links in Current Contents Con-
nect and other widely used literature indexes.

Thomas J. Walker, a professor of entomology at University of Florida, 
Gainesville, maintains a site on Web access to traditionally pub-
lished journals at:

[1] Annals of the Entomological Society of America
    Journal of Medical Entomology
    Journal of Economic Entomology
    Environmental Entomology
The Scientist 15[12]:43, Jun. 11, 2001
Copyright 2001, The Scientist, Inc. All rights reserved.

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