Updated August 12, 2007
Some funders, such as the Wellcome Trust, are providing targeted funding for open access publishing of the research they fund. This step is welcome, but not necessary for the research funder, as researchers can provide open access through self-archiving without publishing in open access journals. However, it is worth noting that some funders do not need to provide targeted funding in order to support a transition to open access, as existing grant provisions may be more than adequate.
For example, the US National Institutes of Health already expends an estimated $30 million annually in direct costs for publication expenses, and provides for "indirect costs" which can be used to pay for such items as library subscriptions and site license fees.
To put this in perspective: in 2003, the NIH estimates that 60-65,000 articles were written about NIH-funded research. What if all of these articles were published in open access journals? Less than half of open access journals charge article processing fees, as reported in the Kaufmann-Wills study The Facts about Open Access, free to download from http://www.alpsp.org/ngen_public/default.asp?ID=200.
If half the articles were paid for through article processing fees, about 32,500 articles, the $30 million NIH is already paying for publication charges would cover an average of $923 per article. That this is well within the realm of feasibility is illustrated by the fact that, while $923 average is less than the fee charged by some open access publishers, but it is more than is charged by other open access publishers, including the profitable Hindawi.
The feasibility of full open access publishing for NIH-funded research becomes even more obvious when we consider the possibility of redeploying some or all of the "indirect costs", from subscriptions or site licenses to support for open access initiatives.
This makes good economic sense for the NIH. Every article that is published or self-archived for open access is then available for every researcher. Other NIH funded researchers will enjoy savings from grant funds that might have otherwise gone to subscription, interlibrary loan or pay per view fees. Researchers not funded by the NIH also benefit, both financially and in terms of greater access. This increases their capacity to forward our knowledge in the medical arena, which then benefits future NIH researchers and advances us all more quickly to the real goals: understanding, treating, and curing disease.
Librarians are ideally situated to lead in the transition from subscriptions / site licensing to open access, for a number of reasons. For example, librarians who track expenditures on open choice initiatives are in an optimal position to ensure that this revenue translates into appropriate savings on subscriptions, for example as practiced by Oxford University Press.
Here is the relevant paragraph from the NIH policy (with thanks to William Walsh on Liblicense).
The "Policy on Enhancing Public Access to Archived Publications
Resulting from NIH-Funded Research" states:
"The NIH supports the current publishing process by providing its
funded investigators with an estimated $30 million annually in
direct costs for publication expenses, including page and color
charges and reprints. In addition, NIH provides funds, through
indirect costs, to research institutions for library journal
subscriptions and electronic site licenses."
This post is part of the Transitioning to Open Access Series.
Update April 17: for more analysis on how open access will benefit the research funder economically, please see my 2006 blogpost, Open Access: to Leverage the Research Dollar.