I generally support any kind of open access project I come across. My library has supported SPARC, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, BioOne (not really open access, but a publishing alternative), Public Library of Science, and more. There is another open access project in development called SCOAP3. The project would try to “turn” the top-rated journals in high-energy physics to an open access model.
SCOAP3 is essentially a consortium that would attempt to raise money to pay the publishers for granting open access to the journals. The amount of money necessary for that flip would be assigned around the world to represent the home countries of authors in those journals (basically a representation of how important the journals are in each country).
The model is being presented to other consortia, in the hopes of getting libraries to contribute consortially. Libraries would probably contribute about as much as they are paying in subscriptions right now. SCOAP3 would act rather like the subscription agent for the world. It is now the big topic on the discussion list of one consortium we participate in. One librarian observed that it could be problematic for state universities from an auditing standpoint: the library is paying money for something that would be free to the world.
This is a legitimate concern. The other open access projects we have supported are a similar issue, but this could up the ante a bit because of the cost of the journals and the cost of a member contribution to SCOAP3. I have other concerns that cause me to be less than enthusiastic about the project. First and foremost is that most of the journals being targeted are part of packages that we can’t cancel from. We would get no cost savings with which to pay the consortial contribution. It would have to come entirely out of our pocket. It is kind of a chicken and egg situation: if it’s open access, there would be no subscription cost, but can we cancel our subscription to pay the consortial contribution in order to make it open access?
It is unclear to me how willing the publishers are to play along with this model. While negotiating with the publishers as a united world would seem to have some benefits, I’m not sure we wouldn’t still be held hostage to unrealistic price increases. The entire approach seems a bit like offering to pay off the blackmailers and extortionists.
Rather than continuing to pay off the publishers of these highly rank journals, how about trying to implement peer review in the HEP pre-print repositories that already exist? The repositories already have the articles that the research communities need. The only element lacking is the peer review editorial process. Transferring the review to the repository would ensure the quality of the publications while keeping control in the scientific community. I fear that the SCOAP3 model depends too greatly on maintaining a traditional publishing model, only the manner of paying is changed. The journals would still be maintained for one purpose only: to grant status to the authors of articles therein for the purposes of promotion and tenure review. The publishers can still charge what they like for that status.
These views are mine, by the way, and not necessarily those of my institution or my co-workers.