APS News

New Program Extends Open Access Offerings of APS Journals

The APS is expanding its Open Access (OA) offerings to articles published in Physical Review A-E, Physical Review Letters, and Reviews of Modern Physics. The new initiative is called FREE TO READ and can be applied to any article or group of articles published in APS journals dating all the way back to 1893.

Anyone (authors, readers, institutions, funding agencies, etc.) may, by paying a one-time fee, make articles published in APS journals available on the Society's various sites to all readers at no cost and without a subscription.

OA journals have proliferated over the last decade in an attempt to combat the sharp escalation in journal subscription prices. Among the movement's leaders is Harold Varmus, former NIH director and currently president and chief executive of the Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who helped found a nonprofit OA organization called the Public Library of Science (PLoS).

The emergence of OA journals has sparked heated debate over their potentially adverse economic impact on traditional scientific journals, such as Science, Nature, and the APS journals. Skeptics claim OA journals are not economically viable and could put an end to existing peer-reviewed journals, while proponents claim that OA improves the overall circulation and impact of scientific articles.

Among the controversial elements of the OA model is how one should define open access. A possible definition is any online journal that doesn't charge subscription fees. Because it charges a one-time fee, the APS FREE TO READ program is more of a hybrid OA model, according to APS Editor-in-Chief Martin Blume, who nonetheless insists it still falls under the evolving definition for OA. Thomas McIlrath, the retiring APS treasurer, concurs. “The operative word is ‘access',” he says. “If there are no barriers to the reader accessing the material, then the material is open access.”

The advent of electronic publishing brought about significant changes, and APS has adapted well. The same is true for OA. In fact, Blume maintains that the APS has been a leader in OA for years, with its early and continued support of arXiv.org and with its copyright agreement form. The agreement allows authors to make available their APS publications on their own or their institution's website.

APS introduced its first OA journal, Physical Review Special Topics: Accelerators and Beams, in 1998. Based on an institutional sponsorship model, this journal has steadily grown over the past 8 years and is now supported by an international group of accelerator laboratories. The Society introduced a second OA journal in 2005 called Physical Review Special Topics: Physics Education Research. This journal is financed by publication charges to the authors or the authors' institutions.

The introduction of FREE TO READ extends OA to the articles for all of the Society's journals. The FREE TO READ fees will initially be $975 for articles in Physical Review A-E and $1300 for Physical Review Letters. Articles in Reviews of Modern Physics, due to their large size and the limited number published annually, will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The higher price associated with PRL is due to its higher cost per published letter (because of its stringent acceptance rate).

The reality with any publishing model, of course, is that there are always costs incurred, and therefore, “Someone will inevitably have to pay for creating the final product,” says McIlrath, whether it is a federal grant, advertising revenues, the authors themselves (via the time-honored tradition of page charges), or a laboratory or university sponsoring a journal. PLoS requires authors to pay fees ranging from $500 to $1500.

The Royal Society in the United Kingdom–one of the most outspoken critics of OA–recently implemented its own hybrid OA model on a trial basis. Under the new scheme, authors can choose to pay 300 pounds per page to make their paper freely available immediately, or stick with the Royal Society's current model, in which they pay nothing and wait 12 months for the paper to become freely available.

The FREE TO READ fees will not be replacing subscriptions, but have been set well below the current amount per article needed to recover costs in the absence of subscriptions. The fees will therefore be adjusted as necessary to maintain APS's ability to sustain this initiative. Additional revenues will primarily be used to lower the current subscription rates of the smallest institutions.

“We are not naïve and do not ignore the need to be financially strong in order to do our job,” says McIlrath. “However, we are confident that we can bring new ideas to the process, and that through these innovations we will continue to be in a position where institutions will financially support our efforts.”

The FREE TO READ initiative represents a path by which APS could gradually transition to full Open Access. If the community (especially institutions and funding agencies) shows continued support for this initiative, a sustainable level may be reached in which the APS can recover its costs, offset its risks, and eliminate subscriptions for some or all of its journals.

For additional information, please go to the FAQ at http://publish.aps.org/FREETOREAD_FAQ.html .

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff