voluntary page charge and buying a new computer, the decision is easy and obvious. The funds in a grant that are at the investigator’s disposal are simply too valuable to be used to publish a paper, if that paper can be published without charge. Yet, as previously mentioned, the funder of that grant has a responsibility to see that the results of the research supported by the grant are distributed and used. This paradox faces the community of scientists, publishers, and funders of research right now.
This discussion concludes with a proposal to resolve the problem of paying for publication of scientific papers. The cost of publishing, high as it seems in the context of open access to scientific data and information, is a small fraction of the total cost of the research the publications describe. If a traditional journal can maintain high quality with low subscription costs and without its publisher charging authors so that the journal remains healthy and competitive, there is no need for any change. However the journal publishers, particularly the professional societies whose primary motivation is to serve their scientific memberships, see financing as a goal secondary to keeping the journals and the societies healthy. Their not-for-profit roles determine priorities that are quite different from those of commercial publishers. Consequently, a professional society is likely to regard electronic posting differently than a commercial publisher, and is likely to have a different kind of motivation toward actions that might threaten traditional revenue sources.
The method we propose for paying for the publication of scientific papers is a fallback that will ensure that the funder’s goals are achieved from the perspective of the scientific community, which is the heaviest user of the published results. We propose an author-based fee system, but one in which the author is not expected to cover the publication costs using a research grant. Instead, we propose that the journal publishing an article bill the funding agency or foundation directly for the costs of editing, reviewing (so long as the paper goes through review), indexing, distributing, and archiving that are beyond what subscription revenue can cover. Direct billing would ensure that journals would survive however deeply they commit themselves to electronic accessibility and however much that accessibility cuts into subscriptions. This procedure was used, in fact, for some years by one U.S. foundation for publications generated in the research projects it supported.
This method might appear superficially as a direct subsidy, but it is a rechanneling of funds to reduce transaction costs and achieve the goals of the researchers and their financial supporters. At present many of the funds that cover indirect costs of a grant are used to support institutional libraries. If subscription costs could be held down by shifting publication costs significantly to an author-based charging system, then some overhead funds could be included in a direct publication charge and would apply specifically to the user community of those publications.
It would be reasonable to have some upper limit on what could be charged. The amount could be based on figures developed by professional societies working with funding agencies. If a publisher were to charge more than that minimum, the author would be expected to pay that difference with discretionary funds, presumably from a grant. This might happen, for example, with very-high-prestige journals of commercial publishers.
It would be quite possible for some journals to opt not to participate in such a scheme. In fact, competition with other alternatives would be a desirable way for the method to be tested. It would require collaboration of the funding agencies, but it might be possible to adjust the distribution of funding so that the total budget for support of research could be nearly constant while the distribution of scientific results could become much more effective.