The debate about free access to publications in Commentary, Correspondence and your website (see and, for example, Nature 411, 521–522; 2001) is valuable. I have not, however, seen taken into account the point that — despite the bias introduced by the publish-or-perish ethos — research publication contributes an 'external benefit' to appointments committees, grant-awarders and those evaluating research careers, which could not be obtained in any other way, or, probably, at any price. This means that the activities of these organizations are indirectly subsidized by subscribers to science journals.

External benefits can and should be paid for. It would be a reasonable act of good faith if these committees, grant-awarders and other organizations were to make a contribution to an academic library every time they took a decision that depended necessarily on the journal system these libraries finance. Can a mechanism be found to implement this suggestion?