Your Commentaries on 'How to survive the recession' devote much discussion to the effects of the global recession on science (Nature 457, 957–963; 2009). However, the financial squeeze may also be affecting the publication output of research institutions in a more subtle way. It could be boosting the traditional reader-pays publication model for scientific journals at the expense of the author-pays, or open-access, model.
Open-access journals ask authors to pay for processing their manuscripts (which involves organizing a form of quality control, formatting and distribution) so that the final product becomes freely available, and free to use if properly attributed. This model is widely believed to increase the visibility, dissemination and, eventually, the citation and impact of research findings. It is also praised for providing free access to much-needed scientific literature in developing countries (see, for example, J. A. Evans and J. Reimer Science 323, 1025; 2009).
However, few peer-reviewed open-access journals have so far had a high impact factor in their field, except for a small number such as those published by the Public Library of Science and BioMed Central. They are therefore struggling to emerge and to attract the most prestigious research findings.
This situation could deteriorate further if open-access journals are forced to move to (partial) site licensing in order to cover their production costs — a shift recently undertaken by the Journal of Visualized Experiments (http://tinyurl.com/cmhuwk), for example as authors become increasingly reluctant or unable to pay in the current financial climate.
Some publishers have adopted a scheme that allows authors to post their unformatted, accepted manuscripts on their institutional repositories, rendering conventional articles de facto open access without added cost. Encouraging authors to use this right would prevent further dampening of the move towards openly sharing scientific knowledge, to the benefit of all.
Science publishing issues are featured at Nautilus (http://blogs.nature.com/nautilus).