Open access publishing will become the most predominant model for scientific research within the next five years, according to Jan Velterop, publisher and director of open access site BioMed Central.

Mr Velterop was responding to comments made last week by Sir Crispin Davis, chief executive of publisher Reed Elsevier, who dismissed any commercial threat from open access publishing.

Open access publishing works by charging academics to publish their work, but allows anyone to read the results for free.

"The academic world is just not responding to the author-pays model. It's been around five years and its market share is still around one per cent," said Sir Crispin.

Reed Elsevier is the world's largest scientific journal publisher, producing 1,800 titles including the Lancet and American Heart Journal.

The publisher has been criticised for the significant wealth created by its journals, which account for around 35 per cent of the company's profits. Critics claim that academic journals cost higher education in the UK around £76 million every year, and that these subscriptions create barriers for the spread of information and research which is often publicly funded.

Speaking to dotJournalism, Mr Velterop said that traditional publishers do not react quickly enough to developments in the publishing industry.

"Life has been too cosy for too long for these traditional publishers," he said.

"There is no reason why publishers should be guardians of this knowledge, especially when it is funded by public money."

In July, the Commons Science and Technology Committee issued a report into scientific publishing, recommending to the UK government that academic institutions make publicly funded research available online free-of-charge. The result was seen as a victory for supporters of open access, and committee chairman Ian Gibson MP described commercial publishers as "ripping off the academic community".

Speaking at the presentation of Reed Elsevier's interim results on 5 August, Sir Crispin said that the idea of free research archives for academic communities was 'daft' and 'not workable'.

After four years of heavy investment, Reed Elsevier will be keen to protect its online services. This year alone, the company will have invested around £230 million in its online archives and web-based products.

Mr Velterop disputed Sir Crispin's claim that submissions to open access publishers had dropped.

"As recently as last year the model was being ridiculed by traditional publishers," he said.

"If I were them I'd keep making the money while it lasts - maybe another five years - and then let it collapse. Open access publishers like us can then salvage what's left, and that's not an implausible scenario."

There are practical difficulties - not least that authors and scientists, although used to exploring radical scientific ideas, tend to be conservative when it comes to publishing their work. Journals also carry a certain amount of prestige for authors.

But BioMed Central is working to convince academics and funders that open access is the future. The Wellcome Trust, an independent research-funding charity, is particularly supportive, said Mr Velterop, because even though they fund research, they often have to pay more for access.

Open access also has significant potential for the developing world. Submissions by researchers from the Indian sub-continent, China and Africa are often rejected by Western publishers not because the quality of the work is poor, but because the authors do not have access to information on the latest research developments.

"This could be a major contribution to scientific understanding - open access publishing could utilise the intellectual capacity of the world," he said.

More news from dotJournalism:
AlphaGalileo boosts science journalism with matchmaking service

See also:
BioMed Central:
The Lancet:
American Heart Journal:
Reed Elsevier:
Wellcome Trust:

Further coverage:
Times Online:,,9071-1204570,00.html
Guardian Unlimited:,3604,1277309,00.html

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).