We conducted semi-structured telephone interviews to explore authors' attitudes towards open access publishing and author charges, their perceptions of journals that charge authors, and whether they would be willing to submit to these journals.
Goals and intentions
The traditional business model in scientific journal publishing is based on subscription charges to readers. This model might restrict access to knowledge and generate undeserved profit for publishers. An emerging alternative is open access publishing, which gives lawful free access to journal content on the internet and is funded by means other than readers' subscriptions. Currently, several biomedical publishers are considering moving towards open access funded through author charges, but we know little about authors' attitudes or likely responses to such charges. To determine what motivates authors to publish in specific journals, whether they support open access publishing, and their perceptions of journals that charge authors fees, we carried out a series of interviews with authors to explore their understanding and attitudes.
We conducted semistructured interviews by telephone. Authors were asked if they were familiar with the terms “open access publishing” and “author pays models” and what they understood these terms to mean; whether they were in support of open access publishing; how they felt about the idea of author charges replacing subscription costs; whether they would consider submitting papers to author pays journals; and whether they would submit to the BMJ if it introduced publication charges.
We provided definitions to participants not familiar with the terms and to those who gave inadequate descriptions. We defined open access as “the provision of lawful free access to journal content online with its production funded by means other than subscription charges.” An author pays model was defined as “an alternative method of funding journals whereby subscription charges are replaced with author charges for publication.” When all interviews were completed, we independently collated responses and grouped the data according to emerging themes. Both interviewers verified subsequent themes.
We divided the list of corresponding authors who submitted to the BMJ in 2003 into regions reflecting areas from which the BMJ receives most submissions: United Kingdom; North America; Australasia; and Europe (excluding United Kingdom). We used computer generated random numbers to select a sample of 10 authors from each region and a further 10 in the European sample for use in case of language difficulties.
Number of scholarly outputs commented on
Authors were more aware of the concepts of open access publishing and author pays models than previously reported. Almost all authors supported the concept of open access, but few had submitted to an open access journal, other than the BMJ. Reasons for not submitting included lack of awareness of which journals publish with open access, and journal quality taking a higher priority in decision making than the availability of open access. Authors disliked the idea of author charges without institutional support and were concerned about implications for authors from developing countries and those without research funding. However, many said they would probably continue to submit to journals they perceived as being of high quality even if they charged authors.