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Open source publishing for all, or for investment?

Open source software

Open access and open source are cited as increasingly important alternatives to the traditional subscription models of academic publishing. While they represent very different approaches, both have the potential to shape access to scholarly literature and the course of scientific discussion, as explored in a recent article from The Scholarly Kitchen.

Open source software (defined by freely available source code for anyone to use and modify as needed), lowers the development and infrastructure costs for publishing platforms and is finding popularity among publishers (eg Ambra, developed by PLOS), with a number of independent initiatives also underway (eg eLife and the Coko foundation). Could open source platforms open the door to smaller groups or publishers who wish to facilitate the submission and dissemination of research findings, but lack the resources to compete with large publishing houses?

Open standards have encountered roadblocks before. Academics are perhaps more familiar with the open access model, championed as a route by which scientific research can be available to all, without restriction or paywalls. However, this approach is certainly not without its problems; open access advocate Leslie Chan argues that as it stands today, open access risks distorting the view of research by prioritising the findings of large institutions and organisations with pockets deep enough to fund the high author-borne cost of publishing, and conferring an open-access citation advantage. Yet, investing in the open access model has been successful for large publishers who are able to benefit from their established reputations, global reach and large production capabilities to attract top-tier research.

Experience from the technology industry, where use of open source software is well established, suggests that open source publication platforms risk a similar fate, whereby large firms who can attract the programming talent and invest the resources to build upon open source software, are those best positioned to benefit from it. Academic publishing, compared with the technology sector, is further restricted by a relative lack of computer scientists, limiting the availability of those able and willing to devote their time to the niche, independent open projects.

Open standards present the potential for a diverse and more accessible body of scientific literature, that could help improve the slow uptake of open access and answer EU requirements for improved data availability. However, open source faces sizeable investment hurdles for all but the largest publishers, and so it remains to be seen whether independent talent can rescue it from the pitfalls of open access.



Summary by Duncan Campbell, PhD, CMPP  from Aspire Scientific

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