I think that open-access publishing where research papers are freely accessible on the web is ultimately inevitably although it will take a while to break the monopoly of the big academic publishers (see this article by George Monbiot to see how bad this is). Ethically, if researchers are paid to do research through public funds, then the public have a right to access their work.
Organising publication and peer reviews is not free, however, so a fee has to be paid by the author. This is a good thing in my view as it means that authors will think twice before submitting work that is not mature enough and may ultimately reduce the total number of papers published.
Now most journals as run by volunteers so, typically the editor and reviewers are not paid. So the principal cost is perhaps some administrative support for the editor. If we assume that the cost of a full-time administrator + office space/phone/computer is about £60, 000 per year and a journal publishes 10 papers per month for 12 months, then the publication cost should be around £500. Details don’t matter – the essence is that the costs are hundreds not thousands of pounds/dollars/euros.
The IEEE recently announced that it would provide what they call ‘hybrid open access’ where authors can opt for their papers to be openly available, at a cost of $3000. However, the other papers in the journal are still only available to subscribers and, of course, there are no signs of the subscriptions being reduced. If $3000 is the real cost (taking into account that advertising and subscriptions also contribute) then it looks to me like the IEEE is a pretty inefficient organization.
But the point here is that hybrid open access is complete nonsense. Either a journal is open access – available freely to all or it isn’t, There is no halfway house that makes sense – its unfair on authors to charge them as if there were no subscribers and its unfair on subscribers not to reduce their subscription if some articles are open-access.
We see more evidence that the IEEE doesn’t understand the model (or, more likely, is doing all it can to stop open-access publishing) in its idiotic statement about additional page costs
“Overlength page charges support the costs of printing extra pages above a standard length set by the journal”
Open access is NOT about print publishing – printed journals are an anachronism and I’m willing to bet that the majority of IEEE journal users don’t get printed versions.
I’ve been a member of the IEEE for almost 30 years and I like their journals. I think that professional societies should be the leaders in promoting open access and I’m saddened by the fact that either they don’t understand this or that they wish to discourage this approach to publishing.
Personally, I’ve recently taken the position that I won’t review for journals that don’t make articles freely available and I won’t submit articles to them. See: