Open Access

New Approaches to Open Access from The Gates Foundation and Macmillan

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation published its new Open Access Policy last week which requires all recipients of grants from the foundation to make their published research accessible to the general public.

The new policy comes into effect as of January 1, though the foundation commits to a “two-year transition period” during which publishers can apply for a so called 12-month embargo period to limit the accessibility of research as well as underlying data sets.

The new policy is rather straight forward and contains five main elements:

  1. the research must be meta-tagged and thus be searchable on the web
  2. it must be published under Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 or a similar license which covers unlimited copy and redistribution of findings and data
  3. the foundation will pay what they call “reasonable” fees to a publisher
  4. the publications will be open and accessible immediately
  5. the underlying data will be open and accessible immediately

The latter two with the exception of the embargo period mentioned above.

Over the past 24 month the voices in higher education and from journalists have become louder to get more and unrestricted access and reuse of peer-reviewed published research. Of course, the big scientific publishers certainly aren’t enthusiastic to make this happen. As a researcher your need to publish your work in one of the big journals, and of course publishers are interested in keeping their cash cow.

From what I know and have read, if a researcher wants to make his or her research accessible to the general public journals often charge them USD $2,000 to $3,000. And everybody who needs to access those papers knows that it can quickly cost you several hundreds of dollars for one publication.

It remains to be seen what the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation determines as reasonable fees. The global STM (science, technology and medicine) market in 2011 was estimated at $23.5 billion by Outsell. And journals are the a big piece of this market with $9.4 billion. So why change such a profitable system?

The scientific publishers might look at their colleagues in the global newspaper publishing industry who have struggled to keep up with technological changes over the five years to 2014.

One might say that scientific journals are one of the last niches virtually untouched by change. It is somewhat comprehensible that publishers want to keep things the way they are as long as possible.

Although this reasoning might still be dominant among STM publishers, I recommend to read the article in The Scholarly Kitchen about Elsevier’s market position and the acquisition of Mendeley, there might also be some first signs of rethinking the situation. Annette Thomas, CEO of Macmillan Science and Education, gave the Independent an interview published yesterday in which she discusses open access to data.

“Scientists have better tools to share their personal photographs or to collect their music than they do to actually share and access data,”

she states.

Under Thomas’ leadership Macmillan has opened up to the idea of open access and invested in related startups such as Figshare and Readcube. Nature, the publisher’s leading science journal, is also a founding partner of the UNESCO’s World Library of Science which aims to provide students with free access to the latest science information as well as a hub to connect and discuss with peers from around the globe.

Disclosure: Macmillan Digital Education, part of Macmillan Science & Education,  is a supporter of EDUKWEST.

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Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at