The “open access fee” is a charming little aspect of academic publishing where I have the option to pay, for example, $3000 to the IEEE, and then they’ll poke a hole in their paywall so that anyone can download a paper without paying. The fee is per paper. Here’s a list of some publishers’ fees. I find the specific numbers to be interesting. Why is Cell Press $5000, IEEE $3000, and AIP $1350? A few guesses:
- One publisher set the fee to an arbitrary value and then the rest of them chose fees in the same ballpark, but a bit higher or lower depending on whether they want to appear to be more or less prestigious.
- The fee is comfortably larger than the total expected future value of the closed access version of the publication.
- The fee is set to maximize short-term profits.
Of course, the vast majority of academic publications have a total future value that is near zero. That is because nobody is going to read them, open access or not. Thus, my guess is that if very many people decide to pay the open access fee, it’s a major windfall for the publisher (not that they really need it — Michael Nielsen reports that in 2009 Elsevier made a profit of 1.1 billion dollars on a revenue of 3.2 billion dollars). On the other hand, there will be some publications that are downloaded a lot of times, and the publisher stands to lose out if these are open access. But my guess is that the percentage of publications whose future value exceeds $3000 is negligible.
A perhaps hidden advantage of the open access fees is that if people buy into the idea, it’ll tend to discourage some of the massive over-publication that is currently making the CS publishing system a not-very-fun place to be. But I’m guessing that most people will recognize the inherently bad value provided by these fees, and will not buy in. In CS, at least, the culture is to make papers available on personal and/or institutional web pages — in many cases this is permitted by publishers, though there are a lot of tricky details.