Free access is affordable

A. M. Edelson’s editorial, “On the Future of Scholarly Journals” (17 Apr 1998), is correct in predicting “seismic upheavals” in the world of scholarly journals as e-publication supplants the current system. However, his view of where that world will be when the dust settles is surely wrong. A pay-per-view world in which “publishers insist on reliable systems that track usage, charge the users, and block access to those not licensed to tap into the archive network” fails to take into account these facts:

  1. Authors of scholarly articles want their work freely accessible. Pay-per-view means that everyone pays unless they subscribe or have a library that buys a site license.
  2. Free access to scholarly articles is remarkably affordable. The total cost of their Internet distribution is less than 1% of the very high costs of the present system (1). Toll gates are not needed on the coming Web of scholarly works.
  3. If hardcopy is no longer mailed, libraries will have no essential role in the distribution of journal literature. Unless publishers refuse to sell authors what they want (free access to their refereed work), libraries will not need to divert to site licenses the sums now paid for subscriptions.
  4. Authors do not want publishers to start charging for Internet access to their older articles. Instead, they want to be allowed to make their previously published articles freely accessible on the Internet (as federal workers already can, e.g., and they would like libraries or societies to put entire back runs on line—as is already being done by JSTOR ( and at least one scientific society (

If commercial publishers were the sole publishers of journals they might force scholarly authors and their institutions to accept a pay-per-view system. But they are not. Scientific societies publish many journals—often the most important in their field—and ultimately these societies are controlled by members. Once these members/authors realize the advantages and minimal cost of free access to their articles, they will insist on that option. In the contest for manuscripts, society-published journals that market free access will win over commercially published journals that do not.

To begin the earthquake, I suggest that Science make its clients happier and increase its revenues by allowing authors to purchase immediate, perpetual free access to their articles for the cost of 100 reprints (

Thomas J. Walker
Department of Entomology & Nematology,
University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL 32611-0620, USA


1. Walker, T.J. 1998. The future of scientific journals: free access or pay per view?

Am. Entomol. 44(3): 135–138.