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October 27, 2016

Open Source for Open Access

As an advocate of open access (OA), I often get asked about the connection between OA and the open source technology that Coko is focused on. OA publishing can be done using closed technology. So how will more open source software grow or improve open access publishing?

Lowering costs enables “the flip”

There has been a lot of speculation about why open access hasn’t grown faster. Much of the growth has been in hybrid journals rather than pure OA. Many scholarly publishers cite the likely loss to revenue were they to switch successful subscription publications to full open access (aka “flipping”). The business models for OA are still evolving, making future revenues feel uncertain. But one obvious way to tackle the economics is to dramatically lower the cost of publishing.

We all know that open source software is free. However, to run any software in a production environment costs money, since there is usually some form of maintenance and running costs (servers, bandwidth etc). Overall, open source has substantially lower costs since you are not paying high licensing costs.

Also, much of the existing platform software in scholarly publishing is out of date. Open source software can be collectively built (and paid for), making it less expensive to reinvent from the bottom up. New technologies could enable a massive streamlining of editorial and production work, offering cost savings well beyond just licensing fees.

Open source across the entire publishing tool chain (‘open infrastructure’) could enable existing subscription publications to switch to full, non-hybrid open access. A less expensive publishing platform would also lower the barrier of entry for new publications to launch.

Fuel economic growth and innovation

Open source software is not necessarily better technology than closed source (proprietary) software. The license alone doesn’t change how well the technology was developed. However, open source software, when done well, can attract the best minds to solve problems. A great example is OpenStack, a cloud computing solution that offers an open source alternative to Amazon Web Services (AWS). OpenStack is being used by hundreds of companies, including tech and financial giants and leaders in the financial, manufacturing and media sectors. A commonly developed and managed open source solution is transforming these sectors and breeding thousands of start-ups as well.

Openly available code allows others to quickly see what has been done and where they can add value. A well-run open source project can speed up innovation in a sector. If technologists don’t have to reinvent wheels, precious resources can be spent on building on the work of others.

Open together

Building an open source tool chain for research communication creates a public domain foundation upon which to grow the public domain literature. Proprietary or closed software can end up creating another wall if we aren’t careful.

The OA movement was built on the principles of open source. It just feels right to build open infrastructure to support open access research communication.

Post by Kristen Ratan