One of the benefits of the Internet is, at least in theory, that it makes a large amount of accumulated knowledge available to a much wider audience, analogous to the “democratization” of books due to the invention of the printing press. There are obvious examples of this, like Wikipedia; I’ve written here about a few others, like the decision of the National Academies Press to make PDF editions of its books available at no cost, and Yale University’s effort to put all of the public-domain works from its collections online.
Today, the Freedom to Tinker blog from Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy has an announcement, from Professor Andrew Appel, reporting that future scholarly publications by members of the faculty will be made openly available to the public.
In its September 2011 meeting, the Faculty of Princeton University voted unanimously for a policy of open access to scholarly publications:
In essence, this means that faculty members who publish scholarly papers will no longer enter into publication agreements that prevent the author or the University from making the papers available to the public, either on the faculty member’s Web site, or on the University’s public access site.
As Prof. Appel notes, many publishers already have agreements that are compatible with open access. There are still some holdouts, though.
… some publishers in the sciences, in engineering, and in the humanities have more restrictive policies. Action like this by Princeton’s faculty (and by the faculties at more than a dozen other universities in 2009-10) will help push those publishers into the 21st century.
At one time, not so very long ago, the economic rents extracted by the publishers of academic journals could be justified, at least partially, on the grounds that assembling, editing, and printing the journals involved a non-trivial expense, which the publishers could not hope to recoup via mass-market sales. Today, though, while the refereeing and editing process still has value, the cost of publication in digital form is dramatically lower. The entertainment companies are still in the process of learning that the economic realities of their business have changed; it’s now school time for the academic publishers.