The World Wide Web has radically transformed the way we think about content creation. Over the past several years, we have witnessed the democratization of media. We are no longer bound to the owners of the press to print our writing. Today, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can be a publisher. Yet most academics still find themselves constricted by the 20th-century system. In order to gain credibility, academics must earn their stripes by getting published in a small, exclusive group of scholarly journals, which are still produced on paper (and/or online where they are locked behind walled gardens). Regardless of the format, only those who can afford the often exorbitant subscription fees can access them.
In a stroke of historical irony, the web itself was invented by scientists to share information more easily. But as journal subscription prices have increased over the years and library budgets have diminished, it has become increasingly difficult to afford access to these journals, which provide the primary means to share information among scholars. This is a particularly acute problem for public universities subject to the vagaries of fluctuating tax revenues, as well as for smaller colleges and institutions that lack the budgetary strength of big research universities. The problem is exacerbated in poorer countries throughout the world where scientists who work at institutions with meager means have no less need for access to academic literature to advance their research.
These are among the reasons that librarians and other interested parties have developed the open access publishing model. It changes the publishing dynamic by making research available to anyone who has a computer and internet connection. It takes away the financial impediment to research sharing, and it puts the writers themselves in control of their own content. It brings to academic publishing a certain content democracy, though the model certainly faces hurdles and detractors. It’s hard to overcome entrenched systems to make academic research available to everyone regardless of their income.