I recently chastised Harold Varmus for equating open-access publishing with pay-to-publish. While open-access journals do tend to have higher author charges than pay-access journals, many journals make money from both author charges and subscriber charges. That is, they are pay to publish and pay to read.
A letter to Nature this week challenges the idea that open-access publishing is good for the developing world by assuming the same fallacy as Varmus (doi:10.1038/453450c). Raghavendra Gadagkar, of the Indian Institute of Science, argues that the pay to publish model prevents underfunded researchers from publishing their work. This assumes that open-access publishers have a limited number of waivers for author fees. He would prefer journals publish articles free of charge and charge for access to the articles. In short, Gadagkar values authorship over readership.
Gadagkar makes a valid point — that a pay to publish model could severely limit the academic output from developing countries. However, it’s unclear whether the open-access publishers have a limited number of fee waivers to offer. Will the open-access publishing model collapse if too many authors require fee waivers? Where is the tipping point? And will well funded researchers be willing to bear the burden of paying the author charges, indirectly, of poorly funded researchers?