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An Acquisition, an Association, and a Celebration

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Peter Suber knows better than anyone that the flow of open access news has gone from a weak flow to a firehose-like level. Suber, who writes the online newsletter Open Access News on behalf of access advocacy group SPARC, has gone from occasional updates to as many as 10 or 15 news items per day in his quest to keep readers posted.

In the past month alone, the movement for open access saw a number of milestones. For starters, the group celebrated its first holiday — Open Access Day was held on October 14, with a number of organizations taking note of the occasion. Community bloggers made a special effort to raise awareness for the concept, releasing essays, videos, and other materials to introduce unfamiliar scientists to it.

The day was also marked by the launch of a new professional association that aims to establish standards and best practices for open access publishing. The Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association includes as founding members BioMed Central, Hindawi, PLoS, SPARC Europe, and others. "Open access has reached the point where it's time to have a professional organization," says David Solomon at Michigan State University, who helped launch the association. The goal is to advocate for open access journals while making sure that publishers who claim to be open access are adhering to good practices, such as ensuring full accessibility to content, not spamming readers or potential readers, having full disclosure about charges associated with publishing, and so forth. "To be a member of the organization we all agree that it has to be immediate, full open access," Solomon says.

And in what may prove to be the most momentous event of all, open access got a serious credibility boost when publishing giant Springer acquired BioMed Central, a publishing company founded by Vitek Tracz in 2000 with an open access charter for all of its journals. At the time of its sale, BioMed Central was publishing more than 180 peer-reviewed journals, including Genome Biology and BMC Bioinformatics, and had annual revenues of approximately €15 million.

Advocates believe this is a significant vote of confidence in the movement — a can't-be-ignored deal that legitimizes the very business model traditional publishers have been so quick to dismiss. Matthew Cockerill, publisher of BMC, says that his company "has certainly proven the open access business model to be viable." But only time will tell whether it winds up being a turning point for the field or just another incremental step in a slow transition process.