Iddo Friedberg at Byte Size Biology this week asks whether open-access publishing benefits small institutions. While he says he supports the open-access model, Friedberg points out that it's not without its problems. "I see the current author-pays model of OA publishing as still somewhat problematic, with the result of driving many of my colleagues away from OA," he says. Smaller institutions typically "have less 'disposable income' to pay for publications," Friedberg says. Considering the typical fee to publish an OA article, authors funded by, say an R15 or similar grant, feel the pinch more than those funded by a couple of R01s, Friedberg says. "Knowing the limit on these grants, a researcher squeezed for funding would rather budget for an extra month for a graduate student than for OA publication fees," he says, adding that "in [a] way, OA fees are something of a regressive tax: it hurts those with less disposable income more."
While PLoS, for example, offers "complete or partial fee waiver[s] for authors who do not have funds to cover publication fees," Friedberg points out that most publishers do not.
Until solutions to the cost and benefit barriers are put into place, "the motivation for low-budget labs, the supposed best beneficiaries of OA publishing, is not to publish OA," Friedberg says. "Unless stronger incentives are given, those labs will continue to get their reading material via those journals their library subscribes to, and through emailed electronic copies."