The American Physical Society’s Experiences in Open-Access Publishing

The American Physical Society (APS) is a non-profit membership organization representing more than 51,000 physicists who are working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through a series of programs and activities, not the least of which is its family of research journals. Currently publishing more than 19,000 articles and nearly 155,000 pages of physics each year, the Physical Review family of journals is accessed by researchers worldwide and has played an active role in supporting the needs of physicists to share and distribute ideas, information, and knowledge.

With open access (OA) becoming a prevalent topic of debate at the government level and discussions expanding to mandated free access to publicly funded research, APS recently articulated its long-held position on OA in the following statement:

The APS supports the principles of Open Access to the maximum extent possible that allows the Society to maintain peer-reviewed high-quality journals, secure archiving, and the Society’s long-term financial stability, to the benefit of the scientific enterprise

Although that statement was not formulated until 2009, it embodies our position on green, gold, and public access for more than 2 decades.

This article is not meant to be a broad guide to OA; rather, it describes APS’s approach to it. For the purposes of this article, the different types of OA can be broadly summed up as follows:

Green: The author’s final version is available in an institutional repository or in a subject repository.

Gold: Someone pays to make the article available on publication without cost barriers. Public: Researchers, students, and the general public have subscription-free access.

I will describe APS’s activities in each type of access.

APS has long been a green OA publisher. The society has supported and promoted the physics e-print arXiv since its inception in 1991 through a liberal and expansive transfer-of-copyright agreement. The agreement not only allows authors to post their final peer-reviewed version on e-print services, such as arXiv, but allows them to post the APS versions of articles on their and their institutions’ Web sites; this clearly goes beyond standard green OA. Thus arXiv represents the evolution from traditional postal and e-mail distribution to specific individuals to a more expanded and unknown audience.

The transfer-of-copyright agreement is not static. APS has consistently been open to finding solutions that support our authors and readers. As more and more institutions followed the lead of Harvard’s faculty in mandating OA deposit into institutional repositories, APS negotiated agreements with the institutions to allow them to deposit manuscripts into the repositories on behalf of authors without the need for special addenda or for authors to seek waivers from their departments. After extended discussions with two authors, APS modified the agreement in 2008 to allow authors to retain copyright when they create derivative works based on their published APS articles.

APS has been involved in gold OA publishing since 1998, when it introduced its first OA journal, Physical Review Special Topics–Accelerators and Beams (PRST-AB). The journal was created in response to the need for a specialized journal for accelerator scientists and engineers. The journal is supported primarily by contributions from major accelerator laboratories, although APS continues to contribute to the support of the journal rather than sell subscriptions.

A second special-topics journal, Physical Review Special Topics–Physics Education Research, followed 7 years later and, unlike PRST-AB, is funded primarily by articleprocessing charges paid by authors or their institutions.

When those two online-only journals were launched, the primary intent was to ensure that readers had barrier-free access to research articles. The copyright remained with APS, and reuse was limited. The approach was formalized and applied to all the Physical Review journals in 2006 through a program called “Free to Read”. That made all the APS journals except Reviews of Modern Physics hybrid open access.

In 2011, Free to Read was replaced by Creative Commons (CC) licensing when it became clear that readers expected more than read-only access to journal articles. APS not only implemented that with one of the most liberal and open licenses available (CC-BY 3.0) but applied it to all previous Free to Read articles without collecting any additional fees.

In the same year and in coordination with the introduction of CC licensing, APS introduced Physical Review X (PRX), an electronic-only OA journal with high editorial standards. Although introduced during a period in which mega-journals, such as PLOS ONE, were being launched, PRX filled a niche in which high editorial standards and the expectation of excellence and importance, rather than technical correctness, were primary features of published papers.

Finally, in response to calls to make results of government-funded research available to the taxpaying public, APS became (to my knowledge) the first publisher to offer free public access to the entire Physical Review corpus. This access has so far been limited to the United States, but plans are being made to expand the service to other nations. APS provides access to all its journals, back to 1893, to any US public library or high school that agrees to provide in-house, walk-in access to its patrons.

APS remains committed to producing journals of the highest quality while ensuring that researchers and students at all levels have access. APS has been an active participant in OA for a long time and will continue to work with our community in a responsive and responsible manner.

DANIEL T KULP is editorial director, American Physical Society, New York, New York.