At its foundation open access publications adhere to three characteristics, being: 1) Online 2) Free of charge and 3) Free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
Although costs for digital publishing can be lower than print publications, open access publishing is not free. Instead open access advocates seek to reduce or exclude publisher revenue that does not directly advance the scholarly communication process. A multitude of business models arise as alternative funding means for providing access to scholarship. One such cost recovery model is the institution of author charges. These charges are paid by the author (who may get assistance from research grants, his university, or his library) prior to publication. Production costs can also be offset by the sale of add-ons and enhanced services.
Open access does not indicatively mean that peer review is bypassed and indeed many open access journals adhere to the same strict review process as their more traditional journal peers. Peer review is medium-independent, as relevant to online journals as to print journals. It can be carried out in cost effective ways with new supporting software and technologies.
While open access publishing has the potential to reduce costs, this is not the single driving force behind open access advocacy. The benefits to individual scholars, related institutions, scholarly communication, and the general researching public are primary motivating factors.
Open access publishing has the potential to have great impact in the scientific, technical, and medical fields where journal publisher profits have increased the most and where a significant amount of research is government sponsored. In the sciences, the campaign to convert publishing to open access models has produced notable successes with potentially profound implications for the journal publishing industry. Early in 2008 came the long-awaited strengthened mandate requiring the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide open access to grantees' peer-reviewed research articles within 12 months of publication. Soon after, the European Research Council announced the first European Union (EU)–wide mandate, calling for grant recipients to put research articles and supporting data on the web within six months of publication. Immediately following, many universities voted unanimously to endorse open access mandates for faculty at their institutions and to support other mandates for access to publicly funded research. The Registry of Open Access Repositories Mandatory Archiving Policies (ROARMAP) maintains a complete list of institutional policies.
Two other open access journal publishing models, both based on author charges, are the Public Library of Science (PloS) and BioMed Central. The Public Knowledge Project provide open source software and to help make it possible to publish low-cost scholarly journals, which supports societies, institutions and individual faculty in providing open access journals, conference proceeding and soon monographs as well.
Keeping Informed: Peter Suber, Open Access Tracking Project (OATP): http://tagteam.harvard.edu/remix/oatp.