This almost sounds like a slick definition of the publishing process itself. We read stuff (tidy it up a bit maybe) and then publish it. But no: “Read & Publish” (or occasionally “Publish & Read”) is a refinement of “Big Deal” agreements between publishers and academic libraries or library systems.

Research Solutions’ Reprints Desk has a piece designed to explain what Read & Publish means. A Big Deal is just a contract between library and publisher where the publisher supplies several journals at a negotiated price for the bundle, which represents a saving to the library as against subscribing to each journal individually — a bulk discount scheme. The business of academic journal publishing has tended to become more and more concentrated, thus the deal has grown into the big deal. The Deal has recently been sweetened by factoring into it the costs for getting the library’s users (academics) favorable terms in having their research published in the open access journals from that company.

Open Access, which sounds utterly logical and sensible — after all taxpayers have paid for the research, so the research ought to be available free of charge — is in fact a thorny thicket. The problem, as we have discovered to our collective surprise, is that there are actually some real costs involved in journals publishing — it isn’t just a license to print money as the commentariat always assumed. So if you make the resulting publication available free, who’s to pay for the cost of publishing it? Well, the brilliant answer we’ve come up with is — the author. We’ve begun to slide round the problem that creates by getting grant-giving bodies to include money to cover Article Processing Charges in their research grants, but not every journal article comes as a result of a project funded by a donor organization. Universities often fund APCs too. But it hardly seems fair that the author should be made to pay, does it? If not though, who? Some of the true believers in Open Access are beginning to worry that there may be real problems here. Richard Poynder has just released an 87pp report on Open Access which ends up “I have also suggested that there must be some doubt as to whether a fair and equitable global system of scholarly communication is even possible in today’s political environment. Finally, I have raised the possibility that, for a number of reasons, we may in any case see a pushback against open access.” Maybe that old-fashioned way of allowing publishers to make a profit on the journals they publish actually may have something to say for it.

There’s a discussion of this at The Scholarly Kitchen, in a piece mainly focussed on the problem of reading (or rather not reading) things that are too long — which is a whole different can of worms. (Computers make us do it. Let them read the stuff too!)