by Philip Graham
My first paper was published in the British Medical Journal in July 1964. As far as I can remember I received thirty free reprints to distribute as I wished and was told I was free to order more. But at a cost. I have asked the BMJ Reprint Department how much these extra reprints would have cost, but they have no idea. My recollection is that they cost about ten shillings for ten copies. (For those readers under the age of 70 that would now be 50p). The article Congenital Flaccid Bulbar Palsy was a case series describing an extremely rare condition. Not surprisingly, there was very little interest in the paper. I think it attracted one letter. This was from a colleague who gently pointed out I had omitted to refer to a paper of his describing rather similar cases. There was no way I could have any idea whether anyone else read the paper.
When I carried out the background reading for this paper, I was largely dependent on Index Medicus, the print forerunner of an electronic library. Index Medicus was valuable but far from comprehensive. I used to supplement it by consulting the index for the past ten years of academic journals which were likely to have carried relevant articles. An inefficient and tiresome task.
Open Books Publishers (OBP) have recently published my biography Mary Warnock: Ethics, Education and Public Policy in Post-War Britain. It is, of course, available on Open Access. My experience of publishing this book was in marked contrast to my previous book four years ago by an academic press which had better remain anonymous. OBP responded to my initial submission within a fortnight, compared to several weeks by the other academic press. The refereeing was both more helpful and speedier, ten weeks rather than six months. Both the copy-editing and the proof-reading were more efficient. Once a final version was agreed, the text was available both free online and in reasonably priced print versions with two weeks. The unnamed academic press took six months to produce print versions with the paperback priced at £83,00. Not surprisingly, there were few takers. I can now tell how many readers have downloaded my book, whereas with my previous book I had no idea whether anyone had shown any interest in it.
There are clearly big advantages in Open Access. Not least is the fact that people who are not entitled to belong to a university electronic library can access relevant material. Although not often mentioned in this connection, this is a particular advantage for journalists. When, in the past, I have given interviews to journalists, I have often suggested that if they do not believe what I have said, they should check with a relevant article and given them the reference. Until the relatively recent availability of open access, this was quite unrealistic advice.
Philip Graham is the author of Mary Warnock: Ethics, Education and Public Policy in Post-War Britain an Open Access title that illuminates the life and thought of Baroness Mary Warnock, whose active years spanned the second half of the twentieth century, a period during which opportunities for middle-class women rapidly and vastly improved.
You can read and download this title for free on the link below.