Debate over open access to scientific articles is steadily moving into the mainstream, with the publication this month of an editorial in The New York Times, a recently introduced Congressional bill to promote open access publishing, and a television commercial sponsored by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a California-based group that plans to launch an open-access journal in October.

As enthusiasm grows, however, some skeptics wonder whether open-access journals will succeed financially, since they charge relatively small "article processing fees," paid upfront by the researcher, instead of substantial fees for institutional library subscriptions. If these fees cannot cover the basic costs of publishing, then open access could go the way of many free services provided by dot-com companies during the Internet bubble, warned Michael Held, executive director of The Rockefeller University Press, in a recent editorial in the Journal of Cell Biology.

But proponents of open access say...

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