Matt Blaze points out
that USENIX, one of the world's most important computer science conferences, has decided to make all of its papers and proceedings freely available to the public
immediately upon publication. Blaze is right that this is a great development. In the past, when paper distribution was the norm, it was unavoidable that academic publishers would charge money to cover the costs of printing and distributing the papers they published. But the web has made these costs close to zero. And given that the authors generally donate their papers to journals and conferences free of charge, and that authors want their papers to be read as widely as possible, it seems a little unreasonable for those conferences to turn around and charge money for web access to those same papers. This is especially true because, while most journals and conferences still print paper copies of their publications, scholars increasingly prefer the convenience of downloading papers from the web and printing them on demand. It seems especially perverse to cripple a cheap and convenient distribution mechanism in order to prop up an outdated one that is increasingly falling into disuse. The USENIX announcement is the latest sign
of growing momentum
for free online publication
of scientific papers. While we shouldn't expect it to happen overnight, it's only a matter of time before free, web-based publication of scientific papers is the norm, rather than a news-making exception.