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For most of the history of scientific publications, readers paid to access research articles through subscriptions; and now they also have the option of paying one-time fees for downloading over the web. But having to pay for access limits how many people can read, use and cite research. By contrast, from its inception, Journal of Biology has published its research articles under the open access conditions promoted by its publisher, BioMed Central. Articles are universally and freely available online to everyone, to read, download, and pass on to others, as described in BioMed Central's Open Access Charter []. Now, Journal of Biology takes an additional step towards the publishing model adopted by the other journals in BioMed Central's stable. From July 2004, authors of research articles that are accepted for publication will be asked to pay an article-processing charge of US$1,500, to cover the costs associated with making their article available.

Once authors have paid this fee, open access articles are freely and universally accessible online and can be read by anyone at no cost. Authors hold copyright for their work and allow anyone to reproduce and disseminate the article, provided that it is correctly cited and no errors are introduced. And a copy of the full text of each open access article is immediately archived in a central archive, such as PubMed Central [].

Open access has four great benefits. First, authors are assured that their work is disseminated to the widest possible audience. Second, the information available to researchers is not limited by their library's budget - or their nation's wealth. Third, the widespread availability and central archiving of research articles enhances literature searching and facilitates meta-analyses of data. And fourth, the results of publicly funded research become accessible to all taxpayers, not just those with access to a specialist library.

Authors of research articles are asked to pay a processing charge if their research is accepted for publication (further details of what the charge covers and its rationale are available online []). Authors from resource-poor countries have their charges waived; and in fact most authors are not individually responsible for paying the charge, as many institutions are 'members' of BioMed Central [], paying an annual fee that covers the charges for all authors at that institution. The 450 or so current members include the World Health Organization, the US National Institutes of Health, and all UK universities - as well as the institutes housing the vast majority of Journal of Biology's published authors.

Many funding agencies have realized the importance of open access publishing and have specified that their grants may be used directly to pay article-processing charges. Although some authors may consider US$1,500 expensive, Journal of Biology does not levy additional page or color charges; to put this in perspective, the cost of including a single color figure in an article in Cell is US$1,000 [].

Several journals now offer free access to their articles online, but this is different from open access (as defined by the Bethesda Declaration []) - in particular if the journal delays free access for 6-12 months, or has a copyright policy that does not allow dissemination of the work. But Journal of Biology is not alone in providing open access funded by article-processing charges. BioMed Central currently publishes nearly 100 journals using this model []; and the Public Library of Science already publishes PLoS Biology and will this year launch PLoS Medicine, both with an article-processing charge of US$1,500 per accepted article []. As these open access journals can testify, the need to pay article-processing charges does not seem to dissuade authors from submitting articles to a journal; indeed, it may do the opposite, perhaps because it reassures authors of the journal's plans for longevity and the stability of its business model.

Article-processing charges will allow Journal of Biology to continue to provide its exceptional research articles under open access, immediately free to all readers. We believe that the more important the research, the more important that it be immediately and completely freely available. We hope you agree, and that you show your support by submitting your next important research article to Journal of Biology.

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Editorial. J Biol 3, 5 (2004).

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