An innovative experiment in publishing by a doctor in Mumbai has sparked off a wide range of academic publications, giving authors hundreds of new readers and a genuine chance to create relevant new knowledge.
Mumbai-based Medknow is an open publishing firm that creates academic (mostly medical) journals, puts them online, and makes them accessible to all.
While sharing all this useful information without a fee, it makes a tidy profit for itself and also builds readership and credibility for both the journals and the authors.
Started by Dev Kumar Sahoo, a doctor, Medknow Publications Pvt Ltd promises to "provide solutions for the scientific publishing community, helping in publication and dissemination of research and thus converting research to knowledge."
"We now have 33 journals being published by us," Sahoo told. Journals published include the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, Indian Journal of Medical Sciences, and a range of other technical and scholarly publications.
Medknow has a staff of 20 people and also does a lot of outsourcing.
This experiment flies in the face of the traditional wisdom that if you share your knowledge, you won't be able to earn from it. MedKnow shares its information and not just survives, but thrives.
"Printing and mailing a journal eats up 85-95 percent of the cost of producing the journal. If you can spend 5-15 percent more, you can get it online. You won't lose readers or subscriptions. On the contrary, the advantages of increased readership is tremendous," explains the 33-year-old doctor.
"Without open access, there's no scope for a journal (from a developing country in particular) to reach any quality.
Open access (OA) refers to the free online availability of digital content. It is best-known for peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly articles because scholars publish without expectation of payment.
Not just are Indian medical journals increasingly tempted by the idea of open access publishing, but there is a growing interest from abroad too, particularly the so-called 'developed' countries," Sahoo says.
"Our journals, which provide fee-less publication for accepted writers and immediate free access for readers, go through an online submission and review system (using in-house software). This cuts down costs and resources spent on processing articles," he says.
Once an article is processed, it is published for immediate free access on-line.
"This increases visibility, attracts authors and encourages more citations, which are all important in the academic field," says Sahoo.
Some figures are revealing - their first online venture, the Journal of Post Graduate Medicine from India (JPGM), grew from a 2001 print circulation of 300-400 to about 3,000-4,000 visitors per day.
That is almost a million visitors a year. Most of the foreign visitors are from the US and Europe, and from institutions like Harvard and University of California.
Quality articles are no longer in short supply. JPGM had 19 articles submitted in 1999 and 770 last year. Its impact factor has "increased visibly".
Likewise, open access won't mean a loss of subscriptions even for smaller journals.
"Very few (academic) journals in India have a subscription of over 200-300," says Sahoo. "None of our journals that we've published for over three years have lost subscriptions. In fact, we have gained our print subscriptions."
By being 'open access' journals, they enter into the "virtuous circle of accessibility" and get noticed via online networks like Bioline, bibliographic database, search engines and individual web sites. This only boosts the accessibility and impact of these journals.
Sahoo adds that he first experimented with publishing, while he was still a medical student, wanting to help other students find the best answers from a range of textbooks.