Update September 12: data added from Ayalew's (2012) research indicating that gross annual salary for an associate professor in Ethiopia is 56,400 Ethiopian birr, or approximately $3,400 US (ETB 16.6 = U.S. $1.00). Assuming that at least the equivalent of $400 is paid in tax, that means that a scholarly publisher charging $3,000 for an open access article processing fee is paying a sufficient amount to cover a full-time salary for an Associate Professor in a country like Ethiopia. My recommendation is that research funders supporting work in the developing world should consider carefully before supporting gold open access article processing fees. Do the math. Instead of paying publishers like Elsevier and Springer $3,000 to make a single article open access, why not require green open access archiving and use the funds to support a full-time academic in the developing world instead?
My advocacy interests include both open access and sustainable scholarly publishing. One area in need of further attention is the impact of publisher costs (whether subscription or open access) on resources to support academics (salaries and research funding).
One concern that I have with the push for payment of gold open access article processing fees (the RCUK approach) is that publishers are likely to set standards based on the UK approach which then impact scholars around the world, because scholarly publishing is global in nature.
One area of research in need of attention is comparison of open access article processing fees with academic salaries. This is particularly needed in the developing world, but even in the developed world it is worth noting that the $3,000 OA fee charged by some scholarly publishers is more than many adjuncts in the US are paid to teach a course (see for example this table by the American Psychological Association): http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/12-fac-sal/table-32.aspx
Considering the high percentage of voluntary labour involved in scholarly publishing (unpaid writing for research articles, peer review and much of the editing), it is possible to publish using models that involve extremely low dollar costs. See, for example, Shieber's post An efficient journal detailing how the Journal of Machine Learning publishes at an average of $10 per article. Valuable as open access is, the research and writing needs to be done and we academics should be asking ourselves whether we want universities and research funders to be paying a $3,000 article processing fee, or whether we would prefer DIY at $10 or so per article and directing the funds to support academic salaries and research grants instead.
Results of a research collaboration by the "Laboratory for Institutional Analysis (LIA) from the Higher School of
Economics (HSE) in Moscow, Russia, and the Boston College Center for
International Higher Education (CIHE) in the United States in
collaboration with experts from 28 countries around the world" links here finds that even after adjusting for differences in currency using the purchasing power parity (PPP) method, the local equivalent of $3,000 is more than a month's salary for an academic at the top rank for 7 of the 28 countries studies (25%), and more than a month's salary at 11 of the 28 countries studied (more than a third). Even the PLoS ONE fee of $1,350 is more than month's salary at the PPP equivalent at the top academic rank in 3 countries (China, Russia Federation, and Armenia). Method: go to Quantitative Data, download the data for academic salaries (only PPP provided), sort by rank (I used top rank and rank 3).
This is very preliminary data, shared in the spirit of open research and also as an illustration of the kind of research that is needed before global approaches to paying for open access are even considered. This data would appear to suggest that at some countries, not necessarily even the world's poorest countries, even local equivalents of open access using article processing fees at the rates of PLoS ONE or Springer would cost more than a month's salary for a top ranked academic.
As a next phase, I'm thinking of looking into the actual data not adjusted for currency differences to compare the actual academic salaries with open access article processing fees.
Ayalew, E. (2012). Salary and incentive structure in Ethiopian Higher Education. In: Altbach, P. ; Reisberg, L.; Yudkevich, Ml; Androushchak, G., and Pacheco, I. , eds. Paying the professiorate: a global comparison of compensation and contracts. Routledge: New York and London, 2012. [Note: I have access to a copy of this book through the excellent collection at the University of Ottawa's library. How many academics in less affluent areas would have ready access to a work like this?]
Academically appropriate comments are welcome.