BioMed Central recently issued a draft statement on open data. The details aren't earthshaking; you can read them yourself if you care to.
What I'm interested in is whether this manoeuvre puts BMC in a good position to disrupt other journals, particularly those announcing that researchers with supplementary material can go climb trees.
I'll repeat myself:
See, one of the lesser-known bits of Christensen’s market-disruption pattern is that the disrupting force needs to start out by “competing against nonconsumption.” You can’t take on the incumbent on its own turf; the incumbent will eat your lunch and you for dessert. (What’s the lesson for institutional repositories here? Starting with peer-reviewed journal articles was a doomed strategy, that’s what. Those are the crown jewels. The incumbents own those.) You have to find something else to work with, something unused or underserved that the incumbents turn up their august noses at—a low-end market, a different raw material—establish a market beachhead there, and expand your beachhead over time.
I do think it significant that it should be an open-access publisher taking up the data gauntlet when toll-access publishers won't. There's an asymmetry there worth examining.
For a toll-access publisher, data is a cost center, pure and simple, and one that they can't make any additional money from. Why can't they? Because their business model is based on closing off access, and closed-but-nominally-published data is becoming more useless by the day. If a research dataset can't be found quickly and computed upon at will—someday this may be translatable to "if it's not part of the linked-data web"—there's no point to "publishing" it. So our toll-access publisher has three unappetizing choices: refusing the data (in which case researchers who value their data may go elsewhere), opening the data (which will lead to awkward questions about why the accompanying papers aren't open too), or taking on a significant new cost center just to keep up with the BioMed Centrals of this world.
(Yes, there are some flourishing industries based on closed access to data, granted. They're separate from journal publishing, and they presume a type or quantity of data that people will pay for. I don't think that's true of most research-generated datasets, so my argument should hold up. As usual, though, my crystal ball is cracked and hazy, so you follow any prophecies it generates at your own risk.)
The big author-fee-supported open-access publishers, in my estimation, are focused on gaining market share right now, where "market" is defined as "attracting publishable submissions." So doing something smart with data looks likely to turn into a competitive advantage for them, and if it costs them too much, well, they're already charging, so they just figure out how to adjust their fee structure, no big deal.
Will PLoS and Hindawi follow BMC's example? I don't know. They should. Will data become the wedge that allows open-access journals to disrupt their toll-access counterparts? I don't know, and it will likely be some time before that can be assessed. The likeliest outcome is the hoary boring old "it will differ by discipline." Time will tell whether BMC has bet on the right disciplines.