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Re: Monopolies and competition

I have some comments to make in response to Jan Velterop's comment and
some follow up questions.

As a sort of academic I submitted four of my publications (the actual
text) to the research assessment exercise (RAE) in the UK. The panel are
said to read all the publications (four allowed for each member of the
academic staff) submitted from the departments they are assessing. They
certainly have long enough to do the reading. Is this sort of procedure
common in other similar exercises in other parts of the world? For an
exercise like this I can see that this sort of thorough investigation is
appropriate and to be welcomed, but surely simple tenure or promotion
decisions cannot all take this route? Senior academics making these sort
of decisions would hardly have time to do anything else!

The object of any journals publisher is to get an ISI ranking. They hope
to do this by attracting good papers. Existing established journals do
have a built-in advantage, but surely there are examples of new journals
rapidly moving up the lists to the top group?  All new journals have the
same problem of building up their good papers in the period before there
can be an ISI ranking. Does ISI have any relevant statistics showing the
speed with which a new journal can get established in their lists?

Academics are capable of changing their behaviour and they are attracted
to new journals given the right sort of investment in speed of refereeing/
publishing etc, a need because of shortage of pages in existing journals
or some other problems with these outlet, a quality editorial group, and
some special backing - perhaps from SPARC and perhaps from a major and
influential society or even a brand (e.g. Nature).

Incidentally I cannot see why a journal published by (say) Elsevier is
more monopoloid than one published by BioMed Central.

Anthony Watkinson
Visiting Professor in Information Science City University London

----- Original Message -----
From: Jan Velterop <jan@biomedcentral.com>
To: <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, August 29, 2001 3:40 AM
Subject: Monopolies and competition

> In the recent discussion on the NEJM and their licence offerings, the
> suggestion was made to complain to publishers in order to get them to
> change and improve their practices. Of course this is a useful approach
> and it may bring success in some cases. But it is hardly the stuff of
> wholesale solution to the problems faced by libraries.
> The problem is not the publishers. They are only doing what's sensible and
> comes naturally to any business. They exploit whatever opportunity comes
> their way, especially if it is a near monopoly that is handed to them on a
> silver platter -- with the best of intentions and most probably unaware of
> the problems it causes -- by the structure of scientific assessment.
> Why scientific assessment? Well, the real problem is lack of competition.
> No library has the realistic choice of cancelling a more expensive journal
> and taking a cheaper one instead. Because the cheaper one simply doesn't
> publish the same papers as the more expensive one. Chances are that the
> library is under pressure to take both. So competition on price doesn't
> really exist. If libraries cancel at all, it's more likely to be on
> perceived quality and relevance, and perhaps the 'dust index', but not on
> price. Of course, new cheap journals can be started that compete with
> older established titles (and SPARC has shown that this sometimes works).
> But these new journals struggle to get good authors to submit heir papers,
> since they are being assessed on the impact factors associated with their
> papers. And those they only get by submitting to established journals. So
> the problem continues. Yet the only true competition exists 'upstream':
> the competition for authors. This is where the assessment practice (at
> least as it is perceived by authors) intrinsically favours the entrenched
> power of established journals.
> Only true competition holds out any hope of prices coming down and
> licences becoming more library-friendly. So assessment bodies could make
> all the difference, if they were prepared to judge papers on their own
> merits and not just on the impact factors of the journals they are
> published in, as many authors seem to suspect is largely the case. (I'm
> sure that many of them already assess on merit alone, of course, but the
> perception amongst authors hasn't quite caught up with reality yet). Only
> then can authors be released from having little room to manoeuvre and
> having tacitly to support monopoloid journals, in order to support new
> initiatives that have it in them to cut the cost of science publishing
> dramatically while increasing the dissemination of knowledge.
> Is it an idea that instead of focussing on the publishers, librarians join
> those who focus their attention on helping to remove the impediments to
> real competition with all its benefits?
> Jan Velterop
> Group Publisher
> BioMed Central Group
> Middlesex House
> 34-42 Cleveland Street
> London W1T 4LB
> UK
> +44 (0)20 7323 0323
> www.biomedcentral.com