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Re: APS pricing explained for 2003

I think Don may be misunderstanding what is going on.

In the first place the APS as an organisation does not decide what
articles are accepted or rejected. This decision is made by the editors
the APS have appointed. They are presumably well regarded members of the
community who accept or reject on the basis of their own perceptions of

The APS can refuse to allocate more pages but, if they do that, and the
number of papers being accepted by the editors increases, the backlog of
accepted papers waiting for publication begins to build up. I am obviously
talking about the print environment but that is where (even in physics) we
still are. If the backlog builds up the cutting edge papers tend to go
elsewhere and the prestige of the journal begins to go down. In the second
place it is also possible that the APS is getting a bigger share of the
best papers in its journals than used to be the case.

I should add that in my experience editors of journals are very resistant
to turning away papers which they think of of top quality.

I would also like to suggest that quality is not as easy to determine as
commentators not involved in the publishing process would like to think.
The top journals (judged by impact factor) accept papers which are of high
quality in scholarly terms, i.e. describe what appears to be high quality
work and important results resulting from it, but they have a second
reason for accepting and rejecting. They want and get papers which are of
general interest to their community and/or present results that are likely
to have serious consequences to the subject. There are plenty of excellent
papers published in less important journals which are of the highest
quality but contain results which are of interest to a more specialist
audiences. Some librarians describe such papers as "mediocre". They are
not mediocre. They are specialised.

That is not to admit that mediocre papers are not published. There are all
sorts of reasons put forward by generally respected editors for accepting
mediocre papers. A common argument is that young scholars need to get
their first papers published. Another argument is that it is important to
accept papers from countries where scholarship operates at a less
sophisticated level. I am reporting these arguments and there are others.
I am not accepting them. It is important to recognise that all such
arguments are put forward and such decisions are made by the editors
appointed by the publishers, where these are learned societies or
commercial companies.

I also note that Don does not quote the work of Tenopir and King, who show
that the number of papers published year on year faithfully reflects the
number of researchers being paid to do research. Unfortunately the funding
for libraries has not reflected the increase in research being published.

Anthony Watkinson
14, Park Street,
England OX20 1RW
phone +44 1993 811561 and fax +44 1993  810067

----- Original Message -----
From: "Waters, Donald" <DJW@Mellon.org>
To: <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Sunday, August 04, 2002 5:20 AM
Subject: RE: APS pricing explained for 2003

> Colleagues,
> As many of you surely did, I found the data that APS generously provided
> below in its pricing explanation to be very interesting and provocative.
> All sorts of qualifications and explanations, which aren't made explicit
> in the document, are no doubt needed to understand the full implications
> of these data .  For example, one would want to know how the aggregated
> data break down over the individual APS products.  One would also want to
> understand more specifics about the secular drop in subscribers.  Still,
> because these data are offered as part of a general explanation for a set
> of APS policy decisions about pricing, it is perhaps not completely unfair
> to use them generally to raise a number of related policy questions.
> I was particularly struck that growing pressure on the demand side for APS
> products seems to be having no effect on the supply side.  That is,
> subscriber demand is said to be dropping by 3.5% per year while, by my
> calculation, the number of manuscripts published is going up on average by
> 3.6% per year over the period from 1997 to 2001.  The number of pages
> published is growing at an even faster rate at 4.26% per year.  Given the
> apparently inexorable rise in costs of publishing, why is the policy
> decision to pass through the rising costs (at a low and declining margin)
> in the form of rising prices to the subscriber.  Why isn't the choice,
> given the declining demand, to constrain the number of articles and pages
> published so that the total costs are reduced and so that the line could
> be held (or reduced) on prices?
> Roger Noll provides the classic answer [Serials Review 18 (1992):32-37] by
> explaining the increase in supply in terms of the continuing pressure by
> scholars to find specialized outlets for their articles, which results in
> part from the tenure process.  However, the forces in Noll's explanation
> are supposed to interact in a very specific way.  He accounts for
> increased supply in the form of the creation of new and more specialized
> journals and suggests that the logic of "monopolistic competition" would
> drive individual journals (like Physical Review) to be increasingly
> selective in the face of increased supply, thus driving up its quality and
> its standing as a "must have" product in the face of buyer decisions to
> cancel subscriptions.
> APS, however, does not appear to be following the logic one would have
> expected from Noll's explanation.  According to the data below, APS is not
> becoming more selective in the face of increasing supply and declining
> demand.  Instead, the acceptance rate of manuscripts published over the
> period has stayed constant at about 58% of those submitted.  As a result,
> because the supply keeps rising, the journal products just keep getting
> fatter and prices keep rising.
> Why are the economic forces not operating in the way that Noll predicted?
> What compels publishers like APS to publish more, rather than be more
> selective?  Is there no real economic advantage to greater selectivity now
> that online publication is a factor?  And why aren't libraries objecting?
> If they are, why aren't they more effective in changing the policy
> decisions of the publishers?  Is a "big deal" effect at work here, where
> work of lower quality is being bundled with the high quality articles,
> making it difficult for a buyer to discriminate and buy only material of a
> determinate quality?  In not pushing back on this kind of bundling, are
> libraries effectively colluding with publishers, sacrificing quality for
> quantity at an increasing cost to institutions of higher education?
> Don Waters
> Program Officer
> Scholarly Communications
> The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation