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RE: Open Access and "Membership Costs"

There seem to be two issues here. [See A. Okerson's message below]
Although they are of course connected, I fear they are in danger of
becoming conflated and would like to uncouple them just a bit, if I may.

The first issue is that of open access itself. The mission of those of us
involved in advocating open access can be stated simply: We wish to ensure
that all literature that results from publicly funded research be made
freely available to the public as soon as it is published. At the Public
Library of Science, it is our goal to urge similarly minded publishers
(and we believe this includes a variety of not-for-profit, society, and
commercial publishers) to work toward changing the publishing landscape --
while maintaining the diversity of publishers -- to accomplish this goal.

We also believe that we are working in the interest of libraries and
librarians. By readily embracing the Internet as a medium by which
increasingly rapid biomedical advances can most easily be disseminated, we
hope to open up the literature to the kinds of research that will require
the very information management skills librarians are uniquely qualified
to provide. Scientific researchers have already gained tremendous
advantage from the public availability of DNA sequence databases. A public
database that allows the entire scientific literature to be queried and
mined will provide further profound benefits for researchers and the
public. There are hurdles to overcome, but these are not insurmountable.
We look to librarians for guidance as to how best to address these

So the first issue, that of open access itself, is something that we don't
believe anyone -- in theory -- rejects as a concept.

The second issue, however, is a practical one, that of funding open-access
publications, and that is where the terrain becomes more rocky. "Between
the idea / And the reality ... / Falls the Shadow," as T. S. Eliot
observed, but perhaps it is possible to shed some light on that issue that
may dispel some of the murkiness. Everyone recognizes that publishing a
research paper is the culmination of intensive labor and (very often) a
great deal of capital support. Publishers have an appreciation for the
importance of this effort and investment, which is why most publishers
have in turn invested heavily in upholding high standards in peer review
and in providing quality online and print publications. This non-trivial
publication effort has its own expense. What we at PLoS would like to
propose is that this step -- publication of the tangible results of a
scientific research program -- be considered not as somehow separate, but
instead as the final step of any research project and, as such, that
publication be funded as part of that project. While we do ask for the
author to agree to pay, this does not mean that all of this cost needs to
be borne solely by the author; additional revenue streams from funding
agencies, institutions, advertisers, and sponsors can also help to support
this model.

The publishing model we espouse -- in which publication charges, rather
than subscription charges, sustain a journal -- has not yet been proven,
and we cannot predict what form funding for such a model will take or even
what the costs charged on a journal-by-journal (or paper-by-paper) basis
will be, but we do not believe that the cost of publication should
continue to be borne by subscribers, whether libraries or individuals. We
are launching PLoS Biology to demonstrate that this new publishing model
is viable for the publication of the very best scientific research. That
said, we have no wish to dictate the particulars of how such publication
charges should be funded.

We are nevertheless encouraged by support for the open-access publishing
model that has come from funding agencies. The Howard Hughes Medical
Institute backs this concept by offering additional funding to its
grantees for open-access publishing. Similarly, in February the National
Institutes of Health announced that it "expects and supports the timely
release and sharing of final research data from NIH-supported studies for
use by other researchers" and that beginning in October it will require
all investigators applying for grants of $500,000 or more to include a
plan for data sharing as part of that application; a stated intent to
publish in an open-access journal clearly fulfills this requirement.
Furthermore, along the same lines, thanks to funding from the Joint
Information Systems Committee, researchers at any British university can
now publish in the open-access journals of the commercial publisher BioMed
Central, and the JISC may perhaps be willing to extend this agreement to
other open-access journals as well.

While I have presented the concerns stated in the subject line as two
separate issues, that of open access itself and that of costs for
publication, where these do come together is in our belief that this
concerted effort by funding agencies, publishers, societies, librarians,
and governments is a highly responsible act that reflects the joint
interests of the public and the academic community -- and in our hope for
continued collaboration in changing the publishing model in a way that
benefits everyone. How such a process evolves depends very much on all the
stakeholders playing their part.

Best regards,
Rebecca Kennison
Public Library of Science

-----Original Message-----
From: Phil Davis [mailto:pmd8@cornell.edu] 
Sent: Monday, July 07, 2003 4:35 PM
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject: Open Access and "Membership Costs"

Ann Okerson hit the nail squarely on the head about who will be paying for
open access -- libraries will.  Despite the name "institutional
membership", these are in essence library subscription fees designed to
extract rents from the institution.  Because authors are adverse to paying
to publish, an institutional membership model is in the author's and
publisher's best interest.  But it is in the best interest of the

Institutions will pay more money in this model than the sum of all author
payments in the initial model.  Because we are dealing with a for-profit
publisher (i.e. BioMedCentral), it is completely rational that
institutions will see their membership fees rise precipitously if this
product and its journals become prestigious.  We have seen this for all
other commercial publisher products, and shouldn't believe otherwise.  
Individual authors will push for the library to continue its subscription
despite a clear price discrimination model being in effect.  In effect, we
find ourselves in the same inelastic price model we currently have in the
traditional model.  The additional problem with the membership fee is that
it "bundles"  all open-access journals together from a publisher.

The only economic model where institutional-membership fees might work is
if the publisher is a non-profit society or association, whereby the
prices charged to the institution will reflect the actual cost of
publishing and not the price the market will bear.

Respectfully submitted,
Phil Davis, Cornell University

At 05:45 PM 7/6/2003 -0400, Ann Okerson wrote:
>Phil Davis is right to suggest that there can be various acceptable
>ways of paying for e-content, i.e., a variety of business models.  We all
>need to work together to identify models that will *work,* whether they 
>be the kind of behind-the-scenes, up-front payment that the open access
>movement supports, or some kind of subscriptions, or...
>On a related note, Jan Velterop's posting below suggests that in open
>access models, libraries will somehow *not* pay for e-content.  Yet I
>would observe that at our institution we have paid and are paying for at
>least some open access e-journals, through what look to me very much like
>subscription prices, though they are called memberships.  We can call 
>such annual payments memberships, or founders fees or supporting fees, 
>but in the end they are a business model that feels like a subscription 
>by a different name.  Libraries who have budgets will be essential in 
>paying for open access.  If we think that's not the case, we could be 
>fooling ourselves.
>**NOTE:  I'm not writing here about the pros and cons of open access,
>but rather how we all will support ejournals in the present and future.
>These two concepts seem often to get mixed up.**
>Sincerely, Ann Okerson/Yale Library