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RE: Conflating Price Containment with Publishing Mode (Re: EMBO posting)

Whilst I agree with Phil that the issues of price containment and
publishing mode are too easily conflated, I do think that Open Access is
intrinsically different from the current toll-access mode of publishing in
its economic consequences.

Because research scientists have no choice but to publish the results of
their research ('publish or perish'); and research articles are, by
necessity, unique, published only once, and not interchangeable; a
functioning competitive market in scientific publications is of crucial
importance to the efficiency of scientific communication.

The current market in scientific publications is not competitive in the
usual economic sense, but instead, displays monopolistic tendencies. The
problem is not that any one publisher has control over the market, but
rather that any traditional science publisher has a monopoly on the
distribution of every article it publishes. Readers and libraries are not
in a position to make an economic choice. If they need to read,
respectively provide, a particular research article, they have to pay the
price set by the publisher of the journal in which it appears. When
neither readers nor libraries have an effective economic choice, prices
are not subject to the corrective pressures of a functioning market.

There is no such lack of choice for authors. They can exercise their
choice when deciding to which journal to submit an article for publication
(in most disciplines and on most levels there is more than one option).
Open Access publishing, whereby access to the research literature by the
reader is gratis and barrier-free, provides a mechanism for payment for
maximum dissemination, rather than for access, to cover the cost of the
publication process that the publisher incurs. This mechanism allows
economic factors to play a part in the choice, and thus ensures a
functioning competitive market with its natural effect of price

So, Open Access as a mode *does have* intrinsic qualities that would
enable it to contain prices (or rather, prevent it from developing
monopolistic characteristics) if held in the hands of any publisher,
not-for-profit and for-profit alike.

Jan Velterop
BioMed Central

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Phil Davis [mailto:pmd8@cornell.edu]
> Sent: 09 January 2004 07:06
> To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
> Subject: Conflating Price Containment with Publishing Mode (Re: EMBO
> posting)
> In reaction to SPARC Europe's Position on EMBO 
> Journal/Reports Pricing:
> The position of SPARC Europe regarding EMBO Journal/Reports conflates the
> argument of price containment with the argument for Open Access.  The
> basis of the argument stems from a large price increase in this product
> and a bundling of the Journal and Reports into a single package,
> especially at a time when European and North American libraries are
> suffering from budget problems.  This increase in price, Bas Savenije
> argues, shifts the balance from wide access to profit  maximization.  
> The second part of the email focuses on examples of publishers working 
> toward Open Access journals.  While not explicitly stated, the email 
> reads as if Open Access is SPARC Europe's solution to price containment.  
> These two issues need to be separate and not conflated.
> I don't know why EMBO increased its cost, although it was somehow
> coincidental with the journal's move from a well-established university
> press to a commercial publisher.  Readers of liblicense would easily be
> able to cite many other examples of price increases when journals move 
> to commercial publishers, or when smaller commercial publishers are 
> purchased by larger commercial publishers.  The issue here is profit 
> maximization at the expense of access.  Bas Savenije argues this point 
> very eloquently.
> What does not necessarily follow is Open Access as the solution to price
> containment.  In essence, *it conflates the publishing mission with the
> publishing mode*.  The mission of non-profit society and learned
> association publishing is to disseminate information as broadly as
> possible while containing prices and supporting the goals of the
> organization.  This is not congruent of the mission of publicly-held
> commercial publishers.  The mode of publishing here is inconsequential.  
> Open Access as a mode has no intrinsic qualities that would enable it to
> contain prices if held in the hands of a for-profit publisher.  To date,
> the largest player in the Open Access journal market is a for-profit
> publisher.
> I must state that I am not categorically opposed to Open Access
> publishing.  I am arguing that this new mode of publishing is not
> intrinsically different than our current subscription model in its 
> ability to contain price increases and provide relief to institutions 
> that are finding it increasingly difficult to provide access to 
> scientific knowledge.  The issues of publishing type and publishing mode 
> need to be kept separate.  If we embark down a new mode of publishing, 
> we will need to prevent the same price containment issues that we are 
> currently suffering.
> Respectfully submitted,
> Philip Davis, Life Sciences Bibliographer
> pmd8@cornell.edu