[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: Looking an open access gift horse in the mouth

Dear Ann and all,

In an open access business model resting on upstream financing, it appears
that research intensive institutions that publish a significant fraction
of the world's research would also be paying for a significant share of
the total publishing costs. It also appears that, as a result, they would
be financially supporting access to the scientific literature for
everybody else - a generous but unrealistic idea. However, this thesis is
true if (and only if) these same institutions are the sole sources for the
financing of their faculty's publications. Recently, other sources of
financing have begun to be discussed and even implemented. The Wellcome
Trust, in this regard, is advocating open access publishing with support
from the agencies that support research financially. In this case, the
same institutions that pool a large fraction of the research funds would
also pool financial resources. A meeting of granting agencies at the
Hughes Foundation in April demonstrates that the Wellcome Trust is not
alone in thinking about these issues or along these lines. More recently,
the Berlin Declaration at the Max Planck Gesellschaft underscored the same
concern in yet another set of granting agencies. In short, we may be on
the verge of seeing new granting policies develop in a number of granting
agencies, policies which, for example stipulate that research funded by
agency or foundation X must be made freely available to the whole world.

Other elements are also relevant in this regard:

	1. To start with a quibble, many journals already require various
kinds of page charges; these ought to be discounted in any rigorous
comparison between the present business model and the open acces model.
This is a marginal point.

	2. More importantly, Biomed Central offers institutional
publishing subscriptions that, up to now at least, correlate with the
number of reseachers active in the field, and not with the number of
publications produced. This creates an even-playing field between
institutions of similar size. PLoS recently announced a similar plan two
days ago (http://www.plos.org/news/announce_instmem.html). In any case,
Open access publications are presently testing a variety of business
models, exactly like licensing schemes among publishers (e.g. Elsevier's
(in)famous Big Deal). Any comparisons done at this stage should clearly
state that they are highly provisional;

	3. National organizations are beginning to negotiate national
deals with the same publishing houses. These deals cover whole sets of
institutions, as the deal negotiated in Britain by JISC exemplifies. It
involves 180 institutions.  INSERM in France has struck a similar deal. I
suspect this is going to put some pressure on US similar institutions
because their researchers are going to clamor for equal chances against
their foreign competitors;

	4. Although probably temporary, the financial help provided by a
number of foundations (in particular OSI) has helped kickstart the process
for poorer countries and institutions.

Another point also requires a comment: Ann writes "Should the marketplace
of prospective readers play no role in the economic model at all?"

First of all, the market place of scientific reader is not a market place
in the standard, economic, sense of the word. It is a marketplace of ideas
guided by relevance to particular lines of investigation. The extent to
which the marketplace of readers is also a traditional economic
marketplace essentially signals how imperfect it is as a communication
system. When access to scientific information depends on brains and
(institutional) money, strange biases are induced that do more to create
and maintain elitism than to support and encourage excellence. If you are
bright, but residing in a relatively poor country, you simply cannot keep
up with the current literature. The effects on teaching and on theoretical
contributions are devastating.

Ironically, the argument just mentioned is not even needed. Open access
provides a more direct link between the potental readership and the store
of validated scientific ideas. As a result, usage reflects the true
interests of the whole scientific community better than is presently the
case. This can translate into statistics (e.g. number of downloads) that
will help rate journals better. In turn, these ratings affect the
desirability of publishing here rather than there.

If open access journals demonstrate higher usage, more citations, etc. and
provide better symbolic returns for the authors, they will prevail against
journals using the traditional tollgating model. This is in fact the
challenge PLoS has set up for itself. If they succeed, I suspect it will
be a pretty good demonstration of the role of readers in the evolution of
economic models.

In the end, a clear point emerges: open access promises to provide a
better fit to the needs of science communication than does the present,
tollgated, system. The real question, therefore, is not whether open
access is desirable or not: it is clearly so; the real question is to find
the best pathways - and I do mean the plural here - to achieve this
important objective. At that level, discussions about open access are much
needed and useful.


Jean-Claude Gu�don
Litt�rature compar�e, Universit� de Montr�al
T�l. : 1-514-343-6208
Fax : 1-514-343-2211

Le 16 Janvier 2004 08:58, Ann Okerson a �crit :
> Dear Jill:  Joining you in your, um, er, shall we say "Eeyorely"
> reflections, let me add the following.
> Having read last fall's Paribus analyst's report about how open access
> could save our university library well over $2 million per year on STM
> journal subscriptions, I thought that a person with fiduciary
> responsibility over university budgets should understand how to effect
> such a savings and move toward doing so.
> First I re-calculated the numbers based on a far more accurate (though
> hardly perfect) count of articles produced by our researchers in a year
> (journals indexed in ISI SCI and PubMed only).  When I divided that number
> into our STM journals budget (also imperfect but far more accurate than
> the Yale number that's been published in various places), I learned that
> if published under an Open Access model for $1000 per article, our
> researchers' output would cost rather more under OA than it currently
> does.  If $1500 per article, then quite a bit more, and so on.
> My takeaway, based on, admittedly, a loose experiment in only one
> institution, was that research-intensive places could likely spend more on
> OA than they currently spend in the current system, while smaller ones
> will spend a lot less and non-research institutions will have totally free
> access.
> **More to the point, I was able to appreciate the pricing that many
> cost-effective publishers bring to us these days -- perhaps we in
> libraries seriously undervalue their contributions.***
> As Peter Suber writes, the good news is that under OA the whole world
> would have access to these articles forever.  That is, if the current OA
> business model is right, and we're only guessing, at best what it might
> be, with the current experiments in the STM arena...
> But there are significant lurking questions about the "best" models -- Can
> the larger institutions support access for all others?  Should the
> marketplace of prospective readers play no role in the economic model at
> all?  Is there such a thing as the best or only model?  What is the real
> lifetime cost at the producer end for supporting a quality article?  And
> so on...
> I was really pleased to see that ALPSP, under Sally Morris's leadership,
> proposes, with willing publishers, to study these and related questions in
> a rigorous way.  My own hope is that publishers will join in this or a
> similar projects, with willing publishers. Publishers (and perhaps
> libraries with them) will want to secure (or contribute) funds to conduct
> such studies, and help us all to be better informed not just in our
> hearts, but particularly in our heads.  The data so gathered, especially
> if both for-profits and not-for-profits were to participate, would be
> invaluable.  The current rhetoric about saving a ton of money under OA is
> delightful but so far is not persuasive.  I know I'm conflating two quite
> different things here:  ideals and business models.  But our business
> models have to work in order to sustain scholarly communications over
> time, don't they?
> Ann Okerson/Yale Library (representing my views only; not an institutional
> statement)
> *******
> On Thu, 15 Jan 2004, Jill Emery wrote:
>> In agreement with Phil Davis' post from last week concerning EMBO and
>> SPARC Europe and as a reaction to the latest post regarding PLoS and the
>> institution of member fees, I pose the following questions which make me
>> feel somewhat like another member of the equine family but nonetheless,
>> here they are...
>> How do most libraries differentiate between institutional membership fees
>> and subscription fees? Do you feel the need to make this distinction at
>> all? Can or should membership fees be paid through subscription agents?
>> As a group, do we feel that these fees are sustainable at the levels at
>> which they are being instituted or will we begin to see increases as the
>> realities of electronic scholarly publishing and maintenance take hold
>> and as the grant funding presently underwriting some of these endeavors
>> dries up?
>> It is a much more agreeable matter for an academic institution to support
>> BioMedCentral or Public Library of Science than some commercial
>> enterprises, however, bearing in mind both the understanding that instead
>> of buying back published research from the commercial sector, libraries
>> are now underwriting the publication of research and that the current
>> pricing structures and models do not seem sustainable at their current
>> levels, are libraries better off with the membership fee model? It has
>> been said that $1500 does not go very far in the creation and support of
>> one to two electronic articles much less a whole electronic sphere of
>> information.
>> Have libraries been able to benefit at a greater extent from the research
>> dollars garnered by their parent institutions if libraries are
>> facilitating the publishing of this research?
>> Basically all of these questions lead to the same bottom line: are most
>> libraries just accepting that open access membership fees are a feasible
>> model and that future price increases can be absorbed?
>> Cordially submitted,
>> Jill Emery
>> JEmery@uh.edu