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RE: Varmus in the Chronicle

> And as for the threat that open access brings to non-profit society
> journals, doesn't the threat of cancellation of library subscriptions to
> those very journals loom even larger?

No, because most society journals are not in immediate danger of wholesale
cancellations.  Think about it from the society's perspective: you're
publishing a journal that costs (on average) about half what a commercial
journal does, and most of your subscribers are either individual libraries
or society members.  Let's say you've got 500 subscribers, each of whom is
paying $300 annually.  That's $150,000 per year that you can pretty much
count on.  As scholarly journals go, $300 isn't terribly expensive, and if
it's a decent journal you are unlikely to see much in the way of library
cancellations in any given year.  If a cancellation trend begins to
appear, you can watch it develop and plan accordingly.  Now let's say that
you decide to stop charging a subscription fee, make your journal free to
the public, and try to replace that revenue stream with author fees.  
What you're doing is gambling $150,000 (which, for many societies, is a
significant portion of the operating budget) against the hope that just as
many authors as were willing to write before will still be willing to
write now that they have to pay for the privilege.  With the subscription
model, inertia is on the publisher's side (because libraries and members
generally tend to renew their subscriptions).  With the author-fee model,
the publisher is constantly working against inertia.

I'm not saying the subscription model is morally superior to the
author-fee model, nor am I saying it can't work -- there are very
successful journals out there that charge author fees.  I'm just saying
that societies aren't wrong to be worried about replacing a relatively
certain revenue stream with a far less certain one.  And that it seems
somehow insufficient to meet that reasonable worry with the breezy
injunction to "just find another revenue source."

> Open-access proponents never suggest those costs will disappear -- though
> the cost of distributing an electronic open-access journal is
> (comparatively) infinitesimal.

The cost of distributing an electronic journal is very low indeed.  But
that cost comes considerably after the costs of editing, publishing and
managing the journal (costs which are far greater than infinitesimal).  
As are the costs of running a society -- costs which, in many cases, are
substantially offset by subscription fees.  If you start charging authors,
you essentially make the journal even more expensive to produce, because
now it's expensive for the authors as well.

Rick Anderson
Director of Resource Acquisition
University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
(775) 784-6500 x273