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Re: Open Access and For-Pay Access (to the same IR materials)
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- Subject: Re: Open Access and For-Pay Access (to the same IR materials)
- From: Brian Simboli <email@example.com>
- Date: Thu, 5 May 2005 20:42:31 EDT
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Rejoinders, in the form of Socratic questions and some comments, are interspersed below in brackets in reply to your good comments. Hopefully I'm responding to your points and, if not, perhaps they can put other issues to discuss on the table. (With due respect to those who regard this listserv as properly dealing with narrow or technical licensing issues, as mentioned before it is on the other hand impossible to prescind even these issues from the broader publishing trends that rage around us. The feedback loops in both directions can only become more and more pronounced in the current environment. I think that those who focus on these narrow issues w/o also seeing their larger context are doing themselves a disservice.) The upshot of the comments below is that, imho, we cannot at all underestimate the ability of universities to provide significant compeitition to commercials in the area of journal publishing, *even while* correctly tempering any wild-eyed enthusiasm with the sober assessment that it is indeed/ very/ uncertain whether universities are going to take the ball and run with it. Cf., however, Cornell University's involvement with Project Euclid and arxiv.org as indicators of university potential to distribute scholarly results. Also, it is instructive that Oxford Univ Press is a dept. of University of Oxford. Is university involvement in publishing, including publishing in the new economic model, so clearly problematic or inefficient? Brian Simboli ===== Tristan Chapple wrote:
On your first point; clearly there is a lot of information available for free on the internet but in many cases, including CNN, their internet offering is a useful and cost effective way of a profit making entity extending its brand. CNN is probably one of the most commercial of all broadcasters and can only afford to give free access to its news online because it makes so much money through other TV channels. None of the product you can view for free on the internet is material that they aren't earning money on elsewhere. I guess what I am trying to say here is that no-one gives something for nothing; there'll be a profit motive somewhere, just as there is with CNN.
[What of yahoo? Perhaps readers of this listserv more familiar than I with the the business models undergirding web portals can adduce other examples where web portals provide a range of free information in addition to enhanced access. Keep in mind that the business models of news media may have aspects that differ in crucial ways from academic publishing. Concerning profit motives, I have no problem with profits, as long as they are kept ordinate. The OA model I favor at the webpage http://www.lehigh.edu/library/guides/overlayjournals.html is compatible either with profit-motivation, or with motivation merely to recover costs. In fact, I have no problem with commercial entities adopting that model. In fact, BMC already is, in part. The overall point is that this is a model that, by design, will keep margins spare. And that is good, given the history of price hikes by commercial entities that are imposed, in effect, on the pocketbooks of parents of students, and students who take loans to pay for their educations. The model can also be implemented with revenue streams from supplementary author charges that would be lower than they would have to be otherwise.]
I work for a small research organization and have done for the last four years. My own experience is that gradual erosion of public access information is taking place, and what was once available for free is starting to be restricted. The most prominent case that springs to mind is www.FT.com, that only 2 years ago was completely free. Now you can read I would estimate 20% of what is on the site for free but you have to pay for the rest. Because of the high quality of the content and the necessity to us of the product we didn't have to think twice to pay. I think it is still early days as far as this process goes.
[It is however still remarkable how much financial data, and financial news, is available for free on the web, of sufficient quality for the average investor (as opposed to say a big investment house) to make informed judgments. Am willing to stand corrected, but I don't think that is going to change, nor do I see any sign of it changing. ]
On your second point: what you are essentially proposing is very similar to nationalization and state control. I don't need to tell you that 20th Century history is littered with examples of well meaning attempts to run utilities and services in the public good with no profit. Almost all have either been sold off privately or are performing so poorly and are so under funded that they won't last much longer. (Our own UK higher education system and health service spring to mind.) Centrally controlled and regulated industries tend to become inefficient, lose the ability to innovate, (which is the key to the success of commercial organizations) pay their staff poorly and become increasingly bureaucratic through time.
[ Three points here: (a.) Are the careers of publicly run utilities truly comparable to what universities have (or can) do with respect to reform of scholarly publishing? I appreciate concerns about state control, by all means, but fail to see how those concerns are relevant to efforts of universities (and esp. their libraries) to protect their own self-interests, and those of their researchers, by doing better what the commercials are doing poorly (viz., disseminating information at reasonable cost). The impact of high journal pricing on the ability of university or college libraries to buy monographs, or reference works, or databases, e.g., is remarkable. (Note: if the worry here is that the govt become involved in enforcing a new business model of scholarly publishing, yes, danger lurks here. But that is not what I hope to have implied.) (b.) What of the better known university presses that have been around for a while? What of society publishers that have a block on a large realm of literature in their subject area? Have these society or university publishers lost the ability to innovate or are they enmired in bureaucracy?Aren't the society publishers still coming in at far better prices than the commercials and putting out product at least as good as the latter? And it is not clear to me that society publishers, which have been doing such a good job in the journal realm, have any greater potential for innovation or effectiveness in this realm than universities, or their libraries. (See comment about Project Euclid below in this vein.) (c.) Concerning the worry about the stagnating effect of central control, one could see academic entities (universities, colleges or their consortia) vying for the best journals, as a mark of prestige. This could create very wholesome competitive pressures to counter unhealthy centralization. In fact, it is precisely that unhealthy centralization in the commercials that may be the problem here. Are they not operating as trusts?
[Three more points:My own experience of academic institutions, gathered through my own studies is that they are not even close to possessing the level of commercial acumen found in the large publishing firms. And I would suggest that commercial acumen is at least as essential to "cost recovery" publishing as it is to "for profit" publishing. I am of course referring to the production, distribution and marketing side of academic publishing and not just the research. If the money (profit) walks out of an industry, the human capital that made that organization so effective in the first place is usually not far behind.
(a.) Are the university presses lacking in commercial acumen or
efficiency in production? Also, what of the society publishers? Again,
these are non-profits or charities, and they are doing a much better job
than the commercials in holding down costs, even while at the same time
subsidizing other society operations. Why should the culture of societies
be any more or less capable than the culture of universities (including
university presses) of publishing journals in effective ways?
(b.) How much marketing is actually required for academic journals? Faculty know the good journals, because they publish in and read them. Then they ask their libraries to buy them. That's one less thing that a
cost-recovery model would have to worry about.
(c.) I do agree that it's not clear whether academic institutions can or
will take the lead in innovations or in pulling off a challenge to the
commercials. The very factor that stands in the way of challenging the
commercials, namely the deep suspicion of commercial motives and processes
that is rife in academe, may stand in the way of making a big dent on the
hegemony of the commercials. On the other hand, an "inroad" like
arxiv.org , housed as it as at a major university, is indeed inspiring.
Witness, too, Project Euclid's association with the same university. In
fact, Project Euclid was launched by Cornell University Library.
http://projecteuclid.org/Dienst/UI/1.0/About?type=about&area=about /*Note: a library!* /(So much for images of librarians, or universities, as
hopelessly bereft of business savvy. )
(d.) I would not underestimate the interest of very savvy individuals in
working, at reduced wage, for non-profit operations, including those run
by universities. Quality of life issues (proximity to university life or
professors, various benefits of being in an academic environ) can for
some individuals trump those offered by commercials, with their
potentially higher salaries. Thus I'm not worried about a brain-drain out
of scholarly publishing as run by universities even if they are not as
spectacularly profitable as commercial entities. Perhaps, if the
phenomenon of brain drain became pronounced, incentives could be enhanced
by university publishers.
Thanks for the response, Tristan Chapple
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