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

Re: Open Access and For-Pay Access (to the same IR materials)

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

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.
[Three more points:

(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