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Re: Taking Our Academic Medicine

The price per article and all its derivatives, for instance as given on
www.journalprices.com, may be interesting, but the exercise is, well, academic.
Peter Banks, by using the argument, as others have done, that dissemination of
information is "not the sole or even primary function of scholarly journals",
demonstrates support for the notion that paying for those journals almost
exclusively by readers (vicariously, by libraries) is pretty strange. That
'readers' pay is only so for historical reasons, a leftover from the time that
dissemination of information *was* the primary function of journals.

Now it isn't any longer, the idea that publishing be paid by the author
(vicariously, the funder or institution, i.e. the scientific community) makes
it, among other things, possible to have:

1. open access (maximum and unlimited dissemination and liberal re-use)
2. transparency (what the scientific community spends on a published article in
a given journal is abundantly clear)
3. proportionality with the research effort itself (if research increases, the
total cost of publishing increases)

All three, I think, of important value to the scientific community.

Peter is right to point out that economic sustainability is an important value
in itself as well (though his example of low-cost airlines misses the mark, as
'getting there' is pretty much what you want; the 'lunch' isn't worth it).
Subsidies are not scalable (they would run into billions a year for all of
science publishing if they were at the level that, for instance, PLoS enjoys,
wonderful though PLoS's work is), and neither are, in the long run, article
charges below cost price. Offering open access based on economically feasible
'author-side' charges, as an option for authors, is therefore the best policy
for publishers with established journals. It is not up to the publisher to
impose the publishing business model, but a responsible publisher provides the
structure for the academic community to make the transition to open access at
the pace that the community can be comfortable with. The benefits of open
access will gradually become clearer and clearer when more articles are
published that way, quite likely accelerating the pace.

As for the amounts of article charges, the www.journalprices.com site seems to
indicate that prices per article of around $5 are already considered good
value. Springer has a $3000 article charge for open access and unlimited
universal access. Some have told me that that is high. Just 600 subscribers at
$5 per article and it would cost the scientific community the same! All of *six
hundred* subscriptions! How many academic institutions do we guess there are in
the world? What fraction of researchers and students interested in
those�journals would be covered by those 600 subscribing institutes?

Jan Velterop

On 19 Nov 2005, at 05:45, Peter Banks wrote:


Your argument rests on fallacy: that the primary function of publishing is
"dissemination" of information.

As Fytton Rowland has argued (http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue7/fytton/),
the dissemination of information is not the sole or even primary function of the
scholarly journals. Quality control, the preservation of a canonical archive,
and recognition of authors are also important.

If dissemination were the only criteria, then you would be right--authors
should simply send their papers to the outlet that gets them to the most readers
at the least cost. They should also fly Southwest rather than a legacy carrier;
if all you care about it getting there, there's no need to pay for lunch.

However, what authors want from journals is the rigor of peer review and the
stamp of authority it conveys. And that--despite the OA assertion that peer
review can be done cheaply, perhaps by trained monkeys in a low-rent trailer in
South Dakota--is where the cost, and the value, enters publishing. "Value" is
not low price, as you will find if you buy your wife's Christmas gift at
WalMart rather than Tiffany. For a journal, it is the cost to deliver quality,
authority, and distribution.

I take your statement that " we fully intend to achieve" a status where revenue
covers costs as a recognition that BMC is still a venture in search of
financially sustainable future. Keep in mind that the airlines that have
focused on low-cost "dissemination" of their passengers haven't as a lot done
very well.

Peter Banks
Acting Vice President for Publications/Publisher
American Diabetes Association

Email: pbanks@diabetes.org