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Re: Study Identifies Factors That Could Lead to Cancelled Subscriptions

There's another study, in less depth but covering some additional questions (such as how much of the content would need to be free) from ALPSP - see http://www.alpsp.org/publications/pub12.htm

Between the two, we do seem to have strong pointers to the likely dangers to subscription journals once self-archiving reaches critical mass (which may vary between disciplines, and even between journals)

It seems to me that we need to make research funders, governments etc very clearly aware of this danger

Sally Morris, Chief Executive
Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers
Email: sally.morris@alpsp.org
Website: www.alpsp.org

With very best wishes for the festive season and the New Year. This year ALPSP has decided to make a donation to the Medecins Sans Frontieres (www.msf.org) rather than send cards.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Sandy Thatcher" <sgt3@psu.edu>
To: <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, December 13, 2006 3:58 AM
Subject: Re: Study Identifies Factors That Could Lead to Cancelled

I am coming new to this list, so am not aware of what may have preceded
this part of the discussion. But as President-Elect of the AAUP
(Association of American University Presses) charged with preparing a white
paper on OA for the Association (now in its third draft), I may have
something useful to contribute from our perspective.  I am aware of Dr.
Harnad's long record of advocacy in this arena and have recently initiated
a dialogue with another OA apostle, Peter Suber, whose views are certainly
well thought out and serve as a good touchstone for debate on this subject.
(Perhaps he is subscribed to this list also?)

Not knowing what may have been discussed previously, I begin by asking
whether this list has focused any attention on the relatively new study
from the Publishing Research Consortium titled "Self-Archiving and Journal
Subscriptions: Co-existence or Competition? An International Survey of
Librarians' Preferences" (November 2006), accessible at the PRC's web
site: http://www.publishingresearch.org.uk

This is the most sophisticated study I have ever seen of this subject, and
it speaks directly to the point that Mr. Esposito raises, by focusing our
attention, not on what has actually happened so far, but what may be
expected to happen in the future given the attitudes of librarians as
revealed by this survey. If publishers look at this study, they are going
to be very worried about the future if it moves in the direction of more
peer-reviewed material being freely accessible through author
self-archiving or institutional repositories. They should even be greatly
worried if the FRPAA passes Congress and mandates a 6-month delay before
posting because this study clearly shows a marked difference in
librarians' willingness to cancel subscriptions if the embargo is reduced
from 12 to 6 months.

Another very interesting finding for me, as the publisher of 11 journals
in the humanities and social sciences (10 of them available through
Project Muse, which we were the first university press to join in 2000
when it opened up beyond Johns Hopkins, which hired away our journals
manager in the mid-1990s to help get this venture started), is that
librarians care a lot that the material is peer-reviewed but care very
little whether they have access to the final published version.

Not long ago we adopted a policy at our Press that allows contributors to
our journals to post their articles, once accepted but before copyediting,
to their own sites or their institutions' repositories. So as not to
undermine Project Muse and to provide continued incentive to librarians to
subscribe to Muse, I thought-naively, as it turns out-that librarians
would value the final version highly enough not to cancel subscriptions if
only the peer-reviewed but not final versions were available in OA mode.
Well, how wrong this study shows that assumption to have been! Librarians
seem to place little or no value on the final processing of manuscripts
after acceptance, which should be an eye-opener to publishers like us who
all along felt that we were adding further value to the article after
acceptance. I certainly will consider changing our Press's policy soon
and, one other presses get wind of this, I'm sure many of them will as

All of which underlines Mr. Esposito's point that it is perception that
matters here, not reality. Once we publishers think something is going to
happen, we will act on those beliefs if they seem to be firmly supported,
by such studies as the PRC's. What this study really is all about is
identifying the factors contributing to the "tipping point" i.e., when
behaviors will start to change based on beliefs, however erroneous they
may be. (By the way, the PRC study directly confronts the "evidence" of
the physics preprint archive not affecting cancellations of physics
journals, by pointing out that the archive combines peer-reviewed and not
peer-reviewed materials, thus making it less than fully reliable as a
source of completely authenticated work in the field.)

I think the tipping phenomenon, which we know already to have shown itself
operative in this arena when e-journals came to displace print journals as
the main product in the marketplace (rather more quickly than many people
anticipated), is extremely important to keep in mind here. This is what I
see as a real possibility: enough of the major commercial journal
publishers in an ever more consolidated market (after the purchase of
Blackwell by Wiley) become convinced that their subscriptions will erode
seriously (if, say, the FRPAA becomes law) and therefore decide to abandon
the arena of STM journal publishing because they cannot sustain the
expected profit margins under the new regime (as outlined by Dr. Harnad).

This could all happen very quickly, as "tipping" phenomena generally do.
Where would that scenario leave the academy? With several thousand
journals suddenly left to fend for themselves! I suggest that the
infrastructure of universities today is simply not prepared, in any shape
or form, to deal with that "crisis" and find some way of sustaining those
journals. Certainly, the existing university presses would not be able to
do so. SPARC couldn't handle any such burden. Self-publishing would then
proliferate, and chaos would ensure for some time to come. Are librarians
prepared to deal with the consequences?

I do not depict this nightmare scenario in order to defend the existing
system. I have no personal stake in the persistence of the existing system
(except to the extent that I serve on the board of the CCC), and indeed I
have written in favor of an OA-type system for much longer than that term
existed, going back to articles I wrote for the Chronicle of Higher
Education and the Journal of Scholarly Publishing in the early 1990s. But
I do think university faculty, administrators, and librarians need to
think through these issues and possible scenarios very carefully and
"worst-case" planning would probably be appropriate here.

The system as it exists even now, as Peter Suber points out to me, has
many elements of the "gift economy" involved in it, with faculty donating
their time to peer review, universities supporting editorial offices at no
cost to the publishers, etc. But the scenario I depicted would increase
the burden on universities exponentially in a way that could have very
serious short-term consequences for the whole system of scholarly

I long ago predicted that university press journals would migrate to the
electronic environment much more quickly than monographs because what
university presses do for journals is much more a functional service than
a full publishing support system. In the print world, presses typically
provided the services of design, typesetting, printing, marketing, and
subscription fulfillment. They did not, however, control the peer-review
process, and many did not even offer copyediting, replying instead of what
the editorial office provided by way of copyediting (sometimes by the
journal editors themselves, often by grad students, only occasionally by
real professional staff). Perhaps this is the reason librarians do not
place much value on the copyediting that goes into journals! It was
therefore much more possible, and more likely, that journals could spring
up online without the support of publishers, if they went OA and did not
have to bother about the complications of outsourcing orinting and
handling subscription fulfillment. (And a journal only has to be designed
once, and the template followed thereafter, while marketing takes care of
itself if the journal is aimed at a niche community anyway.) Books,
however, cannot so readily migrate to the Internet because the
infrastructure of book publishing is much more controlled by publishers
and other vendors in the supply chain (literary agents, wholesalers,
retailers,warehousing and distribution suppliers etc.). And hence it is no
surprise to us that the migration of monographs to the Net has lagged far
behind that of journals, But it is a cause for increasing concern, and
such groups as Ithaka are now trying to find ways of closing this new
"digital divide." So, looking forward, I have an interest in how OA will
affect books as well as journals. In the world of knowledge, the container
should not matter as knowledge itself is seamless, but as it is now, there
is very little interactivity online between book and journal content.  The
problem of going OA for books, though, is a lot more complicated than it
is for journals. If it costs $2,500 for an author to publish in a PLOS
journal today, you can bet it will cost a great deal more topublidsh a
book in a full OA mode. Taking away the cost of printing, binding, and
warehousing (which constitute about 30% of the overall cost of publishing
a monograph), you are left with still supporting about $20,000 in costs
for the average-length uncomplicated monograph. Will universities be
willing to pony up subsidies on that scale, especially in the humanities?
(And it is really the humanities we need to worry about. generally
speaking, scientists don' need to publish books, and publishers encourage
them to do so mainly when they think there is money to be made. I know
because I used to be editor-in-chief at Princeton U.P. where we did a lot
of science book publishing.) If the pressure to move in that direction
arises-which in principle we presses do not oppose because we too believe
that it is our mission to "disseminate knowledge far and wide" in the most
economical way possible-it will have to be managed very carefully so that
inequities that now exit in the toll-access system for journal users are
not re-created for authors in a full OA system for monographs, where only
faculty at the richest schools can afford the subsidies required to

Sorry to go on so long, but I felt it important to lay some of these
issues about OA on the table from a university press perspective. I would
welcome reactions, particularly from Dr. Harnad and Mr. Esposito, and hope
that everyone will take a look at the PRC study if they have not already.

Sandy Thatcher
Director, Penn State Press

P.S. We are embarked on a quasi-OA experiment in humanities monograph
publishing at Penn State through our joint Press/Library Office of Digital
Scholarly Publishing, but more about that later, if anyone is interested.
(The Press is now, administratively, part of the Library, so I feel more
comfortable now contributing to a list initiated by librarians. Ann
Okerson and I go back a long way....)