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Re: Summary paper from the Publishing Research Consortium


The answer to your question is, Because this ("We would cancel") is what librarians say when asked the following question: If all the articles in final form from a subscription-based journal were available for free, would you continue to subscribe to the journal?

There are important words in that question: "all" and "final form."

I really cannot understand how you can persist in insisting that people will pay for what they can get for free.

Businesspeople talk to their customers.

Joe Esposito

On 3/20/07, David Prosser <david.prosser@bodley.ox.ac.uk> wrote:
The Beckett and Inger paper 'Self-Archiving and Journal Subscriptions: Co-existence or Competition?' gives us a hypothesis (p. 11 of the summary paper):

'In the extreme case of 100% availability of content on the institutional archives and a 24-month embargo, still nearly half the market for subscription journals has disappeared.'

So, if 100% of the journal's content is freely available the journal will, all other factors being equal, lose a massive proportion of its subscription base. Decreasing the embargo to zero increases the predicted fall in the market from 50% to approximately 70%.

Can we test this hypothesis? If we look at journals hosted by HighWire Press we can see that a large number make papers freely available after 6, 12, or 24 months (see http://highwire.stanford.edu/lists/freeart.dtl). For these journals, the final versions of papers are made available to all. If the prediction made by Beckett and Inger was true then these journals should have started to haemorrhaging subscriptions following the opening-up of the archives. Is there any evidence that they have?

Back in 2005, John Sack wrote, in a history of HighWire Press

After several years of content was online, Nick Cozzarelli (PNAS), Bob Simoni (JBC) and Michael Held (Rockefeller University Press) presented a concept of 'free back issues' to their colleague HighWire publishers. Their view was that librarians and researchers were subscribing because they needed access to absolutely current issues, and that there was significant educational benefit in issues that were months old. They proposed that back issues (6 or 12 months old) be made freely available to the public to support educational uses, and expected that this would have no significant effect on subscription count. Gradually more and more journals came to this same belief, and today the programme comprises the largest archive of free full-text research articles that we know of: over 825,000 articles from about 220 journals.

There does not appear to be a mass retreat from the free back file programme - are publisher sanguine in the face of 50% declines in their subscription base?

Of course, most of the HighWire hosted journals offering free backfiles are in the biological and medical fields, but as the summary does not break-down the response of librarians by subject area, it is difficult to tell what predictions are being made in these fields.

So, we have a hypothesis and we have some test-cases. If the HighWire-hosted journals are managing to survive despite the predicted massive falls in subscriptions they should have experience, why should we take the Beckett and Inger study as a credible warning of what might happen as self-archiving become more widespread?

David C Prosser PhD
SPARC Europe
E-mail: david.prosser@bodley.ox.ac.uk