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Re: Summary paper from the Publishing Research Consortium

It would surely be disingenuous for OA advocates to maintain that the widespread and free availability of all articles in their final from could not lead to the widespread cancellation of subscriptions. This 'liberation' of over-stretched library budgets is a secondary benefit from the arrival of OA for research articles (the primary benefit being the increased access to research). Only an extreme form of double-think could lead one to suppose that subscriptions to highly priced journals could or should continue.

It is a remarkable feature of the current situation that most professional publishers have sanctioned 'Green' practices on institutional archival deposit. A cynic from the OA side might say that this has been agreed/conceded because the subtle differences and discriminations which the publishers make in their allowances for deposit (embargo period, version to be used, type of institution which may be empowered with deposit etc) means that the 'Green' field will always be in a chaotic situation -- providing unpredictable open access. So the Green road does not pose any significant threat to the continued flow of subscriptions.

A cynic from the Toll Access side may say that this allowance does not even need to be deliberately gerrymandered by creating shades of Green, all that is needed is for the scheme of Institutional Repositories to be adequately disaggregated. If 1,000's of universities and research institutions are each to maintain their own repository with the consistency that they currently maintain their other web services, we will still need added value aggregators. Google may clear up some of the chaos but there will still be some role for aggregation and linking services which provide the reliable delivery and scientific relevance of the traditional published journal. For such a Toll Access cynic, 'Mandated Open Access' is an even better idea. If it is mandated (ugh) and yet reluctantly implemented or poorly implemented, during this period the existing scholarly journals charabanc can roll on as before. Perhaps the whole OA movement will meanwhile fizzle out?

I have a suspicion that such a Toll Access cynic might be rubbing his/her hands at the way the debate is moving, or not moving.


On 3/21/07, Joseph Esposito <espositoj@gmail.com> wrote:

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

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

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