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RE: Matt Cockerill's comments

Professor Feinman,

While you are certainly correct that publishers will try to 
maximize the revenue of their journals regardless of whether they 
are open access or subscription-based, the ability of a publisher 
to charge significantly more than their service is worth will be 
greatly reduced in an open access model. The reason for this is 
quite simple; "gold" open access publishing will lead to a more 
efficient market.

There are several inefficiencies within the subscription market 
that will be reduced or eliminated in an open access world.

1)If authors are responsible for paying the costs associated with 
publishing in a particular journal, there will be a greater 
pressure on publishers to keep their prices at a competitive 
level. In the subscription world, authors generally do not take 
the price of a journal into consideration when choosing where to 
submit their work. While there certainly are exceptions, authors 
tend to submit to journals based on their prestige, speed, 
production quality, etc. In an open access world, authors would 
still take into consideration the prestige, speed, and production 
quality of a journal, but they would also tend to pay greater 
attention to the costs associated with each journal. Authors 
willing to pay a higher Article Processing Charge to publish in a 
journal with faster publication speeds or a better reputation 
would certainly be free to do so, but publishers would be under 
far greater pressure to keep their prices in line with the 
services that they provide.

2)In an open access world, it would be much easier to determine 
the costs associated with publishing in a given journal. Adding 
to the problems described in the point above, the 
subscription-based publishing model makes it nearly impossible 
for anyone apart from a journal's publisher to know how much 
revenue is collected per article. Since one cannot easily tell 
how many subscribers a journal has, it is impossible to know the 
'cost' (whether it is paid on the author's side or on the 
reader's side) of publishing in a particular journal. So even the 
most conscientious of authors have a difficult time avoiding 
'overpriced' journals in the subscription world.

3)In an open access world, the barrier to entry for new 
publishers, or new journals from existing publishers, will be 
less than in the subscription world. Since a subscription-based 
journal must attract a certain number of subscribers in order to 
break even, which generally takes years even for the most 
successful of titles, it is very difficult to establish new 
journals to compete with well-established titles, even if the new 
journal provides a significantly better service at a lower price. 
Moreover, having a small number of subscribers means that a new 
journal will have a very limited readership, which makes it even 
more difficult to get a new subscription-based title 
off-the-ground. In an open access world, if authors in a 
particular field do not have any reasonably priced journals in 
which to publish, it will not be too long until some 'greedy' 
publisher comes along and creates a new journal that can provide 
a better value for these authors.

While open access publishers will be just as concerned with the 
financial success of their journals as subscription-based 
publishers, their ability to charge more than their service is 
worth will be greatly reduced. While increased access is 
certainly the main benefit of open access publishing in the short 
run, a more efficient market for scholarly publishing may prove 
to be its greatest benefit in the long run.

Because of the reasons mentioned above, I have mixed feelings 
about the Wellcome Trust and CERN policies towards 'gold' open 
access publishing. The hidden benefit of 'gold' open access is 
that it provides a solution to many of the problems that exist 
within the subscription market. Unfortunately, neither the policy 
of the Wellcome Trust nor that of CERN's SCOAP3 have a mechanism 
for increasing the competition between publishers, so one cannot 
expect that they will lead to greater efficiency in the 
publishing market. If funders offer publishers a certain amount 
of money for each article they publish (say $3,000), publishers 
will have no incentive to charge any less than that amount.

The best approach for research funders to take is simply to allow 
their grant recipients to include publication charges in their 
grant requests, just as they do for expenses related to attending 
a conference. This way, researchers will be able to choose how 
much of their research funds they would like to spend on 
publishing in a journal, funds which could otherwise be spent on 
conferences, graduate students, equipment, etc... Only by making 
the costs of a journal visible to authors can we expect to see a 
more efficient market, since authors (not research funders, 
university departments, librarians, or readers) choose where 
articles are published.

As Matt said in his email:

Under an open access publishing model, you immediately have a 
much more effective market. The customer (the research community) 
can choose the publication service that offers the best value, 
ensuring that prices are kept down. This kind of 
'substitutability' generally doesn't exist with the subscription 
model - hence the problem of journal inflation.

Paul Peters
Head of Business Development
Hindawi Publishing Corporation

From: Richard Feinman RFeinman@downstate.edu
Date: Sun, 25 Mar 2007 21:06:36 EDT
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject: Re Matt Cockerill's comments

This is a remarkably ironic comment from the publisher who is 
constantly trying to raise the Author Pay Charge on BMC journals. 
Authors are also customers and therefore, under conditions where 
publishers "will charge as much as they can in order to maximize 
their revenues,... The customer (the research community" 
including Authors) "can choose the publication service that 
offers the best value,"  so that when BMC finally raises the APC 
on all of its journals, the only Authors who will find value in 
new journals without an established reputation will be those who 
need to publish at any price.

A reasonable goal is that the article, not the journal, is the 
unit of scientific quality, analogous to the trend towards 
downloading of single songs rather than the sale of albums in the 
music world.  Although this will never be universal and authors 
may continue to be willing to pay for being published in prestige 
journals, high author fees will not generally be considered good 

In the end, the implementation of OA will be with efficient 
operations like Scholarly Exchange or those who use OJS.  This 
will require more investment of energy at startup by the editors 
but in the end BMC will provide only a limited solution to the 
publication problem by substituting avarice at a different point 
than than the subscription end.

Richard D. Feinman, Co-editor-in-chief
Nutrition & Metabolism ( http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/home )

Articles published within a day or two of acceptance.
Indexed PubMed, PubMed Central, ISI Thomson.


"Matthew Cockerill" <matt@biomedcentral.com>
03/21/07 06:03 PM
Please respond to liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject Re: the Yale argument on open-choice

Is it not clear, though, that price inflation is an expected
consequence of the subscription model?

If the research community hands over ownership/exclusive rights
to publishers, it is economically predictable that publishers
(whether commercial or not-for-profit) will charge as much as
they can in order to maximize their revenues. Given that the
academic community *really* needs access to that research, there
is virtually no upper bound on what publishers with enough market
power can get away with charging for subscriptions . The natural
solution to this is surely for the research community *not* to
give away the ownership/exclusive rights to the research.

Under an open access publishing model, you immediately have a
much more effective market. The customer (the research community)
can choose the publication service that offers the best value,
ensuring that prices are kept down. This kind of
'substitutability' generally doesn't exist with the subscription
model - hence the problem of journal inflation.

Matt Cockerill
BioMed Central