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Re: Matt Cockerill's comments

Although I have a lot of admiration for what Hindawi is doing I cannot accept the assertions you are maiking Paul. How do you know authors will act in the way that you suggest? It is possible that those funding them will act in this way i.e. make their own calculations about what is a good deal. I wonder how they will tell.


----- Original Message -----
From: <paul.peters@hindawi.com>
To: <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Monday, March 26, 2007 11:58 PM
Subject: 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