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RE: Matt Cockerill's comments [Wellcome Trust and OA fees thread]

I would like to quickly comment on Paul Peters remarks that:

"...by having a set amount (say $3,000) that they are willing to 
pay for the publication of an article (which is more or less the 
policy of the Wellcome Trust)," and "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"


The Wellcome Trust has never set a figure on how much it is 
prepared to pay for an open access article.  The Trust recognises 
that publishing incurs a cost, and that this is a legitimate 
research costs which it is prepared to meet.

The specific costs are set by the publishers - and though it is 
true that the OA costs are coalescing around $3000, some 
publishers have gone lower (e.g. ASBMB charge $1500) and some 
have gone higher (e.g. Cell Press charge $5000).  We will not 
know whether this is a true reflection of costs until the market 
itself demonstrates it.

Robert Kiley
Head of e-Strategy
Wellcome Library.
Library Web site: http://library.wellcome.ac.uk

-----Original Message-----
[mailto:owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu] On Behalf Of Paul Peters
Sent: 29 March 2007 00:19
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject: Re: Matt Cockerill's comments


I certainly don't want to make any undue assertions about 
authors' behavior, since this is an all-too-common phenomenon in 
the debate surrounding open access. However, I think it is quite 
reasonable to assume that if authors are responsible for paying 
the publications costs of their articles, using money from their 
research budget, they will have a pretty strong incentive to 
consider the costs associated with a particular journal. 
Researchers regularly make decisions about how to spend their 
research funds, whether on equipment, graduate students and 
postdocs, conferences, etc. I don't see any reason why 
publication costs should be any different.

When you ask how I know that authors will act in the way I 
described, I am not sure that I entirely understand your 
question. If you mean "how can you be sure that authors will care 
how much money they spend on publication charges?" then my 
response is that you should look at how they spend the rest of 
their research budget. Unless you can point me to studies showing 
that researchers tend to fly first-class when their tickets are 
paid from their research budget, or that they buy unnecessarily 
expensive equipment, or overpay their graduate students, I do not 
see that this should be a significant concern. Since researchers 
can only spend the money that has been given to them by funding 
agencies, and funding agencies are generally pretty careful when 
it comes to evaluating budgets in grant proposals, there should 
be a reasonably strong incentive for authors to minimize their 
publication costs.

In regards to funding agencies making these decisions on behalf 
of authors, I don't see how this can produce an efficient market 
for scholarly journals. The reason is simply that it is difficult 
for a centralized authority to decide how people should spend 
their money. The essence of a free market is that consumers 
(authors in the case of scholarly journals) are best positioned 
to decide which products provide them with the greatest value, 
based on their particular needs.

So far there have been two proposed systems for how funders can 
make these decisions on behalf of their researchers: (1) by 
having a set amount (say $3,000) that they are willing to pay for 
the publication of an article (which is more or less the policy 
of the Wellcome Trust), or (2) by deciding in which journals 
their authors should be publishing, and negotiating individual 
deals with each of these "approved" journals (which is more or 
less the policy proposed by CERN's SCOAP3). The first model 
sounds like a return to the days of regulated airlines, which 
prohibited all price-based competition within the airline market. 
The second model resembles the soviet economic model, where 
consumers could only choose from a limited number of products 
that a centralized authority had selected for them.

In the "fixed price-per-article" model, publishers would be able 
to compete on non-financial terms, but there would be virtually 
no pressure on them to keep their charges below the level set by 
research funders. While I can envision a world of "regulated 
publishing," with competition between publishers occurring on a 
non-financial basis, my original point was simply that we should 
not expect this model to lead to a reduction in the cost of 

In the "publish in approved journals" model, the barrier to entry 
for new journals or new publishers would be significantly 
increased, and finding a good mechanism for determining the price 
of each journal would be quite difficult. One of my main concerns 
regarding CERN's SCOAP3 proposal is that new journals that have 
yet to be "approved" by the consortium would be forced to 
directly charge authors, at least until they are determined to be 
worthy of approval, while "approved" journals will be able to 
provide "free" open access. Launching a new journal is difficult 
enough in any model, but trying to do so when your journal 
(relying on direct payment from authors) must compete with 
established journals (which will appear to be free from an 
author's perspective), would be significantly more difficult.

Moreover, I assume that if funding agencies in high-energy 
physics contribute the funds needed to implement SCOAP3, they 
will not be willing to provide their grant recipients with 
additional funds to pay for publication in "non-approved" 
journals. So, in order to launch a new open access journal in 
this model, you would need to convince authors to pay, out of 
their own pocket, for publishing in a new journal that does not 
yet have an established reputation, when they could otherwise 
publish in an established journal that appears to provide open 
access for free. In addition, if the amount of money given to 
each "approved" journal is going to be based on negotiations 
between the consortium of research funders and the publishers of 
existing journals, I doubt that this will lead to an efficient 
pricing system.

There is another important benefit of giving authors the choice 
of how much they are willing to spend to publish in a given 
journal. If authors have the ability to publish in the journal of 
their choice, provided that they pay the required publication 
charges from their research budget, one would expect to see a 
wide range of options that can accommodate the various needs of 
authors. Imagine a world in which all existing journals are 
converted to open access, with publication charges paid directly 
from the research budget of authors. If an author would like to 
publish their work in Nature, which would most likely require a 
higher than average fee due to its high reject rate, they would 
need to decide whether this is an efficient use of their research 
budget. Similarly, if they would like to publish in a journal 
with an exceptionally fast review speed, or a journal with 
labor-intensive production services, they would need to determine 
what sort of value the journal can provide based on their 
individual needs. In such a world, publishers would provide those 
services which authors find to be of greatest value, and authors 
would have a range of choices based on their individual needs. 
After all, isn't this the essential purpose of having a 
market-based economy?

I apologize for the lengthy reply, but I think it's important to 
understand the implications of each of the various roads to gold 
open access. I am aware that there are limitations of "open 
access paid from the research budgets of authors," especially in 
fields with limited research funding. However, if the goal is to 
create an efficient market for scholarly publishing, which can 
provide the best services at the lowest price, it is essential 
for authors to consider the costs associated with a particular 
journal when choosing where to publish their work. I appreciate 
that there are a number of industries in which the free market 
may not work particularly well (law enforcement would be a good 
example), but I do not see any good reasons why market-based 
competition will not work in the scholarly publishing industry.

Paul Peters
Head of Business Development
Hindawi Publishing Corporation