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Re: Matt Cockerill's comments

I think this is a very helpful and illuminating reply Paul. I do not think
many of those planning for the future think that authors will usually pay
out of their own pockets and therefore the funding models, which you have
lucidly described, will be of key importance.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Peters" <paul.peters@hindawi.com>
To: <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Thursday, March 29, 2007 12:19 AM
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 journals.

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