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RE: Changing the game

Sorry for a slow answer to both Jim O'Donnell and Sandy Thatcher.

But I will start with David's remarks with whom I agree. Research is expensive
and a large share of it is subsidized by either public money (e.g. NIH or NSF),
foundation money (e.g. Hughes) and private money.

I reiterate my view on this, based on the idea that what is most important in
this discussion is not publishers, but the scientific or scholarly process

1. Results from public money should be accessible freely, and reusable freely,
by everybody; 2. Results obtained from foundation money should be as available
as these foundations want (but most, it seems, like Open Access, and it is not
difficult to see why). 3. Results from private or corporation money: let each
private source decide how it wants to see these results disseminated.

In order to make this work, governments only have to offer a public option for
publishing: free for authors, free for readers. The journals would be
maintained at arms length. Some incentives could be designed to stimulate the
quest for the highest quality possible.

Unfair to the publishers? Not really. They only have to invent things to make
their products attractive. For example, instead of throttling content through
licensing fees or subscriptions, they could simply build search services that
would make their work really valuable. After all, this is what the Web of
Science provides already. But the final point is that research is not there to
ensure the survival or growth of a special kind of business. And business
should not interfere with research processes.

Now, let me turn to first Sandy Thatcher's remark.

I am glad that he admits that at least 10% of university press expenses are not
paid for by revenues. This means, from his own estimate, that at least 10% of
the expenses are subsidized.

It is clear that the universities that have presses are, in a sense, subsidizing
the universities without presses. Perhaps universities should band together on
this and recognize for a collective support of university presses.

Several university presses are now offering books in OA (and electronic) form:
HSRC in South Africa, ANU in Australia, Athabasca in Canada. Most intriguing,
perhaps, is the OAPEN project that brings several U. presses in Europe to
explore the OA production (or conversion) of monographs. Public, European,
money is behind OAPEN. In short, a new form of competition is rising and it may
force many presses to move a little faster than Sandy believes.

Finally, it might be worthwhile to go back to the motives behind the creation of
the first U. Press in the US, at Johns Hopkins. The idea was to disseminate
knowledge beyond the walls of academe. And to make this feasible, it was
thought normal to subsidize important pieces of work that would never be
popular (for example because they are too specialized, or difficult to read, or
whatever). Subsidizing university presses was the background against which they
started. Then, in the last twenty years or so, they met the changing financial
circumstances of their mother institutions and this has wrought rather bad
consequences for scholarly publishing in the U. Presses, particularly in the
US. In Canada, of course, there is a programme that subsidizes monographs to
the tune of $8,000/volume and over 180 books are published in this fashion
(ASPP managed by CFHSS). Apparently, Canadian U. presses, particularly UBC
Press, U. of Toronto press and McGill-Queens press, seem to come to the tacit
conclusion that this is fine to ensure publishing such monographs without
endangering the press. It also places a price tag on how much is needed to
publish one monograph on average, without losing too much, and with reasonable
prices. In the US, multiplying the number by a bit over ten (which reflects the
relationship of the US to Canada), this would lead to roughly 2,000 volumes that
could be published each year for a cost of less than 20 million dollars.
Bankers' bonuses appear stratospheric by comparison.

Now, allow me to turn to Jim O'Donnell's remarks. They dealt with my objecting
to the segmenting of markets.

I enjoyed the way in which Jim quoted Marx and attributed the statement to
capitalism. This could lead to an entirely different, and amusing debate, but I
will leave it aside here... But apparently, the Chinese have integrated this
shift in perspective very well...

I will not follow Jim on his global authority remarks... I was not advocating
for global authorities. National customs exist precisely to adjust prices of
imports to whatever level the government of that country wants. National
customs do segment the world market, presumably to serve the local interests.
However, when publishers agree among themselves to sell a title in a market
while forbidding to resell the same volume in another market attributed to some
other publishing group, it is publishers that set prices, that actually conspire
to set prices, and all this, internationally, has a name: it is called a cartel.
What I object too is the cartelization of the textbook world.

I also object to the practice which consists in first raking up money (or is it
"racking up") in the home market to cover costs and turn a profit, and then
turn around and sell the same product at a lower price elsewhere. This also has
a name: dumping. And it inhibits the creation of competing firms in other

Of course, if one thinks like Senator Corker who recently called Canada and
France parasitic in the drug business, as if neither of these two countries had
ever produced any original drug of their own, it may be that these countries who
benefit from the dumping of US textbooks on their territory could be called
parasitic as well... :-)

The last part of Jim's remarks had to do with innovations. No one will ever
argue that some fields and, therefore, some textbooks, need updating. However,
it is just as true that certain forms of updating are meant to kill the
second-hand book market. It is true that economics textbooks may have to go
back to the drawing board after the discipline proved itself not quite up to
the task of predicting last Fall's interesting events. However, Stats 101 and
Chem 101, and calculus 101, etc. remain pretty much the same over periods of
time that can easily reach 10 years. And if innovation is really the concern -
a legitimate concern in my humble opinion - then certain new ways to create OA
textbooks in a networked and distributed fashion may turn out to be the best
way to foster innovation in textbooks and get them out for free at the same

In conclusion, it is time to take some distance from commercial points of view
without forgetting that real costs are associated with any kind of production.
It is also time, I believe, to visit anew the boundary lines separating the
public from the private, and the role off governments in this matter. It is not
a question of calling for some new Big Brother, but neither is it a question of
offering a playing field that allows all the Madoffs of the universe build a
world of Ponzi schemes and extraordinary bonuses. Some solid government
intervention (and regulation) is clearly needed, as is shown already by the
governmental role in financing research all over the planet.

And let us remember that the cost of publishing research is only a very small
fraction of supporting research.

Jean-Claude Guedon