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Re: May issue of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter

Hi Sandy.  Thanks for your comments.  More below.

On Sun, May 2, 2010 at 7:37 PM, Sandy Thatcher <sgt3@psu.edu> 

>  My understanding of why many publishers oppose FRPPA and the 
> NIH policy is that it mandates the uncompensated appropriation 
> of the peer review conducted by publishers.

Yes, I've heard this objection.  However, there's no 
"appropriation" here. NIH-funded authors disclose (or should 
disclose) to the journals where they submit their work that they 
are bound by the terms of the NIH OA policy.  In effect, then, 
they ask publishers two questions rather than just one:  "will 
you publish my article?" and "will you publish it it under these 
terms?" Publishers are free to accept or reject the offer.  When 
they accept it, there is no "appropriation".

Are the terms as good for publishers as the terms they could get 
a couple of years ago?  No, and that's the point.  Formerly, 
authors had to take the terms a publisher offered or find another 
publisher.  Now publishers must take the terms that NIH-funded 
authors are offering or find other authors. It's a long-awaited 
and much-needed correction in the balance of bargaining power.

Could it be further fine-tuned?  Probably.  Did it go so far that 
it now hurts publishers?  I honestly don't know how to answer 
that question except by watching the decisions publishers make 
after they weigh up the costs and benefits as they see them.  If 
many or most publishers rejected the deal, then we might be able 
to say that accepting it would hurt publishers.  But virtually 
all are accepting it.  Either way, however, publishers remain 
free to accept it or reject it.  And any deal that publishers are 
free to reject, and which they accept with their eyes open, 
cannot be called "appropriation".

Given the retention of rights involved in the agreements that 

> will be required to sign, this does not have to raise any 
> copyright issues per se. But it does mean that the federal 
> government is requiring publishers to pay the cost of peer 
> review if they want to continue publishing any articles funded 
> by agency dollars.

Yes, that's one way to put it.  Here's another way:  Publishers 
may refuse to publish NIH-funded authors but they are not 

> Because this involves just Green OA, it remains to be seen 
> whether libraries, especially given the pressures on their 
> budgets today, will have sufficient incentive to continue 
> subscribing to high-priced STM journals they know they can 
> access for free after 6 months just for the benefit of the 
> final processing that publishers provide.

Yes, this remains to be seen.

> From what I have learned over the past several years about how 
> little importance people, including even authors, seem to place 
> on copyediting, I'm not sanguine that this deal is going to 
> work out well for publishers.
> In that event, it seems to me that publishers have three 
> choices: 1) start charging fees to cover the cost of peer 
> review and final processing (in effect, becoming Gold OA 
> publishers), 2) accepting for publication only articles not 
> funded by government, or 3) investing their capital in some 
> more promising business.

This simplifies the situation in several ways.

You're overlooking the one natural experiment that might shed 
light on the coexistence of green OA and subscription journals: 
physics.  Physics has the highest levels and longest history of 
green OA.  In some subfields of physics, the rate of green OA 
approaches 100%.  If high levels of green OA triggered journal 
cancellations, we'd see the effect first in physics. But the 
Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society have said 
that they detect no cancellations attributable to green OA: 

In fact, both publishers not only accept submissions from arXiv, 
they host their own mirrors of arXiv.

When I agreed with you above that it remains to be seen whether 
green OA will trigger cancellations, I meant it.  It's not 
happening in physics, but other fields might not behave like 
physics.  We don't know yet.  I'm not predicting harm to 
subscription journals (like some publishers), and I'm not 
predicting harmlessness (like some OA advocates).  I'm saying 
that the experience of physics to date provides counter-evidence 
to the prediction of harm, and that in fields outside physics, 
the effect of rising levels of green OA remains to be seen.

You're also overlooking the fact that most (about 70%) of OA 
journals charge no publication fees.  If a publisher wanted to 
convert to OA, it might or might not charge publication fees. 
You might think that no-fee OA publishers couldn't be doing as 
well as the fee-based OA publishers; but that's not true.  Today 
the small but growing group of *profitable* OA publishers 
includes both fee-based and no-fee OA publishers.

> Since FRPPA includes no provision for paying any such fees, 
> that burden will fall back upon authors and their universities. 
> Under scenarios 2 and 3, government-funded research will then 
> need to be peer reviewed in some other way than by publishers.

As noted, some of the burden could be borne by no-fee, 
peer-reviewed OA journals.

You're also overlooking the fact that many funding agencies (not 
just authors and universities) are willing to pay the publishing 
fees at fee-based OA journals.  There haven't been systematic, 
global studies of how many funders are willing to pay these fees. 
But a September 2008 study from the Research Councils UK found 
that 45% of fees paid on behalf of UK researchers were paid by 

FRPAA doesn't require agencies to pay these fees for grantees, 
but some of the agencies might choose to do so anyway.  For 
example, the NIH is willing to do so today.

And before we conclude that you're sketching a realistic future, 
we have to remember that your "if" condition hasn't been met. 
Subscription journals might start to refuse to publish 
publicly-funded research (because it carries an OA requirement), 
but they haven't done so yet.  I don't even see that the level of 
refusals is rising in parallel with the level of green OA. On the 

> [...] What does seem perfectly clear is that scholars are going 
> to continue needing their articles peer reviewed because only 
> in that way can they advance in their careers. If FRPPA does 
> not pay for peer review, and publishers decide not to consider 
> articles funded by government research, then some mechanism 
> will still need to be put in place to have peer review carried 
> out. Has anyone given much thought to how that will be 
> accomplished if scenarios 2 and 3 comes to pass?

See above.  There are no-fee OA journals and there are fee-based 
OA journals whose fees are paid by funders or universities.

>  Sandy Thatcher
> P.S. Peter says that 60% of publishers now allow "postprints" 
> to be posted OA. Is that true?

See the SHERPA stats page.  The number changes as SHERPA surveys 
more publishers.  Today the number is 52% (of 724 surveyed 
publishers).  28% allow both preprint and postprint archiving and 
another 24% allow just postprint archiving. 

> I thought "postprint" meant peer-reviewed but not finally 
> processed, but in this newsletter he seems to be talking as 
> though "postprints" meant the final versions as published.

No; I meant the former.

> I believe the 60% figure is accurate for [the authors' 
> peer-reviewed manuscripts]. I doubt it is accurate for final 
> versions.

Correct.  The number of publishers allowing green OA for the 
published edition is much smaller.  SHERPA lists 99 publishers 
(presumably out of 724, hence 13.7%) which allow deposit of the 
published edition with no embargo. 

Peter Suber
Berkman Fellow, Harvard University
Senior Researcher, SPARC
Research Professor of Philosophy, Earlham College