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Re: Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey 2009

Just the kind of very thoughtful response I was hoping to 
provoke! I would only add that I agree the tradition-bound P&T 
process must shoulder a lot of blame for the problems we have all 
encountered, and that ultimately the various crises which each of 
our sectors is facing can only be solved by an approach that 
involves every sector working together.

As I pointed out in the case of revised dissertations, libraries, 
publishers, and P&T committees are each acting "rationally" in 
their own narrow self-interest, but the effect of this subsystem 
rationality is to create dysfunctionality for the system as a 
whole. Unfortunately, universities are so used to working as a 
congeries of independent units that they don't know how, it 
seems, to solve this problem of "unintended consequences" at the 
university-wide level. And the same is true for the university 
system as a whole, which is why we have gone on so long with only 
a handful of universities directly supporting scholarly 
communication by operating presses while the rest are all "free 
riders" on the system contributing nothing directly to it 
(except, for some, the occasional faculty publication 

I've been writing about this problem for a long time. See, e.g., 
my essay on "Thinking Systematically about the Crisis in 
Scholarly Communication:


Maybe it's time for the AAUP, ARL, AAU, and CNI to convene 
another conference to discuss the issues at this broader level, 
as they did in two conferences in the late 1990s at one of which 
I delivered this talk?

Sandy Thatcher

>This is an intersting and cogent line of reasoning, though I'd 
>add a couple of complicating factors.  One is the massive market 
>distorting influence of consortia purchasing.  By guaranteeing 
>inflationary revenue increases to a privileged set of STM 
>publishers, the end effect was to reduce journal competition, 
>create a package of must have titles, and to raise the 
>percentage cost of journals in our library to 80% of the 
>collection budget.
>Another complication is the tradition bound promotion and tenure 
>process which over the last 15 years operated in a manner 
>congruent with consortia to create the "big publisher"  journal 
>bubble that we now find ourselves in -- and given the economy, 
>it is a bubble which every library will eventually have to find 
>an answer for via layoffs, uncomfortable cancellations, branch 
>closures, shrinking services, dramatically reduced book 
>purchasing, etc.  The "big publisher"  publishers are now the 
>academy's version of the "too big to fail"  banks and aside from 
>breaking the publishers up, it is hard to see how this situation 
>ultimately ends up with a suitable outcome for all involved.
>This type of potentially mutually assurred destruction situation 
>is sometimes called a "Mexican standoff," and it is entirely 
>possible that everyone of us: publishers, libraries, and the 
>academy, could end up participating in a sudden, unplanned for, 
>unpleasant, and very uncomfortable conclusion to the entire 
>Academic readers are used to wide-ranging easy access, 
>publishers need a predictable revenue stream, and libraries are 
>financially tapped out with little hope of stopping the revenue 
>bleed. If we continue down the path we're on: libraries will 
>stop buying, publishers will go under, and readers will get what 
>they need some other way.
>We've now gone through several decades of what are essentailly 
>supply-side-based academic publishing business models.  We've 
>managed to keep these models aloft primarily through the library 
>habit of speculative purchasing, aided by an unwillingness to 
>look at data and make serious hard decisions. If a book had no 
>readers over ten years, there were no repercussions.  If a 
>$2,000 journal couldn't even attract 100 campus readers a year, 
>no one got fired, if a library bought a package of 1200 journals 
>of which less than half had serious usage, no library dropped 
>their big deal. All the mattered was that the supply side kept 
>churning out content, that consortia kept corralling customers, 
>and that libraries kept buying.  This is all about to enter a 
>new and disturbing phase in which various chickens are heading 
>home to roost.
>It's not a good idea for any of us to continue to enable 
>business models that are based on throwing dollar bills out the 
>window in the hope that they somehow magically result in a 
>reader and content come into contact and falling in academic 
>love.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for librarians attending 
>conferences, tipping back their Stetsons, flashing wads of cash, 
>sipping bourbon, and meeting publishers in back rooms over 
>cigars and private entertainment -- all while doing deals that 
>the timid and poor have no hope of ever replicating.  But fond 
>as those memories are, they probably don't represent a 
>sustainable path forward for anyone who does't have an oil well 
>on their campus. But there are things we can do.
>We can shift our long entrenched mental models from the supply 
>side to the demand side.  I'd much rather take a portion of 
>library collection funding and use it to keep a group of proven 
>academic publishers on retainer.  A library could give 100 
>publishers 25% or 50% of past revenue, the publishers could 
>provide a portfolio of 75% or 100% of content, and at the end of 
>the year the library could divide its remaining funds among 
>whichever titles got the most usage until an ownership cap is 
>hit, thereby rewarding those publishers whose titles got the 
>most usage.  An infinite number of variations of this type of 
>"shared risk" model are possible.  The critical component is 
>that good content is rewarded, bad content is not, and that both 
>the library and the pubsliher have to be careful in their 
>management of the risk pool and the terms of the deal.
>In this model, the publisher takes the risk that they are 
>producing content that no one wants to read, cite, or assign in 
>class; and the library takes the risk that the content will be 
>too frequently read, cited, or receive too much classroom use 
>and will consequently have to pay higher usage rates.  Over 
>time, this would reduce some of the friction and inefficiencies 
>of the current supply side system, in that libraries would buy 
>less content that is never used, and publishers would have a 
>direct incentive to produce content that is used, and would be 
>getting direct feedback as to what readers want.
>A demand side model does has inherent pitfalls and it is 
>certainly not a panacea, but it can be part of a portfolio of 
>collecting approaches that included traditional supply-side 
>models, open access approaches, institutional repository 
>content, and inter-library loan, and it reinforces the buying 
>function role of libraries in a new way while providing academic 
>publishers with both a new revenue incentive and the possibility 
>of increasing both their audiences, product lines, and 
>In the past Texas has bought all the output of some academic 
>publishers whether that content was good or bad, whether the 
>content was used or not.  The sales figures from us for heavily 
>used readable content, was exactly the same as for unreadable 
>content that was never opened.  We are trying to systematically 
>reduce our unthinking support these kinds of supply side 
>approaches.  By moving to different variations of demand-side 
>models, there is no doubt that we are aligning ourselves with 
>the needs of the academy, because it is the academy that is 
>driving the usage.  If we are all willing to take the risk of 
>thinking seriously about demand-side models, we may find a 
>method that allows us to back away from our financial Mexican 
>standoff with big publishers without a sad and mutually 
>detrimental outcome.
>--Dennis Dillon
>Associate Director for Research Services
>University of Texas at Austin
>from  Sandy Thatcher <sgt3@psu.edu>
>reply-to  liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
>to  liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
>date  Thu, May 13, 2010 at 11:24 PM
>subject Re: Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey 2009
>This new Ithaka report, read in conjunction with an earlier
>Ithaka  report on "University Publishing in a Digital Age" (July
>2007), leads  me to an interesting hypothesis: scientists are
>responsible for  changes in the ways both libraries and presses
>operate in  universities that may threaten job losses in the
>I mean "responsible" in a causal, not moral sense, in the way we
>often say that the bad weather was "responsible" for the closing
>of  schools. Indeed, it is easy to see what happened here as a
>prime  example of the law of unintended consequences, or even
>Murphy's  Law-just the sort of phenomenon that my college
>classmate Edward  Tenner wrote about in his best-selling Why
>Things Bite Back:  Technology and the Revenge of Unintended
>Consequences (Knopf, 1996).
>Since the line of reasoning that brings me to this perhaps
>startling  conclusion is somewhat circuitous, I may need to flesh
>it out in a  longer piece, perhaps the next one I write for
>Against the Grain.  But I'll provide the bare bones of it here in
>a series of  propositions:
>1)  The economic backbone of university press publishing up to
>the early 1970s was sales of hardback monographs to academic
>libraries, averaging close to 3,000 copies per title.
>2)  As first documented by the classic Fry/White NSF study
>(1975), the ratio of expenditures on books compared with journals
>began to shift from 2:1 until it eventually came to be almost the
>exact opposite.
>3)  The main driver of increased journal expenditures was the
>proliferation and price rises of STM journals.
>4)  Less able to count on sales of hardbacks to libraries,
>presses gradually from the 1970s on began to diversify their
>lists,  hoping to capture revenues from new markets outside
>5)  This economic necessity was partly rationalized as an
>extension of presses' mission to serve the wider cultural life of
>our  society, with the publication of more trade books, including
>fiction  and poetry. Here necessity became the mother of
>6)  For their part, librarians came to realize that their role as
>suppliers of essential resources to their campus constituencies
>was increasingly jeopardized as budgets failed to keep up with
>the  rate of journal price hikes and they were forced to start
>canceling  subscriptions.
>7)  This predicament was the primary driver for the open-access
>movement, which led to the creation of SPARC and other OA
>advocacy  organizations.
>8)  Again, necessity became the mother of invention as librarians
>became more outspoken evangelists for academic libraries serving
>a  wider public beyond their own campuses, including citizens
>wanting to  learn more about health issues (hence support for the
>NIH  initiative), individual scholars not having any academic
>affiliation  (that provides access to site-licensed electronic
>resources), and all  those inhabitants of underdeveloped
>countries disadvantaged by the  "digital divide."
>9)  Now, notice this interesting parallelism between the
>responses of presses and libraries to their respective crises,
>both  of which are attributable to the rising costs of STM
>journals: they  both looked to justify their responses by
>emphasizing what had been a  latent but theretofore secondary
>mission to serve publics outside  academe.  But this strategy
>entailed significant risks, ultimately  for the very survival of
>presses and for the maintenance of  traditional library
>functions, as the two Ithaka reports reveal.
>10)  The principal recommendation of the 2007 report was for
>presses to align their missions more closely with those of their
>parent universities. Failure to do so could lead, in tight
>budgetary  times, to a university questioning whether its press
>was really  serving a mission important to the university. I
>began worrying about  this possibility as long ago as 1991 when,
>in a talk at a plenary  session of the AAUP's annual meeting
>titled "Back to Basics:  Reflections on the Cultural Role of
>University Presses in a New Age,"  I noted the boast of then
>Rutgers press director Ken Arnold that "we  have almost stopped
>publishing the short-run monograph." The Ithaka  report of 2007
>makes it perfectly clear how dangerous a strategy this  can be
>for a press-and the recent announcement of the closure of  SMU's
>press, which concentrated mainly on publishing fiction, shows
>that the risk is very real.
>11)  The 2010 report on faculty attitudes reveals that the
>"gateway" function of libraries has steadily declined, the
>"archive"  function has remained about the same in importance to
>faculty over  time, but that the library as "buyer" remains far
>and away the most  crucial function. Newer roles in supporting
>teaching and research  have gained some traction but have not
>come close to challenging the  more traditional functions in
>importance to most faculty.
>12)  The irony is that the more the OA movement succeeds, the
>more the remaining primary role of library as "buyer" will erode.
>And  it seems likely that to the extent specialized search
>services  increase in importance, they will be developed along
>disciplinary  lines, perhaps by professional societies, as the
>2010 report shows  that this is the way that scholars continue to
>choose to organize  their professional lives.
>13)  The report also shows that OA itself is not important to
>most  faculty, but that publishing in places that will gain the
>most  attention from their academic peers is, whether OA or TA.
>The fact  remains that the vast majority of research scholars
>have ready access  to the best TA journals in their fields
>through their campus  libraries, and they are thus being well
>served in what they regard to  be the most important ways for
>their career advancement. If and when  those journals migrate to
>OA, the library will no longer be needed to  provide such access.
>14)  Thus, the unintended consequence of the OA movement's
>success, which has focused on the STM arena, may be to
>disintermediate so many of the library's traditional functions
>that,  if libraries do not become completely expendable, they may
>well lose  significant budget support and need to downsize their
>staff radically.
>15)  Ergo, the line of causation from scientists' needs for ever
>costly resources leads eventually to both presses and libraries
>risking, if not their very survival, major financial support
>required  for them to carry out what remaining functions they are
>seen to be  needed to serve.
>I would welcome comments on this argument.
>Sandy Thatcher