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RE: Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey 2009

I think Sandy makes a very important point about 'unintended 
consequences' - it can happen to anyone, but I think Governments 
and funding agencies are very prone to this with legislation and 
policy implementation, particularly if they don't understand the 
system they are dealing with, and even more so when they think 
they do understand, but don't.

Here's another example, still possibly relevant today, but from a 
few decades ago, as related to me by a very respected US 
publisher. The page charge system was relatively popular in some 
disciplines in the USA, and had some good arguments in support of 
it (and of course still exists). Now, if I remember correctly, 
the National Science Foundation (NSF) allowed their grants to 
carry an allocation for the payment by authors of page charges, 
but only if the publisher were a not-for-profit (this must have 
been one of the first occasions when an agency appeared to take 
an 'anti-commercial publisher' stance?). Clearly they felt that 
their money should not go into the coffers of a 'commercial.'

Then some of the large European publishers made a bit of a virtue 
out of a necessity, and proclaimed that no page charges were 
necessary in their journals, and it became a standard line for 
all start-up journals from almost any source.

Now the director of one of the largest American Society 
publishers told me that the effect of this was to entice good 
European and then US authors to some of those journals, so much 
so that he had to gather and present evidence to his Governing 
Board that this was happening to some of the best papers they 
would have hoped to publish, and damaging their US journals - and 
they reacted by reducing page charges to try to regain the 
ground, such that, eventually, page charge income reduced 
significantly - and library subscription prices had to rise to 
retain viability. It's pointless, but nevertheless interesting, 
to speculate what might have happened if that (the NSF policy) 
hadn't happened - would page charges have spread further, to a 
point that, in the electronic age, the 'Gold' OA route would have 
been so well primed that a transition to it would have been 
seamless and easy? Probably not. But I wouldn't mind betting that 
the consequence of the NSF policy was not one that they intended.


Alan Singleton
Learned Publishing
BS37 6QN

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
[mailto:owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu] On Behalf Of Sandy Thatcher
Sent: 18 May 2010 04:43
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject: 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