[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: OA economics & libraries

Scott and I are very much on the same page, seeing OA as it is 
developing now as a solution to the access problem but not the 
financial problem, which potentially could get even worse. 
Commercial publishers are nothing if not forward-looking and 
quick on their feet--usually much quicker than the non-profit 
sector (society publishers and university presses), not because 
they are necessarily smarter but because they have a great deal 
more capital to spend on making technological innovation work to 
their advantage.  One can hardly blame commercial publishers for 
figuring out that Gold OA may be another gold mine for them, just 
as STM journal publishing became after WWII, when they began to 
take over the business (and take much of it away from the 
non-profit sector), as they are still doing today (witness the 
Wiley/Blackwell takeover of Anthrosource from the UC Press). 
The irony here is that OA advocates probably ended up pushing 
them faster in this direction than they otherwise might have been 
inclined to do. Their shareholders are no doubt toasting OA 
advocates for giving them this new gift, and even having a 
non-profit like PLoS show them the way!

Yes, publishers do add value in journal publishing, but I would 
argue that it is a different kind of value added, and much less 
crucial for scholarly communication than the value added in 
scholarly book publishing.  In the print era, publishers were 
needed mainly to do the jobs of converting typed manuscripts into 
printed journal issues, circulating them to subscribers through 
the mail, and following up with claims for lost or undelivered 
issues and the like.  Publishers generally played no role in the 
editorial side of the business, beyond finding editors to take 
care of the editorial vetting and selection of articles to 
publish and, perhaps for some journals, providing financial 
support to run the editorial offices located on campuses.  When 
the digital era came along, the main previous functions of 
journal publishers all disappeared, except for copyediting, 
though in some respects publishers became more involved on the 
editorial side by providing sophisticated editorial management 
systems. But they still did not, except in a very few cases, 
actually oversee the editorial selection process directly.

By contrast, in book publishing, staff editors in publishing 
houses play a central role in identifying, selecting, and 
editorially developing books. And, in university presses, the 
faculty editorial boards also play a very important role. These 
two components--staff editors and editorial boards--have no 
counterparts in journal publishing (editorial boards of journals 
play a quite different, and usually very minor, role compared 
with the faculty editorial boards that usually have the final say 
on what gets published). There is a complex dynamic going on 
among staff editors, editorial boards, and external reviewers 
that makes this editorial system uniquely valuable. Few people in 
academe who have not worked at a university press or served on an 
editorial board are aware of this "value added" to the system of 
scholarly communication. The transition to digital has not 
affected this dynamic in any significant way (other than allowing 
for some efficiencies, such as using a wiki to distribute 
materials to editorial board members rather than piles of 
photocopied documents).

The conclusion I draw from this comparison is that it is much 
more feasible for publishers to be disintermediated from the 
system on the journals than on the book side of scholarly 
publishing. The "value added" by publishers on the journals side 
is not integral to ensuring the quality of content, whereas it 
most certainly is on the book side.

I will be interested if there are other publishers on this list 
who have a different perspective.

Sandy Thatcher

P.S. I have written about this at greater length in my article 
titled "The 'Value Added" in Editorial Acquisitions" (January 
1999), accessible here: 

>The heat in Alabama has finally abated and I've spent a lovely
>afternoon out in the TreeHouse musing about such recent
>contributions to the discussion as the Monbiot rant in the
>Guardian and David Crotty's thoughtful piece in the Scholarly
>Kitchen.  Some thoughts on these and related matters can be found
>T. Scott Plutchak
>Director, Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences
>University of Alabama at Birmingham