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Re: OA economics & libraries

A couple of points in reply to Sandy's first paragraph.

The first is on costs.  A detailed piece of economic modelling 
(see below for link) showed that Gold OA would be cheaper for the 
UK (as a publication-heavy country) if the average price for 
publication was less than about 2000 pounds.  Interestingly, 2000 
pounds is significantly higher than the fee charged by most 
successful OA publishers and journals (BMC, Hindarwi, PLoS, New 
Journal of Physics, etc) and about the level of the most 
unsuccessful OA publishers (mainly hybrid options from larger 
publishers - and here I use 'successful' as meaning attracting 
authors and revenues to the publisher).  So certainly at this 
stage and based on the modelling done it would look as if a move 
to OA would save money - at least for the UK.

The second is on publisher flexibility.  I do not recognise the 
picture of flexible, rapidly reactive large commercial publishers 
rushing to embrace Gold OA. Let's take Elsevier.  They have a 
hybrid model with very low take-up (they tell us) - I assume 
partly because it is priced to defend revenues, not attracted 
authors.  They have a tiny number of actual open access journals. 
There is no gold rush there.  Of the large publishers only 
Springer (a private equity company) appears to have embraced OA, 
having purchased BMC and now using that experience as a 
spring-board to launch a number of new OA titles.  And perhaps 
Nature as one of the smaller companies (although it is part of a 
much larger group).

Where Sandy sees commercial publishers as being quick on their 
feet, I see feet dragging.  And why is that?  Well, if you were 
sitting on a diamond mine providing over 30% profits what would 
your reaction be to somebody who came and said 'Have I got a deal 
for you - get rid of your diamond mine and take up this great 
gold mine.  I can give you, say, 20% profits'?  Any chief 
executive who took that proposition to their shareholders would 
be quickly looking for a new job!



On 24 Oct 2011, at 23:21, Sandy Thatcher wrote:
> 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:
> http://www.psupress.org/news/SandyThatchersWritings.html