Executive Fiat
No Sticks

What are we trying to solve?

Phil points out the obvious and incontrovertible conclusion of the data presented in the ARL spreadsheet -- a shift to a producer-pays from a reader-pays model is going to shift an increased portion of the burden for funding scholarly publishing to the research intensive institutions.   I have not seen open access advocates address this issue directly; rather, it seems there is an attempt to ignore or avoid the conclusion, and I think this is a serious tactical mistake.

Many librarians have been drawn to supporting open access out of the belief that a shift to some version of open access would reduce the financial pressures that we have found increasingly frustrating in recent years.  I see no reason that this should be the case. (This is not to say that we might not be able to do a better, more efficient, and less costly job of scholarly publishing -- only that open access, by itself, doesn't introduce those efficiencies).  The ARL spreadsheet helps to put some concrete numbers to that issue for a particular subset of libraries.   As Goodman pointed out in a recent post, it's not the library's money, it's the institution's money.   The ARL numbers make the case that research institutions will need to find additional sources of funding in an open access world; I would suggest that in the non-research institutions, the administration will have a long list of potential uses for any savings, and library directors are going to have to fight just as hard for their share of the pie as ever.   

If, then, "interest" is defined strictly as reducing one's costs, the answer to the first of Phil's specific questions is, "No, the producer pays model will never be in the institution's self-interest."  But, I would argue, this defines "interest" far too narrowly.

The benefit of open access is not cost-savings, it is ACCESS -- and we need to do a much better job of articulating what the benefits of enhanced access really are.  The AT@ has been doing a pretty good job of trying to get very complex issues boiled down into publishable soundbites in their attempt to argue that this is a case of the public's need to know.  But I'm not really persuaded that there is a significant cohort among the general public so desperate for the embargoed content of the American Journal of Pathology (12 months embargo; complementary articles available by request from the publisher), that we should be clamoring quite so self-righteously that the American Society for Investigative Pathology should bear the risks of immediately up-ending their economic model in order to move to a producer-pays model.  We need to do a better job of explaining how better access is going to be a benefit to the students and faculty in our institutions.  We need to do a better job of articulating exactly what problem open access is intended to address.

This morning, at the bi-weekly Deans meeting, I sat next to the editor of the Journal of Immunology.  When I go to the basketball game this weekend, I'll swap editing stories with the editor of the aforementioned American Journal of Pathology.  I see in a note in my mail this week that my wife's oncology surgeon has just been named editor of the American Journal of Surgery.  I could go on.  My point is that I know that these people are as interested in expanding access to the journals they are responsible for as anyone on this list.  They are also, however, deeply, and very appropriately, concerned about the financial implications.  What do these shifts mean for their societies?  What do they mean for the institutions that they are a part of?

Those of us who believe that the electronic technologies provide the opportunity to expand access far beyond what we could have dreamed a decade ago need to do a much better job of making the case.  And part of that comes from acknowledging that for certain segments of the scholarly community, these shifts will involve greater costs and greater risks.   I think it is perfectly reasonable and appropriate for the research intensive institutions to take on a greater share of this burden.  It seems to me to be perfectly in keeping with the role that we play in society in so many other areas.  But it will require balancing priorities and looking hard at the funding issues.  Another discussion I was involved with yesterday concerned how we might come up with some additional full scholarships to get a few more of the highly-qualified under-represented minority students we're interested in into our medical school.  These are $20k and $30k packages, annually.  They're on the same table as the costs of scholarly information.  These are tough choices.

It seems as unlikely to me that a producer-pays model (in whichever of the current flavors) will come to dominate scholarly publishing as that the traditional subscription model of periodically produced issues will sustain over more than half a decade to come.  The ground is shifting too fast.   I would suggest that if we are to participate in creating a world in which the promise of the new technologies is met we need to do a couple of things:

1) Recognize that "open access" is not a means to solving library funding problems. 

2) Quit acting as if the society publishers are the bad guys.   

The community need as much experimentation as we can manage.   And librarians need to do a much better job of reaching out to those highly influential individuals on our campuses who are involved in their society publishing programs.   We have many shared interests.  We need to build on them.


Mark Funk

As you point out, it seem "unlikely... that a producer-pays model (in whichever of the current flavors) will come to dominate scholarly publishing." However, Phil's spreadsheet assumes just that. Yes, if that highly unlikely total shift happens, then research institutions will take on an incredible burden. But how likely is that going to happen? (I know, shift happens...)

More likely, there will be a few highly successful Open Access publishing houses. There will be a lot of middling successful OA journals, and a large number will rise only to disappear. (Be aware that this process describes evolution, which may not be valid in your state.) Meanwhile, most of the for-profit publishers will stay around, although some may change their pricing habits. The overall burden to research institutions will change very little.

Society publishers are in the middle of this, most appearing confused, afraid, and some frankly paranoid. Many feel they are being lumped together unfairly with "evil" for-profit publishers. But how many strictly anti-society-publisher rants have you seen?

T Scott

My impression is that many of the loudest, most haranguing of the open access partisans do seem to be arguing that a version of producer pays is the only acceptable future. Phil's model tries to push some of the likely consequences of that vision. I agree with you that the actual terrain will be quite mixed, but whether or not that means that "the overall burden on research institutions will change very little" I'm not sure. I think more models, like Phil's, showing the possible consequences of different scenarios, are going to be necessary.

As for the attitudes of the society publishers, I'd add "extremely defensive" to the list, but I think that many of them have reason to be. Varmus himself, and others with PLoS, have said some pretty rude things about the society publishers specifically, and the DC Principles signatories have taken some serious heat from the Open Access Working Group. And in common conversations, I couldn't count the number of times I've heard librarians say of the not-for-profits "Oh, there isn't any difference between them and the other publishers." So I think there's some justification on their part to think that they're being unfairly tarred.

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