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October 14, 2011


Your biggest fan

It is unfortunately so seldom that I read a post about open access that makes me laugh out loud (that's LOL to you younguns'). Thanks for a good guffaw on a Friday night. It goes well with the Jameson.

Jan Velterop

On the theme of intellectual rigour and consistency:

- If you believe that excess profits ought to be curbed, shouldn't you applaud the competition inherent in the author-side payment model of OA publishing? (The author has choice; the reader can rarely use cost as a criterion for his decision what to read)

- If you believe in open access, shouldn't you conclude that libraries aren't at all relevant for author-side paid OA? (The 'collection' element of libraries – not the information expertise element)

- Is this loss of power not the real subject of librarians' anxiety and gripes?


Fantastic post

Eric F. Van de Velde

Great post. I think we're coming into an era of a more realistic assessment of OA, scholarly publishing, and the role of libraries. Particularly the latter have not yet come to terms with the fundamental shift. As Jan Velterop mentions in his comment, the collection element of libraries is disappearing, particularly for author-paid OA, but I believe even in reader-paid conventional publishing. (http://scitechsociety.blogspot.com/2011/08/libraries-paper-tigers-in-digital-world.html)

T Scott

David Rosenthal writes:

"PLoS achieved a 20% margin in 2010, and if the trends continue, could conceiveably surpass Elsevier's margin for 2011."

This is a seriously misleading assertion. The 20% number treats foundation grants as income. In 2010 PLoS had expenses of $12.2M and operating income excluding grants of $13M, for an operating margin of 6%. In addition they got $2.1M in grants. They presumably applied for these grants in 2009, when their operating margin was -10%. Had they been running a 20% operating margin, they would not have got the grants.
http://www.plos.org/media/downloads/2011/2010_PLoS_Progress_Update_lo.pdf page 11].

Stevan Harnad


"everything... said here is irrelevant and... the only thing we should be talking about is [mandating] author self-archiving." ;>)

T Scott

The notion of true competition in OA publishing is very intriguing, particularly now that we have several entrants into the PLoS One space. Brand will still be important, but if there are several of these outlets which are perceived to be of roughly equal value, then surely price will start to be a factor.

I've argued for some time that the notion of "collection" is increasingly anachronistic for what librarians are actually doing, regardless of whether we're talking about OA or toll-access. If OA is hastening this, however, and is a source of librarian anxiety, then wouldn't it make more sense for librarians to be opposed to OA rather than such enthusiastic champions?

And for more on David's comment about calculating the PLoS margin take a look at the comment thread to the Scholarly Kitchen post I reference above. Whether it is reasonable or not to include the grants in determining the revenue base is not something that I feel quite qualified to have an opinion on. The more important point, it seems to me, is that PLoS (and BMC) seem to have clearly demonstrated how an author-side OA publishing operation can be profitable. That being the case, we can expect more and more (successful) experimentation on the part of the commercial houses. Whether this will result in a reduction of the margins and a reduction in subscription prices remains to be seen.


Great post Scott--no doubt the economic argument for OA is weak, as we may not end up saving any money at all. Access is the thing, not reducing budgets.

But I do wonder if there are any ways to capture the subsidiary costs of the subscription license model--namely, ILL costs and expenses for maintaining proxy servers to regulate access. If everything were open these costs would come close to vanishing, but they usually are not factored into the discussion.

T Scott

ILL is expensive, so to the degree that OA reduces the need for it, that's a savings. But I'm of the opinion that we'll need some manner of resource sharing for quite some time to come, so it's hard to quantify what that might actually come to. I don't think proxy server maintenance comes to a lot in real dollars, but you're right that there are presumably savings in the overall system that we don't always pay attention to. From the publishers' standpoint, I would think there might be significant savings from not having to deal with access controls or subscription & licensing departments -- but I don't know what share of a publishers costs those items represent.


Indeed there are hidden costs for all parties that aren't accounted for. We have an economics problem in which there is no easy way to know how to allocate payment for a fully open access world--hard for publishers and libraries to evolve in this case. Maybe game theory, financial modeling of different potential scenarios would help. The goal is maximum access, not driving publishers out of business. And we should we all be thinking beyond the PDF anyway.

Bibliotheks Polizei

“If you believe that publishers add no value, then you can't support PLoS any more than you support Elsevier.”

That is rather silly argument based on a poorly thought out equivocation. If I don’t believe in war as a solution then I can’t support the US in WW2 any more than Germany?

“If you believe that commercial publishers are the bane, then you should be as opposed to BioMed Central as you are to Elsevier.”

The good ole fallacy of composition good one…well the opposition in general is to the increases prices which are attributes of companies. It is very lazy to assume that if there is a problem some companies then you have a problem with all companies.

“If you believe that "excess profits" (somewhat of an odd concept, since profits are excessive only when they're not your own) are the problem, then you need to recognize that OA is not the solution and be as wary of the successful gold & hybrid publishers as you are of the others.”

I wasn’t aware of that definition of "excess profits" and I thank you for that. You didn’t explain why OA isn’t a solution, but I’ll concede one should be paranoid in business dealing.

“If you believe that the most important thing is more and more access, then you should applaud the experiments of the commercial publishers every bit as much as you applaud the others.”

Snake oil salesmen used to have jugglers and strongmen next to their wagon of wares. The idea was get a sense of how great the Snake oil was by the performance of the acts, just what does efforts really mean?

If you are into Space exploration, would you care about the V2…you might give some consideration to who is doing what be for you admire them.

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