Over on the liblicense-l list, Mark Leader, from the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) has just posted a question:
The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) is considering discontinuing the print version of its journal Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBC). We welcome comments from the library community about the value of print journals and the adequacy of LOCKSS, Portico, and PubMed Central as archives of electronic journals. We are also curious about whether librarians would be interested in a print-on-demand option for obtaining archival print copies if regular print subscriptions were discontinued.
The impetus for discontinuing the print edition is a desire to reduce author charges, especially for color figures. The cost of producing the print edition greatly exceeds revenue from print subscriptions. Author charges (page charges and color charges) are the largest source of revenue for the journal. In effect, authors are subsidizing the print subscriptions.
(There's more to his post, which you can find here.)
At my institution, we're canceling as much print as we can anyway. One of our criteria is the adequacy of the preservation/archiving plan, and I'm glad that Leader mentions several. I'll confess to a fondness for LOCKSS, largely because of the philosophy behind it. The National Library of Medicine has a statutory responsibility to preserve the biomedical literature, and I have a great deal of confidence in PubMed as a perpetual archive. I'm not as familiar with Portico, but it seems to be pretty promising. My advice to ASCB would be to participate in all of them. We're still early enough into all of this that we don't know what the best long-term solution will be.
We're also concerned with perpetual rights to material should we ever end our subscription/license altogether. The notion of offering a print-on-demand option for archival copies is an intriguing one, although not one that I think we'd avail ourselves of here. As Leader points out further on in his message, ASCB considers the online journal to be the journal of record anyway and "[m]ore than 60% of the articles include supplemental data or videos online." I'm not sure why someone would want to keep archival copies of the print issue under those circumstances. We'd just want to be sure that we have some kind of binding agreement that would insure electronic access to the material that we've paid for.
We certainly don't need to keep the print to satisfy our user base. Two years ago we stopped getting any print for our ScienceDirect titles. I did not get a single question, comment, or expression of concern from faculty or students. We've reached the point where librarians tend to worry a lot more about the print than the people who use our libraries do.
The kind of publishing model that ASCB typifies (and many of the Highwire Press/DC Principles journals are similar) has contributed, over time, to my questioning of the all-or-nothing approach to open access. Their institutional subscription rate is $578/year for 5400 pages, so they can hardly be accused of contributing to the serials prices crisis. Given the nature of their publication it is unlikely that anyone who would need the material for their research or educational purposes is in an institution that doesn't provide access, and it's hard for me to fathom the urgent need of some member of the general public for articles from the two months worth of issues that are embargoed before they make everything free anyway. Why shouldn't institutions help to keep the costs to authors down by paying a very reasonable subscription fee for one of the best journals in the field?
I have, from time to time, asked hardcore open access advocates why a journal like this needs to be immediate open access. I have yet to hear a convincing argument.