Re: Publishers Profits

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 28 Jun 2002 16:41:59 +0100 (BST)

    "When old age shall this generation waste,
     Thou shalt remain... -- that is all
     Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

On Fri, 28 Jun 2002, Colin Steele wrote:

> I think there are separate process going on. The open access initiative
> is a separate force, as we have agreed before. Nonetheless the continuing
> profits of multinational publishers are having a continued impact on
> the ability of Libraries to provide access to information.

Yes. But what can now be realized is this: The problem of researchers'
online access to the peer-reviewed research literature (20,000 journals,
2 million articles annually) and the Libraries' ability to provide access
to information are not the same problem, despite appearances! And the
solution to the researchers' problem, although it will in fact also solve
the Libraries' problem, will not be reached by addressing the Libraries'
problem directly.

I know this is counterintuitive, but it is becoming increasingly clear
that it is the case, and that continuing to focus on the access
problem as if it were the Libraries' problem is actually holding us
back from the solution.

Even less relevant is the matter of "profits of multinational
publishers." On the contrary, the more time and energy we waste in
railing against multinationals' profits, satisfying though it may feel
to do so, the longer we will just keep spinning our wheels and getting
nowhere on open access.

Libraries have a day-to-day subsistence problem with their
budget-crises, and the day-to-day solution to that will of course
continue to be to spend their finite serials budgets in the best way
currently possible: to purchase the serials that provide the most
value for what they can afford for their users. This means preferring
lower-priced serials to higher-priced ones wherever that is possible,
and it means supporting any initiative (such as SPARC's) that aims to
lower serials access-tolls.

But we must be very careful not to cross this library day-to-day
subsistence wire with the much bigger and more general open-access wire
(the latter of which will, of course, also solve the library subsistence
problem -- if ever it succeeds). The reason we must uncross these two
wires is that the library subsistence wire is at odds with the open-access
wire! It is militating for lower-toll access, whereas ANY-toll access is
at odds with open access. And it is also focusing on concerns (library
serials prices and publisher profits) that are not very compelling to
researchers, who (along with their institutions) are the only ones in a
position to remedy the open-access problem! It is researchers' concerns
that need to be stressed, if they are to realize and act upon what is
the optimal (and inevitable, but overdue) solution for us all!

    BOAI: "What You Can Do":

But if library serials crises and publishers' profits are merely
distractions for the open-access initiative, then the entirely
wrong-headed theme of "peer review reform" is an outright deterrent,
and I would strongly advise the library community (and any others) to
drop it. It is only introducing misunderstandings that are holding us
back even more than the irrelevant distraction of publishers' profits
and serials budget crises:

I regret to have to say (with some confidence, as the editor of a
high-impact peer-reviewed journal for a quarter century) that the
following commonly aired observation is so utterly unconnected to the
access problem (both open-access and lower-toll access) as to constitute

> What is particularly galling is the fact that anecdotal and publisher
> evidence [suggests] that refereeing standards are declining (see the JAMA
> Conference proceedings)

This may or may not be true, it may or may not be true across
disciplines, and it may or may not be a bad thing; but what is sure is
that it is utterly irrelevant to the access-problem (whether open-access
or lower-toll access). The access problem -- already ill-understood by
researchers and their institutions, hence not yet acted upon in such a
way as to usher in the optimal and the inevitable -- is only further
obscured by these spurious linkages between it and a putative "refereeing
standards" problem.

For those who are inclined to believe this nonsense (and I call it by
its proper name knowing that it is not my comrade-at-arms Colin who is
saying it is so, but these sources of "anecdotal evidence") there are
only two (opposite) conclusions to draw, both inimical to open access.

One is: "If refereeing standards are really declining, who cares
about open access to all this stuff?"

The other is: "If refereeing standards are declining, THAT is the
problem we need to solve, not open-access! (Indeed, open access sounds
as if it is at odds with refereeing standards.)"

    "7. Peer review"

    "A Note of Caution About 'Reforming the System'"

> and that intellectual usage, in contrast to "hits,"
> has not been proven to have risen greatly per scientific article.

I am not sure what this means, but if it is implying that greater online
access does not lead to greater impact and uptake, it is dead
wrong! Quite the opposite:

    Lawrence, S. (2001a) Online or Invisible? Nature 411 (6837): 521.

    Lawrence, S. (2001b) Free online availability substantially
    increases a paper's impact. Nature Web Debates.

    Odlyzko, A.M. (2002) The rapid evolution of scholarly communication."
    Learned Publishing 15: 7-19

    Harnad, S. (2001) "Research access, impact and assessment." Times
    Higher Education Supplement 1487: p. 16.

So these sound like nonsequiturs (the access problem, declining
refereeing standards, nonincreasing impact) as well as red herrings.

> In Australia the need for quantitative returns in the Higher Education
> Research Data Collection means that the publish or perish is getting
> worse and firms like Taylor and Francis are benefiting from this in the
> print environment.

Another (alas all too common) nonsequitur and red herring! "Publish or
perish" is simply the pressure on researchers to be productive and to
have something to show for it. The older generic pressure to maximize the
cruder measure of publication bean-counts has since been made a little
less crude by weighting the raw publication counts by their journal
impact factors ("maximize impact weighted publication), but even that
is still very primitive as an index of performance and productivity:
Better, richer metrics are on the way -- in part thanks to increasing
online accessibility (see reference above).

So it is not at all clear that the use of impact-weighted measures of
productivity in evaluating performance is a sign of things "getting
worse." (It is, as always, peer review by the qualified experts on which
evaluation and assessment really relies, and it is the refereed journals
that orchestrate this service; the rest is just down to the journals'
quality standards and impact factors, of which there is a full spectrum
to choose from -- or ignore, if they are not up to snuff.)

Without prejudice as to the the quality standards and impact factors of
Taylor & Francis journals, I just don't see what they have to do with
any of this!

> The whole issue is about affecting the branding and accreditation factors
> in the scholarly communication sense.

I have lost sight of what the "whole issue" is here: Is it the serials
crisis? publisher profits? lower access-tolls? open access? peer review
standards? academic performance assessment criteria?

There are some connections between these themes, but I don't think
they combine into a "whole issue," or a coherent picture of anything,
least of all the open-access issue!

For the mischief that the "peer review and accreditation reform"
red-herring can do to the open-access issue, please see the references
cited above.

Bref: What is optimal, inevitable, and urgent is to open access to the
entire corpus of 20,000 peer-reviewed journals, as soon as possible
(preferably yesterday). There is absolutely no need or call for
tampering with the peer review or accreditation system in order to do
this. On the contrary, implying that peer review or accreditation reform
is somehow a prerequisite or flip-side of open access simply sets
researchers and their institutions needlessly against open access!

The means of attaining the goal of open-access are BOAI Strategy 1,
self-archiving, and/or BOAI Strategy 2, creating/converting open-access

Open access will solve the libraries serial crisis. Publishers'
current profit-margins are irrelevant to the means of attaining open
access. So are (putative) declines in refereeing standards, and so are
current university performance assessment criteria.

> Open archive initatives can make
> significant inroads in the "secondary literature" as we have found here,

I can't follow this: The open access (sic) initiative is aimed at the
primary literature: the 20,000 peer reviewed journals. (The Open
Archives Initiative OAI has become a metadata tagging standard for the
interoperability of all digital archives, not just the open-access

I presume the secondary literature is reviews, book chapters, etc. They
are not the primary target of the open access iniatitives (though once
open access prevails, a good deal else will no doubt take advantage of
it: the litmus test is simply whether the text in question is an author
give-away, written solely for research impact and uptake, or a
non-give-away, written for royalty income or fees; open access is only
for the former).

> but the major task is to impact upon the personal and institutional
> structure of scholarly publishing. I think this is where the next SPARC
> initiative will come from?

I have lost sight, unfortunately, of what this "major task" is, but if
it is open-access then it is indeed what authors and their institutions
do with their research output that is critical. If they self-archive
their peer-reviewed publications (BOAI Strategy 1) and/or submit them to
new or converted open-access journals (BOAI Strategy 2) then we will
have open access and the task will be done.

SPARC used to promote only lower-toll access, but it has now signed on
to the BOAI, hence it is promoting both lower-toll access and open
access: ?page=f52

> Certainly our Academics from certain budget discussions here and I know in
> several others are pretty cheesed off with the big publishers - largely
> because of the cancellation factor I admit.

This confirms here what was noted earlier: The interest of researchers
is in the impact of their own research and their own access to others'
research. Cancellations mean access denial, so they will be cheesed
off -- perhaps with the "big publishers," because they charge so much,
perhaps with their own libraries, for not coughing up the funds to pay
it. Either way, it is out of their hands, and they know it: They cannot
make publishers charge less and they cannot make their libraries afford
more. So this is a dead end.

What they can DO is try to submit their work to open-access publishers
(BOAI Strategy 2) wherever that is possible; but alas very, very few of
the 20,000 peer-reviewed journals are open-access. In that overwhelming
majority of cases where open-access publication is not yet an option,
however, there is always BOAI Strategy 1, which is to self-archive all
articles that they publish in those toll-access journals.

In the words of Keats: "That is all... ye need to know."

> The ALPSP study revealed the
> startling difference as Academic as author and as reader.

Hardly startling that as author one wants to appear in the highest-quality
peer-reviewed journal, and to maximize one's impact; and that as reader
one wants to maximize one's access to the peer-reviewed literature! That
one could have foretold a priori. The ALPSP study merely adds to that the
academic author/reader's (alas not very well-informed) notions about
the causal factors that might be involved in maximizing quality, impact
and access. What we have there is of course not the real causality, but
a poll of OPINIONS about causality.)

Yet Keats's formula (S1 and S2) is all they need know...

> The crucial
> issue here is the process of advocacy and the power or otherwise of
> Librarians to be able to influence Academics-the mice aspiring to be
> rats syndrome!

Libraries and librarians can be great allies in the cause of open access
(which, a fortiori, also serves the cause of lower-toll access). But to
help, librarians have to have it clear in their own minds what it is
that the mice need to influence the rats to do! Again, it is the simple
Keats formula they need to keep in mind, and not the alas all-too-familiar
motley of red herrings that have been catalogued here!

    BOAI: "What You Can Do To Help"

    "What can libraries do to facilitate self-archiving?"

> In fact in some ways the emergence of the institutional
> E-press through the E-prints repositories may prove a more effective
> political weapon with University Administrators who are looking at it
> from the institutional branding and marketing prospect. Hopefully we
> will get there in the end!

I'm not sure what an institutional "E-Press" is. I hope it is not another
of the familiar red herrings, namely, self-publication of university
research output -- which would make university research output into
V-Press (vanity press) literature instead of the reliable, usable,
quality-controlled, peer-reviewed literature it is now!

    "1.4. Distinguish self-publishing (vanity press) from self-archiving
    (of published, refereed research)"

But I know what an institutional Eprint Archive is: It is a repository
for that university's peer-reviewed, PUBLISHED research output: its own
contribution to the annual 2 million articles that appear in the
planet's 20,000 peer-reviewed journals. And there is no better way to
maximize the "marketing" of each institution's research "brand" than to
maximize its visibility, accessibility and impact by making it openly
accessible to one and all through their OAI-compliant Eprint Archive, free at last.

Let naught "tease us out of thought As doth eternity"...

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01):

Discussion can be posted to:

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

and the Free Online Scholarship Movement:
Received on Fri Jun 28 2002 - 16:41:59 BST

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