Re: Responses to Walt Crawford's reflections on FOS

From: Peter Suber <>
Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2002 10:19:09 +0100

In the October issue of _Cites & Insights_, Walt Crawford comments on
several open-access initiatives, including SPARC's Create Change,
PubSCIENCE, and the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) and its
FAQ. Here are some responses to his comments on the BOAI FAQ.

Walt writes:
>I'm not sure why the anonymous FAQ creators feel the need to snipe at
>authors of scholarly monographs, but snipe they do: "Most authors of
>scholarly monographs hope to make money from them, regardless of the true
>sales prospects."

This isn't a snipe. Everyone associated with the BOAI agrees that authors
have a right to make money from their work. We don't criticize anyone for
trying. We draw a fundamental distinction between donated literature, for
which authors do not expect payment, and undonated literature (for lack of
a better term), which authors would rather sell than give away. Our
mission is not to push works from the undonated category to the
donated. We want to leave this decision up to authors. Instead, our
mission is to provide open access to the works in the donated category.

Virtually all journal articles are in the donated category. So are
dissertations. Textbooks are not, so we do not advocate open access to
textbooks (rather than snipe at textbook authors for trying to earn some
income). Monographs are an interesting intermediate case. Authors hope to
make money from them, so they don't consent to open access. Yet the sales
are often too low to pay royalties, so that many monograph authors might
well trade the low probability of revenue for the larger audience and
greater impact of open access.

Speaking as the author of one monograph that made some money and one that
didn't, I believe that the language of the FAQ respects the two-sidedness
of the phenomenon: these authors hope for some financial reward (which
affects their consent to open access), but sometimes this hope is fulfilled
and sometimes it is not (which affects the analysis of the bargain).

The BOAI does not advocate open access to monographs. The purpose of the
sentence on monographs is to separate the kind of literature to which BOAI
applies from other kinds of literature, in order to prevent
misunderstandings. But it also functions to point out that the category of
donated literature can expand or contract according to the considerations
that affect an author's consent.

Read the BOAI FAQ sentence in its full context

By the way, "anonymous" isn't quite the right word for the BOAI FAQ. The
FAQ speaks for the BOAI, not for individuals, and so it is signed by the
BOAI, not by individuals. I am the principal drafter, and wrote it with
the feedback and comments of the other BOAI participants. But I did not
work alone and I did not write in order to represent myself. If I make a
point of mentioning the collaborative nature of the work, it's not to
deflect criticism or responsibility for a weak document, but to avoid
taking undue credit for a strong one.

Parallel example: The Library of Congress Copyright Office FAQ is
attributed to the Copyright Office, not to the individuals who wrote it. I
don't think anyone finds this misleading or evasive.


Walt writes:
>About halfway through the FAQ is one of those dangerously simple
>statements. "Open access does not require the infusion of new money
>beyond what is already spent on journals, only a redirection of how it is
>spent." Does "redirection" mean stripping away the money that libraries
>spend retaining runs of print journals and the librarians that deal with
>the serial literature, as well as the "voluntary" abandonment of print

The answer is no. The redirection we have in mind is to pay for the
dissemination of articles rather than for access to them, or to pay for
outgoing articles rather than incoming articles. Dissemination fees should
be paid by those sponsoring an author's research --for example,
foundations, governments, universities, and laboratories. As these
institutions agree to pay for more and more outgoing articles, then
everyone gains --these institutions themselves, as well as libraries and
individuals around the world-- by paying for fewer and fewer incoming

The redirection is a subsidy making this literature free of charge for
libraries and readers. Literature funded this way has a natural
competitive advantage over traditional literature charging subscription
fees. Many libraries will choose to drop expensive journals in favor of
free journals of comparable quality and impact. Eventually, but not
immediately, a second form of redirection may come from the savings
realized by dropping expensive journals. But these savings will not be the
first source of the redirection. In short, we do not advocate that
libraries cancel any journals simply for the sake of funding an open-access
alternative. They should only cancel journals when they believe it is wise
to do so, using their customary criteria, and taking all relevant
information into account.

Neither do we advocate that libraries save money by cancelling preservation
and access projects or firing librarians.

It's important to keep in mind that the costs of dissemination are very low
compared to the current prices charged for access. Hence, shifting from
access fees to dissemination fees can support the same body of literature,
distributed to a much larger audience, at a much lower overall cost. This
means that the money already spent on access is more than enough to pay for
dissemination. This is why we are confident that redirection will suffice
and that the long-term sustainability of the dissemination model is not in

If Walt's point was that the transition from access funding to
dissemination funding will not be trouble-free, then I certainly
agree. Because we're not advocating the cancellation of priced journals in
order to fund open-access journals, the funding will have to come from
other sources, such as the author-sponsors listed above. Hence, initially,
these dissemination fees will be added to the total spent on journal
literature, rather than merely redirected from journal subscription
payments. However, this is only a transition problem, not a problem with
the long-term sustainability of the dissemination model. (The proof, as
noted, is that the money already spent on access is more than enough to pay
for dissemination.) The BOAI addresses the transition difficulties in part
by raising special funds for the transition, starting with the $3 million
committed by the Open Society Institute. I analyze the transition and
redirection problems at greater length here,

"Dissemination Fees, Access Fees, and the Double Payment Problem," FOSN for

The transition troubles for open-access journals do not affect open-access
archives, which are rapidly approaching a critical mass of endorsement and

"Momentum for Eprint Archiving," FOSN for 8/8/02
(Scroll to the second story.)


Walt writes:
>But "redirection" implies pressure --from somebody, if not from the BOAI
>itself-- to abandon print subscriptions so that the money can be spent
>supporting this competition.

We don't advocate any form of pressure other than competition. We hope to
stimulate the existence of high-quality, peer-reviewed, open-access
journals. When they exist, librarians will decide which expensive
subscriptions they can continue to justify. We are not working to pressure
librarians to make decisions that favor open-access journals. We're
working to make journals that librarians will favor.


Walt writes:
>A later question about impact on libraries is disingenuous in the
>extreme: "We do not call on libraries to stop acquiring or curating
>priced literature of any kind. We do not call on libraries to change
>their serials policies....The BOAI is about a particular kind of access to
>a particular body of literature. It is entirely compatible with other
>kinds of access to other bodies of literature." But of course it's that
>body of literature --scholarly articles-- that bring library budgets to
>grief. BOAI does, in effect, call for priced scholarly journals to go
>away --and necessarily, if indirectly, calls on those who fund libraries
>to "redirect" funding away from libraries in order to pay for author fees.

The quotation from the FAQ is neither disingenuous nor misleading. We do
not call on libraries to stop acquiring or curating any kind of
literature. We do not call for a boycott of any kind of literature or any
kind of publisher.

We do not call for priced journals to go away. That way of putting it
suggests that we are making demands rather than making a better
alternative, or that we are more interested in eliminating competition than
in competing. As we put it elsewhere in the FAQ, "Our goal is not to put
for-profit publishers out of business, but to provide open access to as
much as possible of the peer-reviewed research literature....Our project is
constructive, not destructive."

The difference is partly one of emphasis and partly one of priority. We
are working hard to bring it about that over time the balance of priced to
free journal literature tilts decisively toward the free end. This will
hurt some publishers. But the cause of this effect will be competition
from high-quality, peer-reviewed, open-access journals, not boycotts,
demands, threats, or other forms of pressure.

We do not call on libraries to change their serials policies, because their
subscription and cancellation criteria already include price alongside
other factors like usage and impact. We're creating open-access journals
that appeal to the current criteria of libraries, because they are the
right criteria. We're not pulling strings to change those criteria or rig
the decisions.

As I said in response to the last question, the redirection to pay for open
access journals will not come from the forced cancellation of priced
journals. We can't force anything. All we can do is create an attractive
alternative and let it compete. If librarians agree that it is attractive,
and cancel some priced journals that are no longer cost-effective, then the
savings may contribute to further redirection. But even this portion of
the redirection will have come from successful competition rather than
boycotts, force, or pressure.

Here's another perspective on this. When an existing product is expensive
and you want to displace it with a free one, you don't have to exert
pressure or call for boycotts. Just produce the free one and let it
compete. We believe that journal articles (both preprints and postprints)
can be free for end-users. Arranging the subsidies to make them free for
end-users requires no pressure or boycotts either, just clear presentation
of the facts underlying this beautiful opportunity. The key facts are the
two highlighted by the BOAI in its opening sentences: "An old tradition
and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented
public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and
scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals
without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology
is the internet."


The FAQ:
>What is the intended impact of BOAI on initiatives to make scholarly
>literature affordable rather than free? We hope these initiatives
>succeed, because their success will make scholarly literature more
>accessible than it is today. However, we believe that the specific
>literature on which BOAI focuses, the peer-reviewed literature in all
>disciplines, can and should be entirely free for readers.

Walt's comment:
>Noting that SPARC and related initiatives are directly and almost
>exclusively concerned with peer-reviewed research literature, this is
>answer is self-contradictory. I consider this an entirely fair paraphrase
>of the two sentences: "We hope these initiatives succeed...but we believe
>they should fail because we have the only proper solution.

Here's a better paraphrase: There's a best solution (free access) and a
second-best solution (affordable access). Both are superior to the status
quo (expensive access).

We thought this was obvious, but perhaps it needs spelling out. If I
prefer A to B and B to C, then I can back both A and B against C while
consistently preferring A to B.

SPARC supports both free and affordable journals. It also helped draft the
BOAI. There's no contradiction here either. BOAI supports SPARC and SPARC
supports BOAI.


October issue of _Cites & Insights_

Create Change


Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI)


This is Chapter 2 of the public dialog between Walt Crawford and me on open
access issues. In the July issue of _Cites & Insights_, he reviewed
several FOS-related articles, including two of mine. I replied in a June
28 posting to the FOS Forum, which includes my response to his skepticism
that FOS might be part of the solution but not a "Grand Solution".

Walt: I know you're about half-persuaded and about half not. Thanks for
your willingness to listen to the arguments for the second half.

Peter Suber, Professor of Philosophy
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374

Editor, Free Online Scholarship Newsletter
Editor, FOS News blog
Received on Mon Oct 07 2002 - 10:19:09 BST

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