Re: Open Access piece by Walt Crawford

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 20 Aug 2004 13:02:55 +0100 (BST)

In keeping with my announced intention not to enter into speculation or
counter-speculation, or anything that involves counting chickens before
the eggs are laid. I will only reply to those of David's points that
are not merely speculations but pertain to matters of fact, evidence,
or logic:

On Thu, 19 Aug 2004, David Goodman wrote:

> Dear Stevan,
> Despite the appearance otherwise, your reply leads me to think that
> the ground for at least partial agreement may yet be found.
> 1. We all accept that the result of the governmental interventions
> may be positive, in having broken an apparent impasse under which
> authors would not support OA until their colleagues did.
> 2. The argument about cancellation pressure can be stated more
> precisely. As long as journal prices increase faster than library
> budgets, cancellations are unavoidable. It appears, surprisingly, that
> they may not always need to increase--I am of course referring to the
> example of the American Physical Society's price decreases. To the
> extent that OA puts pressure on publishers, it seems that increases
> in efficiency, together with the acceptance of lower profits, may
> be able to keep up with it--at least for the most important journals.

Price increases cause cancellations, price decreases do not. That seems
reasonable (and not unique to libraries and journals but applies to all
subscribed products -- indeed to all products).

I note in passing that the American Physical Society was the first Green pubisher
nd Physics is the discipline in which self-archiving has gone on the longest and

> 3. I would have more confidence in this argument if there were
> to be more examples. Some obvious ones who might wish to emulate
> this are the larger societies who do feel a responsibility to their
> profession, who publish titles of high quality, and who have some
> financial resources (we all recognize that some societies do not). I
> shall name one particularly evident example; the American Chemical
> Society, where the salaries as reported in the Chronicle of Higher
> Education give evidence of abundant funding.

There was no argument. The price/cancellation relation is a generic
supply/demand effect. The case of the American Physical Society is
so far unique.

> 4. Another group that might wish to emulate this are the most
> profitable commercial publishers. I use hypothetical figures: if
> their costs go up 8% a year, and they have profits of 20%, restraining
> their profit expectations to 10% would let them decrease their prices
> by 2%. This will certainly give them an advantage: most librarians
> would be most reluctant to include their titles in any necessary
> discontinuations. If their also increased efficiency, they could
> do yet better. I would think that any publishing wishing to ensure
> their continued existence might do very well to choose such a course.
> 5. Unfortunately, there are many journals that are near the "tipping
> point"; a slightly greater rate of discontinuation might be fatal
> to them. In many cases, these are also titles that some libraries
> will drop if the OA content reaches even 50%. These are a problem,
> and I admit to having no easy solution.

Journal prices and cancellations so far have absolutely nothing to do
with OA.

> 6. We must look at least a little into the future. I agree with
> Stevan that we need not now do detailed planning for when the OA
> rate increases to 95% or 100%. But we do need to plan effectual
> strategies for those titles which may lose the ability to publish if
> the rate reaches 50%. I am an optimist about OA. I was an optimist
> even before this summer, and I certainly am now. I think we shall
> have many such titles to contend with in each of the next few years.

If librarians were indeed to cancel journals selectively because their
contents had reached 50% OA this would be the most foolish thing anyone
could do, and also the single biggest step *against* the growth of OA
that anyone (publishers included) has ever taken.

(I have just done a logical conditional on a hypothetical conditional:
That is counter-speculation. I apologise. The provocation here was so
great that I could not resist. Moreover, it is conceivable that my
response may serve as a deterrent, though I rather suspect that the
50% cancellation speculation itself is more likely to serve as an
incentive -- another reason I dislike speculation: that it is sometimes

> 7. The hope that I understand Stevan to offer is that we will be
> able to organize OA Journals in time to meet the gap, even though
> we all recognize the necessary slowness of converting to OA (gold)
> journals. I think Stevan grossly underestimates the number of journals
> that will be deserted by their subscribers before then. This is
> perhaps because he is not a librarian or a publisher, and does not
> see first-hand the precarious financial situation. As neither he
> nor I nor Walt can actually know in advance, it might be prudent to
> take a less sanguine view.
> 8. I suggest the prudent course is to recognize that while the
> eventual system ought to be self sustaining, the transition
> may require additional expenses, to assist the most fragile of
> the societies, to perhaps subsidize OA author fees, or to provide
> alternative routes for the quality control functions of those journals
> that may not continue.
> 9. It is possible, as Walt says, for matters not to proceed in an
> helpful way. The response to OA may indeed cause the remaining
> journals to increase prices, thus making the situation worse. This
> postitive feedback effect has been with us for years; it is not
> hypothetical. A robust system can hope to meet eventual problems
> as they come. The scientific journal system is hardly in that happy
> condition overall. I do considerably discount publisher complaints of
> immediate universal collapse. The true extent is enough of a problem.

To repeat: the current rising price and cancellation situation -- with
us for years and years now -- has nothing to do with OA (in the sense
that it was not caused by OA, and was and is not a response to OA: nor
was the onset of OA self-archiving or its growth caused by the rising
price and cancellation situation, although that situation did help draw
OA to the attention of the research and wider community).

Stevan Harnad

> 10. I repeat that the course of OA is secured, unless defeated by
> unduly timid special interest groups. It may be appropriate to take
> measures to secure their support. Earlier postings by Stevan have
> persuaded be that such provides sufficient justification for some
> of the compromises in both the NIH and the UK solutions,
> 11. We can all learn from the experiences of congate
> professions. Librarians do have an reputation for caution, but also
> have a reputation for finding ways to meet all difficulties at least
> partially. Publishers are noted for their ingenuity, researchers
> for their willingness to think nonconventionally, readers for
> their persistance. We need to not reject each other's insights,
> and to maintain skepticism about our own favorite ideas, and --
> to look where we're going.


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Received on Fri Aug 20 2004 - 13:02:55 BST

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