Re: Royal Society Offers Open Choice

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2006 14:31:53 -0400

It is a very clever strategy for publishers to offer a maximally priced
paid-publisher-OA-archiving (PA) rival to free-author-OA-self-archiving
(SA), and to focus their anti-mandate efforts now on trying to redirect
the OA mandates toward mandating PA instead of SA.

It can even be stated (again) that if research funders feel they have
the spare cash -- and researchers are ready to believe that that
cash would be redirected from elsewhere, and not from their research
allotments -- to pay whatever publishers ask today (or a capped amount
the funders impose) for PA, then the outcome -- 100% OA -- is welcome
and optimal for all.

But if the research funders do *not* have the spare cash today to
duplicate the funds that are already changing hands today in the form
of annual institutional subscriptions, paid by institutional libraries
to publishers -- and/or if the prospect of committing to the payment of
such sums today would result in the funders balking at the adoption of
OA mandates at all today -- then it would make a good deal more sense for
funders to insist on the SA mandate rather than the PA mandate, and let
the market decide whether SA indeed generates institutional subscription

For if mandated SA does generate substantial institutional subscription
cancellations, then those very same substantial institutional
subscriptions cancellations will generate the institutional windfall
savings out of which PA costs (again determined by the market and not
by a-priori fiat) could be paid without taking any money away from
research funding.

And if mandated SA does not generate substantial institutional
subscription cancellations, then there is no need for PA.

This is an empirical question, neither its likelihood nor its price being
decidable a-priori, by fiat.

The thing to bear in mind is that publication costs today are bloated --
by the costs of continuing to provide the paper edition, for which there
is still hefty demand, as well as the deluxe online edition, and many
other extras that subscribing institutions are still happy to pay for
today. If/when the market no longer wants those extra features, and is
happy with the author's online, refereed final draft alone, the cost of
PA can only shrink, and may well reduce to just the cost of implementing
peer review.

Basically, publishers are today asking research funders -- who have every
right to insist on immediate OA for the research that they fund, today --
to pay publishers for the entire status quo today, even though there are
plenty of institutions paying for it all already, and even though no
one knows whether institutions will be any less willing to pay for it
once the entire system is supplemented by a free online version of the
author's refereed final draft for those who cannot afford all the rest!

But, to repeat, the need for OA would be fully met if funders (and
institutions) found the extra cash to mandate and pay for PA -- just as
surely as the need for OA would be met if funders (and institutions)
simply mandated SA.

Stevan Harnad

On Sat, 24 Jun 2006, Peter Suber wrote:

> [Forwarding from Ian Russell with his permission. Russell is the Head of
> Publishing at the Royal Society. --Peter.]
> Dear Peter,
> I was pleased to see that you have welcomed the Royal Society's
> introduction of the EXiS Open Choice option for authors wishing to pay a
> fee to make their article freely available online.
> I see that you have criticised the level of our author fees and I would
> like to explain why these fees were set as they were.
> The Publishing Board of the Royal Society - which is made up primarily of
> academics - felt very strongly that the fees for EXiS Open Choice should be
> set at a level which would allow for a viable publishing operation should
> EXiS Open Choice become the dominant model. The fees would therefore allow
> us to recover our costs should all authors choose the EXiS route and
> assuming that subscription revenue fell to zero.
> The Publishing Board also felt that waiving fees would invalidate the
> experiment at this stage, although we are very conscious that in the long
> run a pay-to-publish model will need to generate sufficient income from
> those that can pay in order to support those who cannot (as is the case
> with our delayed open access subscription model).
> We feel that most of the author fees in the market at present are set at an
> unsustainably low level and are setting unrealistic expectations among
> academics and other stakeholders. Some of the learned society publishers
> we have been speaking to have expressed concerns that the true author fee
> they would need to charge in an "author pays" world is much greater that
> the fees introduced by publishers so far and are concerned about looking
> uncompetitive. We want to introduce some clarity and go public with the
> fees that we - as a small learned society publisher with rejection rates of
> up to 75% - would need to charge in a fully "author pays" world.
> Whilst it may be perfectly acceptable to set fees at a level below cost
> recovery to generate interest, we feel that the OA debate has reached the
> stage where there needs to be some clarity and realism to help determine
> whether pay-to-publish models will work for none, some or all
> journals. You can of course argue that our fees are high, but they are
> what they are: what we would need to charge to stay in business without the
> benefit of philanthropic grants to maintain our publishing operation. We
> are confident that we are cost efficient and that our fees are in line with
> what most learned society publishers would need to charge in a fully OA model.
> The Society feels that more evidence is needed on the viability of
> pay-to-publish models and the impact of various open access models on
> subscription journals. We hope that this trial will provide some
> additional insight and will be happy to share the results in the future.
> We are in the process of making some changes to our copyright and licencing
> arrangements which will answer your questions - these are still being
> progressed.
> We will, of course, keep our subscription prices under review in light of
> our experiences with EXiS Open Choice, but we did not wish to make specific
> commitments at this stage but rest assured we are not doing this in the
> hope of making additional money.
> To clarify one other point, we will deposit on behalf of the author the
> final, copy-edited PDF file for articles going through the EXiS Open Choice
> route in an appropriate repository if required. In the case of the article
> published on June 21 which was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the article
> will be deposited in PubMed Central.
> Ian Russell
> Head of Publishing
> ian.russell AT
> The Royal Society
> 6-9 Carlton House Terrace
> London SW1Y 5AG
Received on Sat Jun 24 2006 - 22:14:42 BST

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