Re: Royal Society Offers Open Choice

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 25 Jun 2006 16:23:40 +0100

In the SPARC Open Access Forum, Ian Russell -- Head of Publishing, The
Royal Society, and new CEO of the Association of Learned and Professional
Society Publishers -- wrote:

> The Publishing Board of the Royal Society... felt... 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* [emphasis added].

Assuming that subscription revenue fell to zero? But where is the evidence
supporting that assumption? Indeed, where is the evidence of subscription
revenue falling at all, as a result of authors self-archiving their
own peer-reviewed final drafts online?

And in setting the a-priori fee level, were all current products/services
and their costs/revenues factored in? for example, the production and
distribution of the print edition, which is currently subscribed to by
institutions worldwide?

Are the authors then, today, expected to pay to supply the print editions
to the libraries of the world?

Or does the Royal Society have evidence that if authors self-archived
their own final peer-reviewed drafts online, as the research funders
propose to mandate, then subscribing institutions would no longer want
the print edition?

And if the print edition were no longer wanted, would its costs not need
to be *subtracted* from the products/services and their costs/revenues
that the Royal Society is here factoring into the asking price for
the author's costs, a priori?

And might there not be other products/services, with their associated
costs/revenues (mark-up, PDF, the online edition), that might likewise
prove redundant or obsolete in a world in which the author's own final
peer-reviewed drafts were all that was wanted? (Is that not all part of
"assuming that subscription revenue fell to zero"?)

And if so, might the publisher's contribution not then reduce
to merely the provision of peer review?

And is this not a question that the market (rather than publishers, by a
priori assumption) should decide, once research institutions and funders
have exercised their natural and long-overdue online-age prerogative to
mandate that publicly funded research should be made openly accessible
to all of its would-be users online -- through the self-archiving of the
author's peer-reviewed final draft online -- rather than just to those
who can afford to pay for the publisher's version, as now?

The peer review is indisputably both an added value and a necessity
in all this: The peers review for free, but the process of peer review
needs to be implemented, and that implementation needs to be paid for.
But that can hardly be said a priori about all the *other* associated
products and services, and hence their associated costs and revenues.

Right now, peer review is being paid for by revenues from all those
other associated products and services, and paid for by subscribing
institutions. If/when the institutional subscription demand for all
those other associated products and services ever "falls to zero" (as
*assumed* here), surely the institutions' own associated annual windfall
subscription savings will correspondingly "rise from zero" to become
the natural source out of which to pay for the implementation of the
peer review, several times over.

As for the other associated products and services (print edition, PDF,
archiving, distribution, access-provision): if indeed subscription
revenue from them "falls to zero" (because the author's online final
peer-reviewed drafts are all anyone wants) then the market will have
spoken: The author's final peer-reviewed drafts are all anyone wants. Why
should research funders, or anyone, keep paying for other things that
no one wants enough any more to pay for? (And why should they now agree
to do so now, in full, and in advance, a priori?)

Or perhaps the assumption that subscription revenue will fall to zero
if the authors are mandated to self-archive their final peer-reviewed
drafts online is false? Who can know this a priori, without doing the
empirical test that the proposed self-archiving mandate itself would
amount to?

For until the empirical test is actually performed, the only sure thing
is that OA and its already demonstrated benefits to research access,
usage and impact are needed, and needed now, indeed already well
overdue. A self-archiving mandate will provide that OA. That too has
been demonstrated already. But all the rest is an open empirical question,
for the market to decide.

> 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.

The market today is a subscription market, and it is paying all the
costs of all products and services associated with journal publishing
today. What is missing is OA. Mandated author OA self-archiving will
provide that missing OA, and its demonstrated benefits to research
researchers, and the public that funds them, with certainty. The rest is
all a-priori speculation in place of empirical testing and evidence (and
rather self-serving speculation at that, aimed at pre-setting arbitrarily
what should really be for the market to decide: *whether* anything else
needs to paid for, and if so, how much, and how (by user-institution
subscription fee or by author-institution publication fee).

Mandating author OA self-archiving, now, is the way to set the natural
(and long-overdue) online-age process into motion that will determine
whether OA can co-exist with the present subscription system, or requires
a transition to OA publication -- and if the latter, what products and
services still have a market, and what that market is willing to pay
for them. What has already been delayed far too long, and should not be
delayed a moment longer, is research institutions and funders mandating
that the findings of the research they fund should immediately be made
accessible to all of its would-be users online, and not only to those
who can afford to pay for the publisher's version.

> 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.

Fine. Now what needs to be determined -- by the market, empirically
-- is whether all the products and services wrapped into the current
"publishing operation" still have a market in an OA world, or whether
perhaps the only thing that is still needed is peer review. That is the
way to find out what needs to be charged for what in order to stay in
business in an OA world. Not by insisting that the research institutions
and funders pay for it all up-front at this time (which is precisely
what the Royal Society is doing, if it names its asking price for paid
OA a-priori, and opposes funder-mandated OA self-archiving by authors).

Stevan Harnad

A complete Hypermail archive of the ongoing discussion of providing
open access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2005)
is available at:
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UNIVERSITIES: If you have adopted or plan to adopt an institutional
policy of providing Open Access to your own research article output,
please describe your policy at:

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    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a open-access journal if/when
            a suitable one exists.
    in BOTH cases self-archive a supplementary version of your article
            in your institutional repository.
Received on Sun Jun 25 2006 - 18:04:24 BST

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