Re: PR's 'pit bull' takes on open access: excerpts from article in Nature Magazine

From: Chris Beckett <>
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2007 16:57:30 -0000


I don't think we disagree overmuch

With reference to the pit bull bit - who knows who this guy is, whether he
has been hired or whether he will do any good for publishers or not, doesn't
sound like he's a natural fit for this industry to me. But that's not really
the issue.

The issue of publisher profit levels is more interesting. It certainly true
that the big ones have substantive margins, but many of the societies and
many of the smaller commercials don't, which is why lumping all publishers
together is not entire helpful. And in any event as a customer I care about
their price to me and their service not their profit. Google makes loads of
money - but I quite like them.
The monopoly argument is an interesting one. Personally I think that many of
the arguments about pricing would have been avoided if the people who
consume the content - the researchers were confronted by the bills, rather
than their proxy in the libraries. I think we might have had more price
competition in the market earlier because researchers would have been much
quicker to cancel and seek out alternative publishers more to their taste
both to buy journals from and to submit to. Wouldn't have done much for the
collection development policy though.

And yes clearly Stevan doesn't think there is a threat to subscriptions from
Green OA. I am with you in that I think there is, and also that it might not
be catastrophic. The speed at which this happens is I think dependent upon,
even more speculation. Specifically: if and how quickly third party services
emerge that organise access to the OA content and provide Virtual journals
that mimic the real thing. If these emerge quickly and are marketed hard to
libraries at a fraction of the cost of the regular subscription then I think
the collapse could be speedier than some expect. Either that or libraries
undertake this organisation themselves (co-operatively or otherwise) which
would presumably also speed things up a bit; unless of course they continued
to subscribe to the journal even when an increasing percentage is available
free alongside it.(or at very low cost if they didn't do it themselves and
paid some other entity to provide the organisational overlay). Some might
continue to subscribe, especially those large university libraries, who have
a mission to collect, but for many medium and smaller libraries where access
trumps "The Collection" I suspect that the switch will be a bit of a
no-brainer. However you work more closely with libraries than I do and may
know better on this. Maybe I am entirely wrong and libraries will continue
to subscribe to journals even when 100% of the content is freely available
in an organised form alongside the subscribed journal.

The most interesting bit of your post is the question of the orderly
I would like some one to sketch out what this new publishing model is, I
don't think to ask this is to rubbish the arguments of any position in this
debate Green or Gold OA advocates or otherwise - it is really quite simple.

What organisations provide
What services
How are they paid
Who pays for them
How much

We kind of know the answer to this in the OA Gold model. But in the Green
model there is either an assertion (which I think is erroneous)that its
never going to happen because librarians won't cancel (which seems a bit
unlikely if your argument about hating their suppliers is true) or what?

I think we should try and address these questions.


-----Original Message-----
From: American Scientist Open Access Forum
Behalf Of J.F.B.Rowland
Sent: 30 January 2007 14:44
Subject: Re: PR's 'pit bull' takes on open access: excerpts from article in
Nature Magazine

Chris Beckett said:

'I believe, and I think this view is shared by many people who have
inhabited the world of libraries and scholarly publishing for any
significant period think that Gold OA represents a threat to profit levels
and Green OA represent a threat to revenues and profit levels.'

These issues must be seriously addressed by those of us who believe in the
principle of Open Access, but I don't think the publhishers' hiring of a PR
'pit bull' will contribute very helpfully to informed debate.

'Gold OA represents a threat to profit levels' Yes, it probably does.
Those of us who don't work for publishers are not unhappy about this, the
point being that the publishers have been extracting monopoly levels of
profit from their captive, and predominantly public-sector, market for many
decades - ever since their mentor, Robert Maxwell, realised it was possible
in the 1940s. Now that the academic community is fighting back, they are

'Green OA represent a threat to revenues and profit levels.' That is more
arguable, and Stevan Harnad would probably say that it is speculation and
probably not true at all. My view is that it is possibly true, but that
there would not be a catastrophic collapse, more likely a gradual decline.
If so, sensible publishers would be making plans for an orderly transition
to a new scenario, rather than trying to rubbish the arguments of their
customers. Companies that are hated by their customers are in an inherently
unstable situation anyway.

Fytton Rowland, Loughborough University.
Received on Tue Jan 30 2007 - 17:36:15 GMT

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