Re: Failing business models

From: Velterop, Jan, Springer UK <Jan.Velterop_at_SPRINGER.COM>
Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2007 15:15:21 +0100


You say that publishers should convert their journals to gold OA. I
agree, of course. Hybrid models are a staging post in the transition
process. What we shouldn't forget, though, is that the publishers cannot
convert to gold OA in isolation. Unless librarians, funders, authors,
university administrators, et cetera support such change, not only in
word, but in deed, it will be problematic and very slow in coming. That
support, I'm afraid, especially in deed, is still rather limited and
fragmentary at the moment.



-----Original Message-----
From: American Scientist Open Access Forum on behalf of J.F.B.Rowland
Sent: Thu 2/22/2007 12:53 PM
Subject: Re: Failing business models

Thanks, Jan, for this very lucid explanation of the situation regarding
subscription-based scholalrly publishing and why it is now dysfunctional.

The publishers' Brussels Declaration spoke of a 'healthy, undistorted
free market' in scholarly publishing.  As your explanation shows, such a
market does not exist at present - nor, indeed,  has it ever. Each
journal is a natural monopoly - you can't get the same content anywhere
else.  And the existence of a healthy free market has the prerequisite
that 'he who pays the piper calls the tune'.  In scholarly publishing
this has never been the case.  Authors control the journals (by their
choice of where to submit their work) and it is there for their benefit;
but libraries pay the bills.

If the publishers mean what they say about a 'healthy, undistorted free
market', they should convert their journals to Gold OA.  Then we will
finally reach the position where those who 'call the tune' actually 'pay
the piper'.

Fytton Rowland, Loughborough University, UK.

----- Original Message -----

        From: Velterop, Jan, Springer UK
        Sent: Thursday, February 22, 2007 10:34 AM
        Subject: Failing business models

        Dana Roth writes that "The primary problem with the current
system is the failing business model followed by many commercial
        I presume she means the subscription model. Which, incidentally,
is not just used by commercial publishers but also by not-for-profit
        I agree with her. But it's not the use of the subscription model
by commercial publishers that is the 'primary problem'. It is the fact
that the subscription system cannot cope with the unrelenting growth of
scientific articles that is being produced worldwide.
        Before the internet, the subscription model had increasing
problems, but it was probably the least worst solution, by no means
ideal. Now, with the internet working and pretty mature, we can have
better systems. There definitely are publishers, for-profit as well as
not-for-profit (just look at the recent press release of the DC
Principles Coalition), who seem to be wedded to the subscription model,
but not only publishers. Libraries, too, do not seem to be too keen on
replacing the dysfunctional system with a better one. And even a school
of thought in the OA advocate camp, the self-archiving champions, argue
that the subscription system will continue to sustain journals.
        Of course there are difficulties to overcome if one wants to make
the transition from one system to the next, and let's concentrate on
overcoming those difficulties.
        The subscription system has the following problems (and quite
possibly more):
        -The price to readers/libraries bears no relation to quality.
This needs no further explanation, I guess.
        -The price to readers/libraries bears no relation to the amount
per article that's taken out of the academic market. A 'cheap' journal
can, on a per-article basis, take more money out of Academia than an
'expensive' journal. This is more common than is perhaps realised. A
substantial number of not-for-profits have seemingly low subscription
prices, but take more money per article out of the academic market than
even the most expensive commercial publishers (where it hovers in the
$5000 range). I know of several cases where it is twice or even three
times as much, and if someone would care to analyse this information (it
often is available, for not-for-profits), one might find even higher
        -The price to readers/libraries bears no relation to the cost of
publishing, but rather, to the numbers of subscribers. This is the origin
of the price spiral. Journals were cancelled, and for some reason
commercial journals suffered more than not-for-profit journals, on the
whole (with exceptions), as a result of which subscription prices went
up. This caused further cancellations and thus the vicious cycle was
created. One of the reasons why some not-for-profits have been able to
maintain lower prices is the existence of cancellation-resistant
compulsory member subscriptions.
        -The cost to libraries of subscriptions that are needed bears
little relation to the size of the actual research or teaching efforts at
the institute in question, but instead, reflects the width of the range
of disciplines researched or taught. A specialised institute (take CERN
as an example) needs no more than a handful of journals. On the other
hand, a university where the name 'university' still relates to
'universal' knowledge, and where a wide range of subjects are taught and
researched, needs vastly larger numbers of journals to satisfy the needs
of its constituents.
        -Subscription price stability can only exist in an environment of
stability of the number of subscriptions, and of articles published. But
that environment doesn't exist. Library budgets have been under pressure
for the longest time, which is especially apparent if they are expressed
as a percentage of the research budgets. And the number of articles keep
on growing.
        Most of these problems are solved in a system in which the
'publish or perish' culture (which is definitely not of the publishers'
making) is reflected more transparently. A system in which research
articles are seen for what they are: a kind of 'advertisement' in which
the author 'advertises' his scientific prowess, in order to get
acknowledgment, citations, leading to tenure, future funding, for a few
the Nobel Prize, et cetera. That doesn't mean that articles aren't full
of information useful to readers. But so are conventional advertisements.
        The advertising analogy is not perfect, but I'm using it to
illustrate the point that there is logic in the system that levies
charges for the processing and formal publication of research articles
and subsequently makes them universally available with open access. Open
access publishing.
        Jan Velterop
        -----Original Message-----
        From: American Scientist Open Access Forum on behalf of Dana Roth
        Sent: Wed 2/21/2007 11:28 PM
        Subject: Re: Some initial thoughts on the Brussels Declaration on
STM publishing
        The fact that something is possible doesn't mean it is advisable.
        There is a distinct advantage in having an organizational
structure that
        one can depend on to maintain stability.  Sure, the 'research
        can create their own journals, but who among them is going to
give up
        their research and/or teaching to manage the process?
        The evolution of distributing research results, from circulating
        among peers to the formal journals we know today, occurred
because of
        the obvious benefits in an organizational structure.
        The primary problem with the current system is the failing
        model followed by many commercial publishers.
        Dana Roth
Received on Thu Feb 22 2007 - 16:23:43 GMT

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