Re: Failing business models

From: Heather Morrison <heatherm_at_ELN.BC.CA>
Date: Sat, 24 Feb 2007 11:31:50 -0800

To avoid confusion, let me first of all clarify that there are a
number of business models for open access journals. The majority do
not rely on processing fees at all.

For those that do, I agree with Jan Velterop that a gold processing-
fee model has the potential to introduce competition into the
marketplace. Steve Hitchcock is also correct, that a gold model
could simply repeat the cost spiral.

The key factor is how a processing-fee model is approached. If a
funding agency, university, or library decides to pay or partially
pay processing fees, the gold processing-fee approach will only
introduce competition into the system if there is incentive to seek
out the publishing services with the most reasonable prices for the
services provided.

Let's look at a couple of different scenarios:

Funder A allows for a certain percentage of a research grant to be
used for dissemination of research results, let's say $3,000. It is
up to the researcher to decide whether to spend the $3,000 on
processing fees for one article, or whether to publish in a quality
journal with a lower fee, and use the rest of the funds for other
dissemination-related purposes. For example, depending on the
publisher's fee, this might leave enough left over to pay a graduate
assistant to do most of the writing, or even cover or partially cover
the costs of attending a conference to present a paper on the
research outcome. With this scenario, I would predict competition in
the scholarly publishing industry, and ultimately better quality
services at lower prices.

Funder B allows for a certain amount to pay for processing fees.
Let's take $3,000 US as an example. For many publishers, this amount
is higher than true costs of publishing an online open access
article, and allows for double-dipping (revenue from both
subscriptions and processing fee charges). With this scenario, I
would predict increasing inefficiencies in the scholarly publishing
industry, and the processing fee cost spiral that Steve Hitchcock
warns of.

Similarly, if libraries choose to support processing fees, this may
or may not be beneficial, depending on exactly how this is
approached. Paying processing fees for fully gold OA journals with
an established reputation for quality of service and reasonable
prices would be extremely helpful in the transitional period. A
sliding scale approach to paying for such fees (e.g. 100% up to
$1,000, 75% up to $1,500, and so forth) would provide the incentives
for faculty and departments to seek reasonable fees, and hence
stimulate competition. Simply paying both processing fees and
subscription fees for hybrid journals creates incentives for
inefficiencies. Hybrid processing fee / subscription approaches are
an approach to transition that holds promise for reducing these
incentives for inefficiencies (e.g., faculty at subscribing libraries
pay lower fees, libraries deduct processing fees from subscription
cheques). This is complex, and worth spending some time on
negotiations and model development.

Given these complexities, in my opinion it is best if funders adopt a
simple mandate, requiring open access to the results of research they
fund, and the authors' own work (with revisions suggested by peer
reviews).. Funders have every right to make this requirement
immediate on publication, or acceptance for publication. Publishers
provide a valuable service, but they do not have any rights. Every
business must adapt to changing environments, and the scholarly
publishing industry is no exception.

Some publishers claim that if articles are available open access,
there will be a precipitous decline in subscriptions. There is no
evidence that this is likely, and much evidence that this is
extremely unlikely, such as the experience of physics publishing
peacefully coexisting with nearly 100% OA in arXiv for 15 years, the
fact that those who rely on the publishing services, the authors, are
faculty members who are consulted in any cancellation decisions, and
the fact that many of the larger library contracts are multi-year,
and could not be cancelled suddenly.

However, even if all the library subscriptions were suddenly
cancelled - so what? The monies that went into subscriptions would
then be free to support gold OA publishing!

All of the worries from the publishing industry are much ado about
nothing, in my opinion. Funders should overlook all the fretting
about the possibility of change from an industry that is accustomed
to a monopoly position, set the best policy for the public good
(immediate open access, no delay), and leave all the details of the
adjustment to an OA environment to the scholars and their service
providers (publishers, libraries, other university administration).

Heather Morrison, M.L.I.S.
Received on Sat Feb 24 2007 - 19:49:10 GMT

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