Re: Failing business models

From: Jan Velterop <openaccess_at_BTINTERNET.COM>
Date: Sun, 25 Feb 2007 18:44:16 +0000

Dear Imre,

First of all, my caveat for the definition of monopoly in the
Wikipedia was a bit tongue-in-cheek, I have to admit. I have no doubt
at all that the definition is correct, but since there currently is
a lively discussion about Wikipedia on the librarian list liblicense-
l, and I know that there is a fair amount of cross-readership between
this and that list, I threw in my facetious remark. (I'm actually a
fan of the Wikipedia and this is what I said about it on liblicense-
l, by the way:

As for the point you make, I used the word non-rivalrous for
subscriptions to scientific journals, because they don't compete --
they are not each other's rivals -- for readers. That is not always
the case for subscriptions, and newspapers, for instance, are often
regarded as rivalrous. But unlike newspapers, which can all report
the same story at the same time, a peculiarity of scientific
research, or maybe I should say scientific culture, is that articles
are formally published only once, in one journal. Journals are each
other's rivals, of course, when it comes to authors. This is why I
advocate open access publishing, 'gold', which regards the cost of
publishing as part and parcel of the cost of doing research, charges
a fee for the services that result in a formal publication, and, the
publisher having been reimbursed, then consigns that publication to
the noosphere, or the commons, as you call it. I'm in favour of that,
and I actually think most publishers are, too, if only they could
make the transition to a business model that supports open access.

That said about non-rivalry, self-archiving in an open repository, of
course, comes down to re-publishing an article, though not formally
(there usually is a reference to the formal publication, as the
formal one is what makes the self-archived article credible), and
thus making the versions rivalrous, i.e. competing for readers. On
the face of it, that then achieves what some want: competition and
open access. However, self-archiving is dependent on the subscription
system surviving. That's perhaps a good thing, but I doubt that it
will. When subscriptions decrease, e.g. due to cancellations by
libraries, the response typically has been to increase subscription
prices. That's how the vicious cycle known as the serials crisis came
about. For some journals price increases wouldn't strictly have been
necessary, as decreasing subscriptions would just mean lower margins.
For a lot of journals (I estimate it's the majority), lower
subscription numbers tips them over into the red, if they aren't
already there (many are cross-subsidised by journals that are doing

Some people think that cancellations wouldn't happen as a result of a
rival copy of articles being freely available. They probably won't,
as long as the free versions are low in number. But the 'evidence'
that they won't happen at all is highly questionable. The (only)
example repeated all the time, ad nauseam, is that of Arxiv and the
physics journals, in spite of the fact that physics is quite
different from other disciplines (ask any physicist), in that the
discipline has a long, unique history of preprints, which makes
examples from physics less than ideal as 'evidence'. That doesn't
mean that the absence of more cancellations in physics isn't a
mystery of sorts. If one gives a hundred unsupervised toddlers a
packet of matches, and after a week none of the houses in which they
live has burnt down, that's a mystery, too, but I wouldn't accept
that as evidence that unsupervised toddlers and matches are a
combination from which we have nothing to fear.

Although most publishers allow it, open access through self-archiving
also remains problematic, in my view, because it is a kind of self-
plagiarism. Better to self-archive the formal, published version of
an article, which is entirely and unproblematically possible with
open access publishing.

Best regards,

Jan Velterop
PS. Thank you for the references you mention. Interesting that
"Understanding Knowledge as a Commons" is not available with open
access. I don't mind too much, it has to be said, but it is somewhat
ironic, no?

On 25 Feb 2007, at 14:48, Imre Simon wrote:

> Dear Jan,
> I am sorry but I do not understand your usage of the term non-rival.
> For me, non-rival means that your usage of a good does not compete
> with my usage. Ideas are non-rival, we are exchanging them all the
> time on this list, for instance, and we all learn from everybody
> else's ideas without diminishing their own use of them. For more
> information, please see the Wikipedia entry:
> So, when you correctly say that if I have Nature I still need Science
> you are saying that knowledge is fragmented in many (largely disjoint)
> sources and this keeps happening all the way down. I couldn't agree
> more with this, the only thing I object to is the use of the non-rival
> adjective for this phenomenon.
> Indeed, this and many other fragmentations are at the very core of the
> OA ideology. At least in my view of it.
> I believe that (Scientific) Knowledge should be a Commons. A freely
> accessible commons. That is what Open Access is all about, trying to
> unite something which got completely fragmented by our practices over
> the last 150 years or so.
> A beautiful book just came out about this viewpoint: "Understanding
> Knowledge as a Commons". Indeed, the book has Scientific Communication
> as its main example and objective, I would like to recommend its
> reading:
> Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom
> Understanding Knowledge as a Commons
> MIT Press, 2007
> Now, we are discussing here Green and Gold, Copyright (a major
> excluding mechanism of many non-rival goods built up by our
> civilization), for profit and not-for-profit publishers, Internet
> publishing and many conflicting views on a possible transition to
> Universal Open Access. All this fragments the theme and the community
> ever more and it is OK, in my view. Indeed, I believe that this
> fragmentation is essential for constructing a new system, some system
> where we will hopefully end up one of these days.
> Agreeing (or disagreeing), though, whether Knowledge is or is not a
> Commons seems to be an essential difference in this discussion. That
> is why I tried to isolate this aspect in this message to call the
> attention to this basic question. How many of us agree with it? How
> many do not? I propose that this might be a good starting point to
> begin building bridges or to leave it cristal clear that some bridges
> will not be built.
> To finish I would like to make a brief remark about the caveat for
> your assumption that the Wikipedia entry for Monopoly is correct.
> Nature (the periodical) made a recent study and found that Wikipedia
> and the Encyclopaedia Britannica are equally crappy, so to say. I
> think that this is unexpected and surprising for some. Anyway, somehow
> I find it difficult to believe that you would make a similar caveat
> about Britannica's definition of Monopoly. But, if you would, I do
> apologize in advance. The point is that if you believe in the Nature
> study and in the basic correctness of Britannica, as I do, then it is
> unnecessary to make that kind of caveat.
> But, again, this has a lot to do with my initial remarks about commons
> and fragmentation. Knowledge is a Commons but it is totally fragmented
> throughout society, as pointed out by the great Friedrich Hayek (Law,
> Legislation and Liberty, vol. I). More than that, through the commons
> we all benefit from the knowledge we do not have. Wikipedia, in my
> view, might be one of the more impressive experiences and achievements
> of this decade, century?, millenium? I don't know. But it is a proof,
> or at least a strong indication, that through the Internet it is much
> easier to realize Hayek's view of everyone benefitting of the other's
> knowledge via a better integration. And, again, Open Access is just
> this, exactly this, in my view.
> Another curiosity: Lawrence Lessig, in a recently revised edition
> (CODE version 2.0) of his 1999 Opus Magnus, CODE and Other Laws of
> Cyberspace, put this very impressive dedication:
> HERE, of course means in CODE v 2.0, but I think that we equally well
> could assume it means this list too. I happen to believe that Open
> Access has an awful lot to learn from the Wikipedia surprise.
> Cordially yours,
> Imre Simon
> Velterop, Jan, Springer UK <> wrote:
>> Steve,
>> Assumptions are being made on all sides of the argument and I'm the
>> last to say that I don't sometimes make them, but the examples you
>> mention are more to do with definitions than assumptions. Let me
>> respond to the monopoly issue.
>> You fear that 'gold' would be just a continuation of the cost spiral,
>> and as a reason for that you use the argument that "journals act as
>> monopolies, and so would gold journals." Now here's an unwarranted
>> assumption. Subscription journals are monopoloid *because of* the
>> subscription model. The subscriptions are non-rivalrous, meaning that
>> if you need Nature, you also need Science (and this principle works
>> all the way down the pyramid). And you need to pay for both. But in
>> 'gold' this doesn't apply. If you publish in Nature, and pay for it
>> (should they offer that option), you don't pay Science. In 'gold',
>> these journals -- any journals -- are rivalrous.
>> In the subscription world, librarians are the 'captive market'. In
>> 'gold', you call authors "still a captive market", but they are
>> neither a captive market nor is that "still" the case, because they
>> never were. That doesn't mean to say that the best journals aren't
>> desirable for authors to publish in. So they may be captivated by the
>> journal's allure, but that's not the same as a captive market. If
>> they are captured at all, it's by the impact factor madness, and
>> publishers are not the ones who can change that culture. It all comes
>> down to choice. In the subscription system there is hardly any; in
>> 'gold', however high the fees may be of some journals, there *is* a
>> choice, there *are* viable substitute services, unless publishers
>> should start forming cartels, which is illegal. If the authors are
>> not aware of fees for 'gold', that doesn't mean they don't have the
>> choice, it only means that they don't exercise that choice, and in
>> any case the funders or the institutions can influence their choice.
>> Institutes and funders can raise the authors' awareness. Having a
>> viable choice makes any monopoly impossible (see definition: http://
>> with the caveat that I'm indeed making
>> an assumption here, namely that the Wikipedia definition is correct).
>> Jan Velterop
>> [Quoted text hidden]
>> --------
Received on Sun Feb 25 2007 - 19:49:56 GMT

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