Clarifying the Logic of Open Choice

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2007 11:50:41 +0000

Below is a posting, with permission, of an offline exchange with Jan Velterop,
of Springer Open Choice. I have labelled the Dramatis Personae and tagged for
chronology. The title "Clarifying the Logic of Open Choice" is mine, not
Jan's. (I will let Jan have the last word in this posting and will reply
separately to a few of his points in my next posting. My surmise is that the
careful reader of this exchange will not need my subsequent reply -- but I may
be wrong.) -- SH

From: Jan Velterop (JV)
To: Stevan Harnad (SH)

> SH:
> Jan, may I post this? I've removed the nonsubstantive parts
> that do not need not be aired in public. Chrs, S

Stevan, If you include my further comments, you may post. Best, Jan

> On Wed, 21 Mar 2007, Velterop, Jan, Springer UK wrote:
>>> SH:
>>> The main substantive points are:
>>> (1) Paying for optional OA Gold today is double-paying...
>> JV:
>> Answer:
>> Nonsense. Paying for access to content is not the same as paying
>> for having your article published with OA. At no point is the same
>> article paid for twice.
> SH:
> Can we count this up, slowly:
> (a) A journal sells subscriptions.
> (b) Subscriptions cover publication costs plus profits. Let's
> say $3000 per article published.
> (c) That same journal now begins to offer Open Choice: $1500
> to make your article free online, instead of having it
> accessible only to those with a paid subscription.
> In what sense is the publication of that article not being
> double-paid for?

That's clear to anyone who understands how journals work: The open
access articles are simply not part of the subscription. As if they were
published in a 'parallel' journal with the same editor and editorial
board. This doesn't only happen to open acces articles, but publishing
history is strewn with sponsored supplementary material that, whilst
carrying a journal's mark, was made available for free and not part of a

> SH:
> (Please don't reply that the author is not paying twice. I of
> course meant the publisher was being paid twice.)

Of course authors are not paying twice. Authors, and readers for that
matter, are rarely paying at all. That's all done vicariously by the
institution, mostly the library. And the publisher is not paid twice for
the same thing, however much you twist it.

> SH:
> And recall that this is all being rehearsed in the context of
> the claim that Green self-archiving would destroy journals
> because it would destroy their subscription base and no
> longer make it possible to pay the costs of publishing.
> To which my reply has always been that subscriptions pay the
> cost of publishing, and if and when subscriptions are
> cancelled, hence no longer paying the cost of publishing,
> *then* the cancellation savings can be redirected to pay for
> the cost of publishing. Before that, publishing is being
> double-paid for.

I know that your reply has always been thus. That doesn't make it
correct. I'm not denying that there may be a cost of transition from
subscriptions to gold OA. That's been highlighted many times before,
notably by PLoS before they even were publishers themselves. Your method
has a cost as well. A much greater one. You favour, by implication,
although you refuse to see it that way, the demise of journals, and with
that the destruction of a system and infrastructure of peer-reviewed
publishing. Of course that can be built up again after the existing
journals have gone out of business. But it will take a very long time.
The benefits of OA are substantial, but that price, making the
transition of one phase to the next via a phase of destruction, is too
high in my view. That's why I favour a transition without such drastic

> SH:
> Hence authors should self-archive (Green), not pay for Gold,
> now (for a hybrid Open Choice journal: if they wish to
> publish in a pure Gold journal, like BMC or PLoS, they are
> not double-paying).

In what way is Open Choice different from 'pure' gold? Have you
forgotten that 'open access' was explicitly declared a property of an
*article*, not of a journal or a publisher? (look here if you need to
refresh your memory: Why not pay
for gold? Why are you making such an issue of that? Are you the guardian
angel of university administrators and research funders now, too? How
would paying for gold threaten your cherished self-archiving? Did it
escape your attention that gold is green plus a lot more? When your
campaign for self-archiving was just that, it at least had the benefit
of an intellectually honest quest. Now that you are showing a keen
interest in making any transition impossible unless via destruction,
using financial arguments, you've lost your focus, and, in my view, your
credibility. For the avoidance of doubt: I'm not against green. What I
think is not a good idea is *mandates* for self-archiving. If they are
successful (and why else would they be proposed), they carry too high a
price, as I explained above.

>> JV:
>> Consider this analogy: you take a subscription to a
>> newspaper and subsequently you wish to place an ad
>> in it. You'll be asked to pay for the placement of the ad. In your
>> reasoning this would mean that you'd be double-paying. You may be
>> paying more than you did before, but you'd be paying for different
>> things. To call it double-paying is misleading.
> SH:
> I'm afraid I don't see the analogy at all. The crucial
> difference is that my own article is my ad, and I am saying
> that that ad's author (me) should be mandated (by his
> employer/funder) to put a supplementary copy of his own ads
> online for free, not pay their publishers to do it, while
> their publishers are still being fully paid by their
> subscribers. They don't need more money from me, to do what
> they are doing already, plus what I can do for myself, for
> free (without "destroying the newspaper").

As I indicated, analogies are not perfect. In the case of an article
(your 'ad'), it gains quite a lot by being published in the journal.
What you are doing, is taking that 'gain', without bothering to care how
that gain is acquired and paid for (other than throwing the ball into
the librarian's court and say: "you paid for it in the past and you
shall keep paying for it in the future, and if not, there will be some
'deus ex machina' salvaging any ailing journal"), and attach it to your
self-archived copy. You can, at any time, publish your article online.
When you need the journal 'label' to give it professional credibility is
when you go to a publisher. Not *giving* him your article, mind you, but
*asking* for a service. Performing that service costs money and
subscriptions are a poor way of providing that money. Article processing
charges are much better because they remove any need to restrict access
in any way.

>> JV:
>> Analogies, as always, are not perfect. Unlike the newspaper analogy,
>> and for Academia as a whole, any 'extra' payment is temporary.
> SH:
> It sounds here as if you are conceding, after all, that there
> is double-payment being received...

Of course there is a cost of transition, as I said above. But that's a
cost of transition, not paying twice for the same thing. The cost of
transition your method incurs, destruction of the journal
infrastructure, is much greater.

>> JV:
>> This is unfortunate, but a consequence of a drawn-out transition in
>> which not all libraries in one go switch from subscriptions to
>> article charges as a way of sustaining peer-reviewed journals.
> SH:
> We are not talking about changing the ways subscribing
> libraries sustain peer-reviewed journals. We are talking
> about supplementing subscription access with author-provided
> free online access, today. If there is indeed one day to be a
> transition to Gold OA, let that transition be driven by
> cancellations, and funded by the cancellation savings, not
> pre-empted now, by double-payment (and at a price that may
> well be a good deal higher than it will be if the transition
> is preceded and driven by Green OA).

Who is 'we' here? I am indeed talking about changing ways of sustaining
peer-reviewed journals. Your idea of having any transition funded by
cancellation savings is predicated (without realising it, I suspect) on
the completely unrealistic premise that all journals are being published
by this one 'Ueber-publisher'. Any librarian who thinks he's double
paying, can just cancel whatever he feels he can afford to cancel and
re-use the funds for OA publishing. Any funder who thinks there is a
risk of double payment can stipulate that out of the 58% of overheads
typically taken off research grants, OA publishing is paid in the form
of article processing charges, instead of non-OA publishing in the form
of subscriptions.

>> JV:
>> At our initiative, we are in active discussion with a number of
>> library consortia and some major research and funding institutions to
>> find proper ways of avoiding any double payment, if and where it
>> might occur. I'll announce them as soon as the ink is dry.
> SH:
> If institutional libraries are foolish enough to prepay the
> asking price for Gold now, by redirecting all their
> subscription budgets, there will not be a single murmur of
> protest from me *if* both the publishers support and the
> libraries' institutions adopt a Green OA mandate.
> But if this absurd bargain is made *in place* of a Green OA
> mandate, I shall certainly do my level best to make all
> parties see the folly of their ways.

What's 'absurd' about working on a sustainable way to make the
transition from subscriptions without OA, to OA publishing?

>>> SH:
>>> (2) For a Gold (or hybrid Gold) OA publisher to oppose Green OA
>>> mandates is, at best, to oppose OA...
>> JV:
>> Answer:
>> This is weird reasoning, Stevan, and repeating it doesn't make it
>> any better. We're gold, we're green (and by the way, gold includes
>> green - not the other way around), and we feel that mandates should
>> not be employed in the innately liberal world of science.
> SH:
> If Springer were (as it is) Green (i.e., endorses immediate Green
> self-archiving) and did *not* at the same time try to oppose
> Green OA mandates (as Springer does), then we would be in the
> scenario I described above, and Springer would not be
> blame-worthy (for trying to make an extra buck): only the
> institutions who took Springer up on it without mandating
> Green OA would be balmy.

Feel free to keep on calling institutions and funders 'balmy', authors
'stupid' or 'ignorant', publishers 'blame-worthy', et cetera, but don't
expect to be taken seriously.

>> JV:
>> If a cultural norm emerges, like is the case with having to publish
>> with peer-review, then fine. And *if*, and only if, a mandate is
>> deemed justifiable, then it should be a mandate for open access, not a
>> mandate for open access by such or such a means.
> SH:
> Researchers publish in peer-reviewed journals. That's a
> given. Journals recover their peer-review costs from
> subscriptions. That's a current fact. Alongside that, and
> (until/unless there are unsustainable cancellations as a
> result), mandating Green OA self-archiving is a completely
> independent matter, a matter that is entirely between an
> author and his institution or funder. Publishers should have
> no say in it whatsoever. (And, a fortiori, no say in the
> Immediate-Deposit/Optional-Access Mandate [ID/OA], which
> doesn't even notionally need the publisher's blessing or
> endorsement for the deposit.)

Much of the added value of a journal is concentrated in its 'trademark'
attached to the article. This trademark, and therefore its added value,
is easily pilfered. This is a problem for publishers, of course. And a
lot of thinking goes into how to deal with that. If you were to argue
for a self-archiving mandate for articles without indicating where and
when they were published, in other words without appropriating the
'gain' while not taking responsibility for supporting the way this gain
is generated, then that would be fine.

Jan Velterop
PS. Where not explicitly stated that I do speak for Springer, I speak
for myself.

>> JV:
>> I didn't argue for mandating direct deposit in a CR
> SH:
> (Sorry: When you singled out IRs as one of my "orthodoxies" I
> thought you were defending direct deposit in CRs (as BMC
> does). I withdraw those points.)
>> JV:
>> You should feel free to post this
Received on Thu Mar 22 2007 - 13:02:00 GMT

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