Re: Gold Conversion: A Prisoners' Dilemma?

From: David Goodman <dgoodman_at_Princeton.EDU>
Date: Wed, 10 Oct 2007 22:32:36 -0400

The fastest solution will be for a library to preferentially use its money to help pay author fees, leaving the
few most used subscriptions and relying on resource sharing for the others. The membership pricing dilemma
is solved by paying by the article, just as the subscription dilemma is. The greater availability of funding in
this manner will soon induce the switch. While we libraries act like a captive market, we are prisoners along
with the publishers.

David Goodman, Ph.D., M.L.S.
Bibliographer and Research Librarian
Princeton University Library

----- Original Message -----
From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Sunday, October 7, 2007 7:13 pm
Subject: [AMERICAN-SCIENTIST-OPEN-ACCESS-FORUM] Gold Conversion: A Prisoners' Dilemma?

> Gold Conversion: A Prisoners' Dilemma?
> Stevan Harnad
> Hyperlined version:
> <speculation>
> SUMMARY: Given the undeniable, irreversible and growing
> clamour for
> Open Access (OA) worldwide, journal publishers face two
> Prisoners' Dilemmas. (1) The first concerns whether to continue
> business as
> usual, to mounting opprobrium from the academic community as
> well as
> the tax-paying public, or to convert directly to Gold OA now,
> at the
> risk that institutional subscriptions at current prices for
> incoming journals may not transmute stably into institutional
> "memberships" for
> outgoing article publication costs at the same institutional
> price. If
> publishers convert from institutional subscriptions to
> institutional Gold OA "memberships" today, they counter the
> opprobrium and lock in
> current subscription rates for a year (or whatever duration-
> deal is
> agreed with institutions), but they risk institutional
> memberships defecting after the duration elapses, with cost-
> recovery fragmented
> to an anarchic individual author/article level that may not be
> enough to make ends meet. (2) The second Prisoners' Dilemma
> facing publishers
> is that if they instead counter the opprobrium by converting
> to Green
> OA now (as 62% of them already have done), Green OA Self-
> Archiving Mandates may still force their conversion to Gold
> eventually, but
> because access-provision and archiving (and their costs) will by
> then be performed by the distributed network of mandated Green OA
> Institutional Repositories, the revenues (and expenses) of
> journal publishing then may be reduced from what they are now.
> (Perhaps this can all be integrated into just a single
> Prisoners' Dilemma --
> or perhaps it is not a Prisoners' Dilemma at all: just the
> optimal and inevitable outcome of the powerful new potential
> unleashed by
> the online medium for the communication of peer-reviewed
> scholarly and scientific research.)
> Although I no longer write much about it -- because there are
> strong reasons
> for according priority to Green OA Self-Archiving first, and I am
> ever fretful
> about doing anything that might instead help get us bogged down,
> yet again, in
> passive, pre-emptive speculation rather than practical action -- I
> too expect
> and welcome an eventual transition to Gold OA journal publishing,
> and have done
> so from the very beginning.
> The question, of course, is how we get there from here. My own
> expectation(based on much-rehearsed reasons and supporting
> evidence) is that it will be
> the eventual cancellation pressure from mandated Green OA that both
> forces and
> funds the transition to Gold OA, with the institutional
> cancellation savings
> paying the institutional Gold OA publication fees. But this
> scenario is
> predicated on two necessary prior conditions: (a) universal Green
> OA and (b)
> universal journal cancellations.
> This scenario for converting to Gold OA does not work if it is not
> universal;in particular, it cannot unfold "gradually" and
> piecemeal, either journal by
> journal or institution by institution. The three reasons for this
> are that (1)
> the true, fair costs of Gold OA publishing are not known at this
> time, (2) nor
> is the money available to pay for them, (3) nor (and this is
> perhaps the most
> important) would publishers be willing to downsize to those
> asymptotic reduced
> costs at this time of their own accord. Only (a) the cancellation
> pressure from
> universal Green OA, together with (b) the distributed
> infrastructure provided
> by universal Green OA -- allowing the functions (and costs) of
> access-provision
> and archiving to be offloaded from journal publishers and libraries
> onto the
> distributed network of Green OA Institutional Repositories -- will
> suffice to
> force both the downsizing and the transition, while at the same
> time freeing
> the funds to pay for it.
> (My profound ambivalence about again raising this speculative
> hypothesisconcerning the future of journal publishing at this time
> is that it risks
> delaying universal Green OA, by increasing publisher resistance to
> the Green OA
> mandates that are needed to bring OA about. Yet I keep having to
> resurrect the
> hypothesis now and again, as a counter-hypothesis, to answer equally
> speculative hypotheses about a direct transition from non-OA to
> Gold OA,
> neglecting the nonhypothetical, tried, tested, demonstrated and
> hence feasible,
> intermediate step of universal mandated Green OA, which is, apart
> from all
> else, an end in itself, being eo ipso 100% OA.)
> The trouble with the "flip-over" hypothesis (the aggregator's-eye
> view proposed
> by then-CEO of Ingenta, Mark Rowse in 2003 -- see Peter Suber's
> recent summary)
> is the same as the trouble with the "institutional membership"
> strategy of
> BioMed Central as well as the "hybrid Gold" option offered by a
> number of
> publishers today (the author/institution can choose either
> conventional, no-fee
> non-OA publishing or fee-based OA publishing, paid for per
> individual article
> published): The reality is that today most of the potential
> institutional funds
> for paying for Gold OA (whatever the price) are still committed to
> paying for
> institutional journal subscriptions. Although the idea of locking
> this all in
> at current subscription rates, using the very same money, and just
> "flipping"-- from institutions as users, buying-in journals (i.e.,
> annual collections of
> articles published by other institutions), to institutions as
> providers,paying-out for publishing their own individual articles --
> sounds appealing
> (especially to an aggregator, and as long as we forget for the
> moment that the
> current subscription prices and publishing costs are arbitrary and
> inflated,not reflecting the substantial economies to be made from
> distributing the
> access-provision and archiving load across the network of Green OA
> institutional repositories), there is a logical problem inherent in
> theminutiae of this flip that make it into something of an Escher
> drawing:
> An institution can commit in advance to paying for the buy-in of a
> certainyearly collection of journals for its users. But can it
> commit in advance to
> publishing, in any particular journal, a certain yearly number of
> articles by
> its authors? Are even the prior years' publication figures for that
> journalfrom that institution a valid predictor of what will be
> submitted by that
> institution to that journal the following year? And can a peer-
> reviewed journal
> commit in advance to accepting a certain yearly quota of papers
> from a given
> institution? (Is it not the referees who must decide, article by
> article,journal by journal?)
> Is it not more likely that the yearly institutional quota of
> articles published
> in any particular journal will vary substantially from year to
> year, and from
> institution to institution? And is it not the author who must
> decide, in each
> case, where he wishes to submit his article (and for the referees
> to decide
> whether they will accept it)?
> The equation does balance out, even at current prices, if the
> "flip" is
> universal. But as long as it is instead piecemeal and local to a
> journal or
> institution, it contains certain internal contradictions. While
> there is no
> universal OA, individual institutions will still need subscription
> access to
> the individual journals their users require. (This is equally true
> if the
> subscription access is transfered from the journal level to the
> individualarticle level, through "pay-per-view.") As long as an
> institution is paying for
> those annual institutional incoming content access-fees, that money
> is not
> available to pay for outgoing article publication-fees.
> If an individual journal agrees to make all of an institution's
> outgoingarticles OA in exchange for the current subscription fee,
> that's fine -- so far
> that's still just a bonus for renaming the "institutional
> subscription fee" an
> "institutional publication fee." The institution continues to get
> access to all
> the incoming articles in that journal, and, in addition, its own
> outgoingarticles in that journal become OA: What subscribing
> institution would not
> happily agree to receiving that bonus as well, in exchange for merely
> rebaptizing its current "subscription charges" as "publication
> charges"?
> But then (assuming this no-risk bonus is offered to all subscribing
> institutions rather than just one, and they all accept this
> renaming), the
> result would of course be that, next year, virtually all articles
> in that
> particular journal become Gold OA, for all institutions, whether or
> not they
> publish in or subscribe to that journal. So, the following year (or
> wheneverthe "membership" deal elapses), why bother to subscribe to
> that journal at all,
> especially for institutions that only publish the occasional
> article in it
> every few years?
> In evolutionary biology, this is what is called an "evolutionarily
> unstablestrategy". At the single-journal level, it is a recipe for
> invitingcancellations, soon. It does not scale, either across time,
> or across
> individual journals.
> The same offer may sound less risky at the publisher "big-deal"
> level, in which
> it is a joint subscription to a whole fleet of journals that is at
> issue,rather than a single journal. But, first, if that is viable
> at all, it is only
> viable for publishers with fleets of journals. And even there, it
> is still the
> authors (not their institutions) who decide, individually, each
> year, in what
> journal they should publish. Libraries can consult annual user
> statistics to
> decide what journals to subscribe to next year, but it is not clear
> that this
> also translates coherently into author publication statistics.
> Again, libraries
> may be happy to take the Gold OA bonus in exchange for just
> renaming their
> fleet-subscription fees "publication fees" today, but what happens in
> subsequent years, when it is author statistics that are consulted
> on which
> fleets of publishing fee "memberships" to "renew"?
> The system may stay stable for a while, if there is wholesale
> transition by
> most journals at a fleet level. In fact, initially, the ones most
> at risk for
> cancellation might then be the journals that do not offer the OA
> bonus in
> exchange for renaming their subscription fees publication fees; so
> this would
> in fact act to further universalize the transition to Gold (a good
> thing). But
> we should be clear on the fact that this exercise would have been a
> name-game,
> alongside a wholesale voluntary transition to Gold OA publishing on
> the part of
> publishers, with libraries ready to commit to pay for it at current
> rates, for
> now, as "membership fees."
> (For the subscribing institution, the fee-based "product" was
> incoming journals
> or fleets of journals; but for the publishing institution, the fee-
> based"service" is based on individual outgoing articles, each in
> its own author's
> chosen journal. A "flip" here would be rather like all countries
> agreeing to
> pay McDonalds, Burger King, etc. a flat annual rate out of taxes
> for all the
> burgers their tax-payers eat annually, based on their running
> national averages
> for the latest N years: Fine for the fixed big-mac-eating tax-
> payer, perhaps,
> but not for the ones who never touch the stuff, or prefer more
> wholesome fare
> for their money. And that's without taking into account that this
> would also
> lock in current prices in a way that is impervious to supply and
> demand; or the
> possibility that it could prove a lot cheaper to produce burgers
> some other
> way, some day. McDonalds' promise to "pass on" any future economies
> to the
> consumer would sound pretty hollow in this captive-market "membership"
> arrangement.)
> Nevertheless, I'd certainly be happy if this could all be agreed
> quickly and
> amicably, between publishers and institutional libraries: But can
> it? Or would
> publishers, in a kind of prisoner's dilemma, worry that
> institutions might then
> defect on some of their journals -- the ones they currently
> subscribe to and
> use, but in which their authors do not publish much? The prospect
> of such
> selective "cancellations" might well be enough to keep publishers
> from making
> the first move, preferring instead to stick with subscriptions and
> just offer
> hybrid OA (as many already do) as an option, at an extra
> institutional fee per
> article, with no risk to the publisher, rather than as an
> unconditional freebie
> in exchange for the current subscription fee (simply renamed),
> relying on faith
> that "memberships" will stay loyal in the long term even after
> everythingbecomes OA.
> I can't second-guess the outcome of this prisoner's dilemma concerning
> voluntary publisher conversion to OA, but I can already say
> confidently that
> the current option of hybrid OA won't scale, because there isn't
> the extra
> money to pay the extra OA fees while the potential money for paying
> them is
> still paying for subscriptions. So hybrid Gold OA fees will remain
> just an
> occasional extra bonus to publishers (and an extra expense to
> institutions).
> The one thing that just might encourage publishers to make the full
> transitionto Gold OA voluntarily, however, is the worry that if
> they wait to make the
> transition under the anarchic pressure of Green OA self-archiving and
> self-archiving mandates at the article level, then the transition
> may indeed
> come with a forced downsizing and loss of income, as I have
> hypothesized,whereas if they convert voluntarily now, at the
> journal level, then they might
> hope to "lock in" current prices for a while longer yet. This is in
> fact a
> second prisoner's dilemma, and I certainly can't second-guess its
> outcomeeither, except to say that if it does drive the transition,
> then it will have
> been the prospect of Green OA mandates that induced the transition,
> rather than
> the actual practice of Green OA mandates -- but the cause will
> still have been
> the Green OA mandates!
> What the research community must not do in the meanwhile, however,
> is to just
> sit passively, waiting to see whether or not the publisher and library
> community resolve their Prisoners' Dilemma(s) in favour of Gold OA.
> Rather than
> "waiting for Gold," I hope we will continue pushing full-speed for
> 100% Green
> OA by mandating it. That way we win, regardless of how the
> Prisoners' Dilemmas
> are resolved. The Gold OA dilemma, after all, is between the
> publishingcommunity and the library community, whereas Green OA is
> entirely between the
> research community and itself.
> Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged
> Transition. In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of Periodicals from the
> Perspective of the Electronic Age. L'Harmattan. 99-106.
> </speculation>
Received on Thu Oct 11 2007 - 12:22:39 BST

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