Re: On Parasitism and Double-Dipping

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 10 May 2008 02:23:08 +0100

I don't think the position of Ian Russell (Chief Executive, ALPSP) is
quite as clear to everyone as Ian himself thinks it is, but I do think
we are getting there, and the number of words needed is now quite small:

Dear Ian,

You are looking for an advance guarantee from universities that mandate OA
self-archiving that they will pay publishing costs, should subscriptions
ever collapse. By way of support, you cite the Wellcome Trust, which
makes such a guarantee, now.

Well such a guarantee certainly is not forthcoming from universities, nor
should it be. Wellcome, as a research funder, has mandated self-archiving
*and* offered to pay Gold OA publishing costs out of some of its
research funds, under current conditions, at current asking prices
(when subscriptions certainly have not collapsed).

Universities are not research funders, they are research fundees, and
research providers. They also subscribe to journals. As such, they are
currently paying for publication costs via subscriptions, which have not

When universities mandate self-archiving, they are mandating the
self-archiving of their *own* (refereed) research output. When they pay
subscriptions, they are buying in the refereed research output of
*other* universities.

If and when subscriptions ever do collapse, what that means is that
universities will no longer be paying subscriptions, and those annual
windfall savings will be available to them to pay the publication costs
of their own refereed research output. And universities will of course
use a portion of those windfall savings to pay the publication costs of
their own research output.

(I say "only a portion of those windfall savings,: because "publication"
will then [i.e., "post-collapse"] mean only peer review implementation
costs, not all of the other products and services that subscriptions
are paying for today: producing and distributing the print edition,
producing and licensing the only PDF edition, fulfillment, archiving,
advertising. The post-collapse costs of publication -- peer review alone
-- will be much lower.)

In other words, there is nothing for universities to guarantee to pay
today, when subscriptions are still sustainable, and still covering all
publishing costs, including peer review. And they certainly don't yet
have any loose change from cancellations to pay the current asking price
for Gold OA.

So let's wait for subscription collapse -- if and when it comes --
to free up the universities' funds to pay the cost of having their own
research output peer-reviewed and certified as such by the journal's
title and track record. Until then, those costs are covered by existing
subscriptions, and the only thing missing is not fee-guarantees but
open access -- which is exactly what university self-archiving mandates
(like Ian Russell's alma mater's, Southampton's are intended to ensure
(but Harvard's mandate is not one to sneeze at either!)

[To repeat: It is open access to current refereed research that needs to
be ensured, not publishers' revenues, on the current cost-recovery model
and current asking prices. Publishing is a service to research, not vice

Just a few quote comments:

On Fri, 9 May 2008, Ian Russell, Chief Executive, ALPSP, wrote:

> If we can agree that wide-spread archiving will mean that
> established subscription income will decline, then surely funds have
> to be unambiguously made available for the only other show in town:
> author-side payment.

Made available now, when they are still tied up in paying subscriptions?
If you are not talking about double-dipping, Ian, then you need to explain
where this double-funding is meant to come from, and why, before the
decline? (For the decline itself will be what releases the requisite
funds, if and when it happens.)

> We can't have it both ways and say that subscriptions will still pay
> the bills AND that cancellations (and hence cost savings) are inevitable.

But we *can* say that if and when subscriptions are cancelled,
universities will have the windfall savings out of which to pay the bills
in the new way. (And the cost-cutting and downsizing are just as likely
as the cancellations; indeed, they are the flip side of the very same

If you don't mind my saying so, Ian, you do seem to be rather more
inclined to herald only the bleak side of this prophecy (subscription
collapse) than its bright side (windfall savings out of which to pay
for peer review). And you seem all too ready to see daily research usage
and impact continue to be lost as a consequence, unless universities
somehow ante up extra funds today (while you continue to disavow
advocating double-dipping)...

> As regards "double-dipping", it is important not to conflate the
> issues for an individual journal or research institution with those of
> the system as a whole.

Agreed. But am I doing the conflating, Ian, or are you? An individual
university's self-archiving mandate (like Southampton's) has nothing to
do with either an individual journal (whether subscription or Gold OA)
or the system as a whole.

If *all* universities mandate self-archiving (as I hope they all soon
will) then that may or may not eventually make subscriptions
unsustainable. If it does, it will, eo ipso, release the funds to pay
for publication on the Gold OA model -- but not before.

What we will have before, however, is OA (which is already long, long

> I don't believe that the PLoS journals could be accused of
> double-dipping,

Certainly not, but what does that have to do with university self-archiving

> nor journals that reduce their subscription
> prices in line with the number of articles published under an
> author-side payment system.

Ian, I regret that not only would I never recommend buying-in to such a
price lock-in system, but I do not for a moment believe that any journal
is sincerely putting it into practice. It is just a notion. McDonald's
could make the same offer, that if their clients' employers agree to buy
into Gold Open Access burgers, free for all, they'll reduce the selling
price to their clients proportionately.

No, if there's going to be a conversion from institutional subscriptions
to institutional publication fees, let those fees be shaped by
cost-cutting pressure from the PostGutenberg Green OA economies of having
institutions mandate self-archiving, and provide institutional
repositories to take over the load and cost of distribution,
access-provision and archiving, rather than continuing to bundle them
into the current product and its current asking price.

> Why should PLoS lose out because
> Southampton University (for example) refuses to cover author-side
> payment fees?

With respect, I cannot see at all how PLoS is losing out because
Southampton is mandating self-archiving for its own research output!
Those researchers who can afford to publish in PLoS today, and wish to,
can and will.

(Moreover, as far as I know, PLoS is a supporter of self-archiving
mandates -- and not only those by funders who offer to pay for today's
Gold OA publication fees. And after the "Fall," PLoS too will be able to
downsize to the reduced cost of just providing the service of peer
review and no more.)

> I am asking institutions not to mandate deposit of research
> that has been peer-reviewed by a journal, yes, because it is
> parasitic on the journals system (irrespective of business model)
> and I do not see how they can claim the right to do so.

And I say it will only be parasitic if and when subscriptions collapse,
should institutions then still refuse to pay for publication. (But then
of course the parasite will perish, because it will not be able to
publish, unless it is ready to use some of its windfall subscription
savings to pay for it.)

Until then, institutions have every right to mandate providing open
access to their own peer-reviewed research output, whose peer-review
costs are all being fully covered by subscriptions today. Nothing in
the least bit parasitic about that.

> As I have said repeatedly in this exchange so long as the system
> is paying for the certification elements of scholarly exchange I have
> no problem.

Well, the system is indeed still paying for it, Ian, so I have no choice
but to conclude that you have no problem!

Best wishes,

Received on Sat May 10 2008 - 02:30:05 BST

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