JISC Collections event – hybrid pricing

Last week (25th May 2011),  JISC Collections held an interesting workshop in London for various stakeholders in the area of Hybrid OA journals – publishers, funders, librarians – which looked at some of the issues in their pricing, sustainability and growth.

One of the observations from publishers was that there is now a general acceptance in the publishing community that Open Access was here to stay and that, as publishers, they had to accommodate OA approaches within their business models. This is now being more widely reflected and does represent a change over the last few years and is a positive move.

One major question was whether Hybrid OA journals – subscription journals that charge additional fees for OA articles – were a transition model or an option which would remain as a part of a future publishing landscape and used against a larger subscription base.

Discussion touched on, but did not explore, the idea of what transition actually means. Transition to what? One view, perhaps the most common in the community, is that hybrid journals are a transition between Journal X being subscription-only, moving to funding from a mix of OA fees and subscriptions, before emerging as a completely OA journal. This was the model that was discussed when hybrid publication was first mooted and introduced.

Since then, developments in other models of research communication have introduced another transition possibility. This second and more radical view is that these could be transition models in allowing Journal X to remain operational as a half-way house in the medium term – but that the future state might be an OA future without Journal X at all. Models such at PLoS One and Scientific Reports, both discussed, might show the way towards a different style of dissemination.

Another significant discussion area was pricing. Some publishers at the event made a case as to why a ten percent rise in OA articles and fees would not mean a ten percent reduction in subscription costs for a hybrid journal. This lack of transparent linkage between rise in additional OA fees and reduction in subscription costs has led to suspicions of “double-dipping“. Although one publisher was of the opinion that the idea of “double-dipping” was promoted by and limited to librarians, experience at the CRC shows this is a fairly common unprompted reaction from academic authors to the idea of hybrid publication. This remains as a credibility issue for publishers that they realise that they have to address, probably by some form of transparent linkage between pre-payment and post-payment levels.

There seems to be an area of difficulty for publishers in scoping hybrid models and balancing percentage increases in fees against decreases in subscription rates. For one thing, it was said that the articles in a journal may only be a part of the costs: that editorial pieces might represent a substantial part of the cost. It would be interesting to see if readers’ perceptions of value in different forms of content reflected the costs of that content:  would editorial content sell as a separate piece for example, allowing closer correspondence between OA fee rise and subscription fall? Of course, it is possible that academic concerns about pricing for a journal already reflect just this issue.

Another issue is that every factor is fluid and linked. The number of articles submitted may change; the number sent for peer review may change; the number published per year or per issue may change; the number of open access fee-paid articles may change; the number of subscriptions may change. And each factor probably depends on the others and overall also relate to variables in the subscription costs and OA article charges.

Of course, this is what any commercial business is about, balancing supply, demand, production costs, price points etc. However, this is also taking place against a changing landscape. Publishers admit that, as a business, they are balancing fee and subscription levels with the view of maximising sustainable profit and they have to measure their models against their existing margin. But what if the world has changed, through technology offering possible alternatives and the financial crisis cutting available revenues, so that scholarly communication cannot or will not support past profit levels? Where is the fixed ground against which publishers can measure new models?

Is it up to customers to offer some fixed level and underwrite commercial experiment, or for the commercial organisation to gamble and create an offering which it hopes will be both sustainable and acceptable to its customers? Normal customer/ business relations may not apply when customers have no wish to risk the sustainability of a journal.

From clarity from publishers to clarity from other stakeholders. The final point from the day that I will touch on is the repeated concern throughout discussions that there is a difficulty for authors in paying open access and hybrid charges. In spite of funding agencies making money available, there is still confusion for authors as to whether the money exists, let alone how to access it. This is an area that the RCS has highlighted before, bringing together research support offices, libraries, repository and open access advisers, publishers and funders. Our survey of chemists and economists, full results forthcoming, shows that one of authors’ primary blocks to use of open access is the expense of publishing and one of the identified chief drivers that would support change would be institutional support for payments.

Funders are in favour and can supply the money; institutions are in favour and will facilitate if there is a clear process; open access advocates exist in institutions to advise; authors would value the support and information. This is an issue which *can* be solved, but we do need joint action to bring clarity for everyone involved: without this, growth in open access publication in general, let alone hybrid journals, could stall for lack of a clear, usable process.

Bill

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Ministerial announcement on Open Access development

In a further display of the high-level attention that open access now routinely attracts, David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, announced on 24th May a joint commitment from RCUK and HEFCE to ensure they make general open access a reality.

RCUK and HEFCE have released a statement setting out the principles of their future joint work:

‘Research Councils UK and HEFCE have a shared commitment to maintaining and improving the capacity of the UK research base to undertake research activity of world leading quality, and to ensuring that significant outputs from this activity are made available as widely as possible both within and beyond the research community. Open access to published research supports this commitment and, if widely implemented, can benefit the research base, higher education, and the UK economy and society more broadly. To achieve this, open access needs to be implemented with clear licensing agreements, sustainable business models, and working with the grain of established research cultures and practices.

‘HEFCE and the Research Councils will work together and with other interested bodies to support a managed transition to open access over the medium term, and welcome the work of the UK Open Access Implementation Group in support of this aim.’

Bill

Yale plans opens access to millions of images

"Turn your Copper into Silver now before your Eyes"

"Turn your Copper into Silver now before your Eyes"

In an exciting addition to open collections in the humanities, Yale has opened access to over 250,000 images from its collection and plans of opening millions more.

From the release:

“The goal of the new policy is to make high quality digital images of Yale’s vast cultural heritage collections in the public domain openly and freely available.”

“Scholars, artists and other individuals around the world will enjoy free access to online images of millions of objects housed in Yale’s museums, archives, and libraries thanks to a new “Open Access” policy that the University announced today. Yale is the first Ivy League university to make its collections accessible in this fashion, and already more than 250,000 images are available through a newly developed collective catalog.”

This seems to be based on access to digital representations of work  that are already in the public domain, rather than automatic open access to newly created materials from Yale, but given the subject matter, this is still an enormous amount of material.

This is a significant move because of the sheer scale of Yale’s collections and the comprehensive nature of the policy. This clearly positions the institution in a position which sees open access as the natural approach to its collections, rather than seeing open access as applying to specific collections which are somehow different.

Having said this, looking through the service, the re-use rights for material are not actually specified beyond being “open access”, and:

“The ability to publish images directly from our online catalogues without charge will encourage the increased use of our collections for scholarship, a benefit to which we look forward with the greatest excitement.”

. . . so I trust I am permitted to use the picture from the collection as the header to this post: it illustrates an eighteenth century London street cry:  “Turn your Copper into Silver now before your Eyes” . . .

Bill

I can see your repository from up here . . .

Satellite Image

The UK is chairing the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters for six months, with responsibility for strategy and policy. The Charter coordinates the use of  satellite images that can be used during natural emergencies and the UK’s chairmanship has just made an interesting contribution to the wider open agenda. From the Press Release:

“The UK has gained agreement on providing universal access to satellite images during natural emergencies, at its first meeting after taking over as Chair of the International Charter: Space and Major Disasters. This will enable any country to draw upon the data provided by the Charter, an agreement that coordinates space agencies worldwide in gathering vital satellite images of disaster-stricken regions – providing them to civil protection authorities to inform their response efforts and save lives.”

This is a good example of the way that the open agenda is spreading across public access to different data sources. It is easy to get the impression from some critics in the publishing industry that open access to research outputs and research data is a movement which is simply upsetting to, and restricted to, academic publishing. As academics and external observers know, it is far broader than this. Academic research communication systems have to react to this broader movement, as much as see it as an internal development.

Having said all that, the image accompanying this posting had to be from the Flickr collection of  NASA Goddard, not Spacegovuk’s photostream on Flickr, where all of the images are copyright and all rights reserved! 🙂

Bill

EPSRC support for Open Data

EPSRC has implemented a policy framework from 1st May that directly speaks to the development of Open Data systems. The announcement highlights two principles:

” . . . firstly, that publicly funded research data should generally be made as widely and freely available as possible in a timely and responsible manner; and, secondly, that the research process should not be damaged by the inappropriate release of such data.”

There are seven key principles in all, which includes a phrase relating to impact:

“Sharing research data is an important contributor to the impact of publicly funded research . . . ”

Organisations have as much a part to play as the individual researcher. The EPSRC expects that:

“Research organisations will ensure that appropriately structured metadata describing the research data they hold is published (normally within 12 months of the data being generated) and made freely accessible on the internet; in each case the metadata must be sufficient to allow others to understand what research data exists, why, when and how it was generated, and how to access it. . .  ”

Other expectations address an organisation’s responsibilities for digital curation, security and resourcing.

This goes to support the development of the more general Open Scholarship agenda and is another reminder that Open Access is about far more than a digital free-to-use library of off-prints.  Will the other research councils follow suit?

Bill

Mendeley in WIRED

There is an interesting article on the innovative and rapidly growing Mendeley system in the latest (June 2011) issue of WIRED, which gives some background to the hopes and vision of the senior Mendeley team.

Principle investor Stefan Glaenzer: “We are aiming to make Mendeley the biggest knowledge database on the planet [. . . ] In 19 months we have collected over 67 million articles. It took Thomson Reuters 49 years to come up with 40 million.”

Victor Henning, cofounder and CEO, is noted as explaining that the productivity/collaborative component of Mendeley will be monetised, the unique data aggregation will be monetised, Mendeley will be turned into a content distribution platform and targeted advertising will be introduced for Mendeley’s users.

They seem to have established the user base to support this: a claimed 800,000 users uploading seven million research articles (presumably full-text in comparison with the quoted 67 million articles, presumably of bibliographic details).

What is less clear is what monetization routes may be built, or indeed recognised, for the producers and copyright holders of the content which to be distributed, or whether the service itself is repayment enough for the value-added exploitation. Previously, academic authors, and by extension their employing institutions and the funders of their research, have been content to allow commercial exploitation of research articles by publishers. This realisation has helped to bolster arguments for open access, so will future commercial exploitation systems find it as easy to be accepted?

One of the key issues of course, is that traditional publishers have sought to exclusively exploit the material – the basis of subscription-model journals – while Mendeley and others are only using what has been given to them on a freely-reusable basis. This means that they are free to re-use it as they will, make money or not – and if anyone else comes up with a compelling service, then they can get hold of the information too and good luck to them.

Interestingly, as we know from the traditional model, once research dissemination habits have been formed, they tend to become embedded and resistant to change. In this situation, the first to establish a widely used and valued system built on top of freely reusable articles might establish a firm position. Might this happen with Mendeley? Could it be that Mendeley has been in the right place at the right time – as well as giving a service that academics truly value – to become a future dominant underpinning service for research dissemination and re-use?

Bill

Call for retention of authors’ rights

The high-ranking JISC Open Access Implementation Group has released a strongly worded statement in support of authors’ retention of publishing rights.

This seems to relate to recent moves by some publishers to try to limit institutional archiving of materials by asking for separate agreements to be reached between the publisher and individual institutions.

Elsevier, in particular, has begun to try to restrict its previously permissive policy allowing authors to archive their own final versions, by saying that if an institution has a systematic deposit mandate for its staff, that authors should no longer be allowed to archive their work. See the 1,800 words of their policy guidance which they expect authors  to understand and comply with.

This is being done on the basis that Elsevier will still allow authors to archive their work if it is done on a voluntary basis: but if there is a mandate, they will seek to prohibit it.  So authors can if they want to:  but not if they are told to!

Such efforts seem to try to amend policies that have been put in place by funders or institutions “upstream” of the author’s final production of an article for publication and make adherence to these policies a matter of post-hoc negotiation.

In the case of Elsevier, the publisher seems to be seeking to make independent agreements with individual institutions, rather than more open collective agreements: a point raised in the OAIG statement.  Rumours of negotiations with individual institutions so far seem to suggest that Elsevier is seeking to track usage of authors’ articles from institutional repositories and asking institutions, as a condition of allowing archiving, to give them reports of detailed monitoring and use of institutions’ own institutional systems.

Will institutions agree to third-party monitoring of their own internal systems, if that is really what is truly being requested? It will be interesting to see what finally results from any negotiations if any are actually concluded.  The OAIG statement calls for institutions:

” . . . not to enter into one-to-one negotiations with publishers on self-archiving rights for their staff, and instead to rely on publicly declared rights as shown on the Sherpa-RoMEO website.”

Bill