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.



Successful Event: Research Management – Smoothing the Way

It proved to be a successful event this past Thursday as Research Managers and Senior Library and Information Services Managers came together for a full day of presentations and discussion. The conference, organised by the CRC (specifically us working on the JISC funded RCS project), ARMA, RLUK and SCONUL focused on the growing need for integration between research support and information services.

The morning started off with introductions from Bill Hubbard (CRC), David Prosser (RLUK) and Ian Carter (ARMA), who set the appropriate tone for the day.

Susan Ashworth (University of Glasgow), Jill Golightly (Newcastle University), and Jackie Proven (University of St Andrews) then each discussed the current research managment situations at their universities.  From all three it seemed clear that these systems need to:

  • Provide only one place for researchers to input (and include integration with other systems),
  • Have the ability to mass import and check data,
  • Include ongoing advocacy to research staff,
  • Meet the needs of the different players / stakeholders (have it work for REF, and OA, etc.)

Stephen Pinfield (University of Nottingham) then gave us an introduction to the work being done at Nottingham with their OA Publishing Fund, put in place to meet the need set by Funders’ mandates. Stephen went on to describe the cost of OA publishing (Gold road) at the University of Nottingham, pointing to the Houghton Report – and commenting that it is probably the most important report for those working in this area. Stephen also described how OA publishing is generally cheaper for the University of Nottingham using this modelling.

Robert Kiley (Wellcome Trust) and Gerry Lawson (NERC) each gave us a funders’ perspective. They described some of things funders need, one thing in particular that was discussed was the need for proper grant acknowledgement and attribution, with grant number, in a standard form.

We finished off the day with small groups and then a panel discussion. There were some interesting ideas that arose, and will hopefully be taken forward:

  • Using the REF as a potential driver for OA content
  • Extending the grant period so that funds can be used for OA publishing
  • Standardisation of terms within these systems – including standardisation of grant acknowledgement
  • Further sharing of good practice

Many key players were present and it was good to get them all in the same room and let them hear each other’s thoughts and concerns.

The full programme and some of the slides are available here.

We may try and repeat the event or do something similar in the future so please do let us know if you are interested.

Season’s Greetings

Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas and a Happy New Year!

See you in January.

Image credit: Brian Yap

Complexity of Stakeholders

Open Access and other developments in research and education have often been inaccurately characterised as taking place between two opposed “sides” – between publishers and institutions or their libraries.

Quite apart from the combatative nature of such a characterisation, such a picture is not helpful because of the complexity of even these two stakeholder groups (let alone the funders, and the researchers as the key players in research).

For instance, institutions often have University Presses as publishing businesses within their organisations.  There are purely Open Access publishers who have a vested interest in the success of the OA model. There are traditional publishers like Springer who claim to be happy to provide any particular access model wanted by the user community, as Wim van der Stelt explained at a recent RSP event.

It now looks like things might get even more complex, with the news that the publishers Pearson are proposing to apply for independent degree-awarding powers .

As a company selling educational resources, it would be interesting to see how certain issues may be resolved.  For example, would they recommend OA educational resources as an alternative to their own products for cash-strapped students or for staff that want to use good material from elsewhere? If such OA resources – or research-ouput resources – were CC licenced for non-commercial use, would it matter if the institution was being run as a commercial enterprise?


Altruism is not Enough

Another interesting evening event organised by RIN last week in the series Research Information in Transition looked at the topics of data handling and data sharing.

I was not surprised to see that many of the issues we’ve identified as having a bearing on the take-up of Green/Gold open access also raised their heads in connection with data.

Andrew Young from Liverpool John Moores University talked about the challenges of persuading researchers to put their data into an institutional repository even when it was a conditionof their grant. Policies, systems and guidance may all be in place but further incentives seem to be needed.

Carole Goble from Manchester University described designing systems to encourage the sharing of data between scientists working on the SysMO (Systems Biology of Microorganisms) project. Some were reluctant to share – among other reasons, becasue data sharing isn’t recognised by the academic reward system.

Kevin Ashley, Director of the Digital Curation Centre, addressed similar issues, stressing the need for interaction between policies and behaviours: policies on their own don’t have enough effect.

Our discussions with researchers about open access are leading us to reach the same conclusion. So the challenge for policy makers and funders is to enmesh the open sharing of research results with the attainment of academic prestige, promotion and kudos. Altruism is not enough.

Read more about managing and sharing data in the Scholarly Communications Action Handbook.

RSP: Doing it Differently

Yesterday I helped out at the RSP event, “Doing it Differently”, held at the Sheffield Cathedral. It was a very interesting, full day. The series of talks showcased alternative approaches to repositories, open access and scholarly communications, with the audience mostly repository managers and others working directly with repositories.

So many different and exciting things happening in this area!

Pat Lockley, from the University of Nottingham gave a lively presentation on Xpert, which is a “distributed repository of e-learning resources”.  Stephanie Meece discussed the difficulties of managing repository deposits that are non-text based, and demonstrated the amazing work done at the University Arts London. Their repository, UAL Research Online, does a fantastic job of storing and showcasing non-text based research material. Jason Hoyt from Mendeley described some of their new developments as well as their involvement with the JISC funded Direct User Repository Access (DURA) project. Sally Handford, also from the University of Nottingham, described her involvement in iTunes U at Nottingham. These projects are definitely worth checking out. I could go on, but I won’t.

You can find the programme for the day, as well as slides and handouts to these talks and others here.

Image credit: Rob Ingram, RSP

Open Access Week 2010

OA week web banner

It’s International Open Access Week! And there are a tonne of great things going on.

JISC has released their Open Access Week microsite for senior managers and researchers. New material will be released each day on this site. The topics for each day are:

  • Monday: Putting Open Access Policies in Place
  • Tuesday: Making an Open Access Policy Effective
  • Wednesday: Funding Open Access Developments
  • Thursday: Measuring Open access Benefits
  • Friday: Copyright and Licensing

Check out the SPARC Open Access Week site for more on what’s happening, and see the RSP blog for a list of what UK repository managers are doing to promote open access this week.

Research communication: where do we go from here?

A couple of us from the CRC went yesterday to the first meeting in a series called “Research Information in Transition” put on by RIN at the Royal College of Physicians. This one was on “The future of scholarly publishing – where do we go from here?” There were some interesting presentations – especially one by Cameron Neylon who invited us to think about how we’d design a scholarly communication system from scratch if we were starting now. The chances are it wouldn’t look like the one we have … For instance, could we change the basis of academic prestige so success is based on the citation and reuse of research rather than the number of publications in high impact journals?

As you’d expect, there was a lot of talk about open access. But mostly about Gold OA. For the small research funders who haven’t got Wellcome’s budget, wouldn’t Green be the answer?

Also: as someone pointed out at the end, we’d been talking exclusively about STEM research. “Where do we go from here” with the communication of Arts, Humanities and Social Science research?

The next event in the series (November 18) is on managing and sharing research data. Should be worth going to.


Welcome to the RCS blog. Posts soon to come.

Open Access Week and an unstoppable change

This week has seen “Open Access Week” with large numbers of events, announcements and similar awareness-raising activities. It’s an excellent indication of the current environment that we can talk about having an open access week — an international open access week — quite seriously and have a sufficiently large number of events and engagement to back up the rhetoric.

JISC has been active in this, being a joint organiser of Open Access Week itself, as well as many of its projects either putting on events, releasing updates, upgrades or announcements.  JISC has released a booklet, which makes interesting reading  which reviews its achievements in its continued and long-term support of open access.  The whole field has now been going for long enough for developments to be tracked over time.  A summary of JISC’s achievements is available online, including the fact that it has been active in this area for over 10 years.

There have been several number-based announcements this week that on reflection are actually quite significant indicators of scale and pace — the University of Salford announcing the world’s 100th open-access mandate; OpenDOAR putting in its 1,500th repository; the fifth birthday of PLoS Medicine — all signs of the scale of open access and further evidence that this is very probably now truly an unstoppable movement.

If this is unstoppable,  then whatever the timescale the alarm bell has to ring and businesses (not just publishers — including universities) have to accept that change is inevitable and plan quite carefully to deal with it.

For some years it has been apparent that significant change to traditional publication is coming in some form.  Here I am including e-journals as pretty much a translation of traditional publishing into another medium, rather than a true change in product, process or business model: the true change has yet to roll-out.  Open access is just one thread in a changing environment of business and investment practices, public and academic expectations, and the requirements from other technical and social developments in scholarly communication.

As in any period of rapid evolution, some smaller, fragile players may disappear, often because it is in the nature of small fragile players to be unstable.  Some more major players will survive because their sheer size means that they can take an inefficiency hit during transition, while others will diminish because their size has bought inertia. But whatever the size — businesses will have to respond.  In dealing with this larger change, at least there are business models available to help deal with that part of developments which is open access.

Four years ago the Wellcome Trust, after producing a report on open access publishing, introduced the idea that they would pay for open access publication as an additional charge, to give publishers additional income on top of normal subscriptions.  This was not simply a reward for offering an open access option, but a deliberate offer to help fund a transition period while publishers experimented with and adopted true open access business models.

So far, evidence for any reduction in serials’ subscription costs as a result of additional open access income has been thin on the ground, with the OUP being a notable exception. Publishers say, with some justification, that it can be difficult to balance a true pro-rata reduction in subscriptions to open access income: however, there is an existing and growing expectation on behalf of subscribers that change now has to be seen.

It is for this reason that I think that one of the most significant developments this week has been a press release from the Wellcome Trust

In this, Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, comments:

“We would like to see a commitment from publishers to show the uptake of their open access option and to adjust their subscription rates to reflect increases in income from open access fees,” says Sir Mark. “Some publishers, for example Oxford University Press, have already done this and we would like to see all publishers behave the same way.”

The fact that this view is now being openly stated – by those that are providing the funding –  puts further pressure on the pace of change.

In terms of numbers, some truly significant numbers are those from the Houghton Report, showing a financial benefit to the UK overall simply from greater accessibility to research in the government-funded sector of an additional £172 million per year.  For higher education institutions, a shift from subscription to open access publishing has been identified as giving a potential of £80 million of savings.  This report was produced in January 2009 and with an openness to match its subject, the model itself made available for use by anybody who wanted to use different financial assumptions.  To my knowledge, there has still not been a serious challenge to these original estimates.

In the coming squeeze on public finances, which will be deep and last long, it is inevitable that numbers like this will attract attention.  It is likely that the change coming down the track will now come very fast indeed and will require businesses on both sides of the equation to be inventive and agile in their response. The Wellcome Trust statement is one that cannot be ignored.