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.



Using institutional repositories to raise compliance

JISC’s work over the last few years in encouraging the growth of institutional repositories means that the UK now has a virtually unparalleled and impressive infrastructure of institutional repositories that virtually covers the research-base of UK higher education.

Of course the issue which faces us all in this area is one of content.  The repositories are there, but the content — at least measured against the potential content — isn’t.

It is therefore an interesting development with Funder policies requiring deposit, that some of these require deposit in Funder-repositories. While I quite appreciate the political and organisational benefits from having a Funder-based repository, the experience of Funder mandates so far is of low compliance. The Wellcome Trust report a compliance rate of around 36%.  Some of this lack of compliance is down to individual authors, some down to publishers seemingly not fulfilling their contract to deposit in return for their open access publication fee.

The situation that we seem to have, therefore, is of an already existing network of repositories with institutional staff assigned to deal with deposit, but without any overriding incentive for authors to use them: and the development of a complementary network of Funder-repositories, where there is an incentive for authors to deposit, but with no on-site assistance and low compliance.

As I have suggested elsewhere, I think the best solution is to engage with institutional repository managers, who would be able to provide authors on the spot assistance with depositing material, give person-to-person advice on the suitability of various materials to deposit, and, significantly, to be able to monitor and facilitate compliance.

Of course, the question is then what do the institutional repository managers — and the institutions — get out of it?  This is where the collaborative nature of repository holdings comes in.  If funders ask their authors to deposit into the institutional repository, then it is a simple matter for the Funder-based repository to harvest material (metadata and full-text) from the institutional repository

The advantage of institutional deposit lies in the support and compliance checking that can come from institutional staff, and of course, the author having a “one-stop shop” for deposit.  If all funders harvest material from institutional repositories, then the author only has one interface to learn.  Where an institution offers mediated deposit, then they do not even have to do this — but can let repository staff deposit on their behalf.

Of course, this then brings benefits for the institution, in that it collects a record of the intellectual output of its own staff in its own repository, which can then be used to drive other services within the institution — the generation of publication records, facilitating collection of material for REF, generating staff-web pages, generating research group web pages, etc.

The fact that the material is open means that harvesting into a Funder-repository is straightforward.  Effectively, it means that the institutional repository becomes a personally supported interface or ingest mechanism for the Funder-repository.

There is the issue that some Funder-repositories may require different metadata fields, or different metadata standards than a typical institutional repository.  Again, a Funder-repository might require a particular format of deposit — such as XML.

These are certainly issues to consider, but balanced against the support and compliance which could come from such a system, surely an enhanced institutional deposit mechanism to match funders’ requirements is not beyond joint development?

One possible way forward would be for principal UK funders to agree a joint deposit-requirement and suggest this to be adopted by institutional repositories, in exchange for mandates requiring deposit within institutional repositories.


Welcome Trust and research mandates

The Wellcome Trust held an event yesterday (24th Sept 2009) on Open Access and Funder Mandates at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre on Euston Road. This drew together representatives of research funders, institutional research support offices and institutional repository managers to discuss compliance with funder mandates. This is a very useful mix of roles: it is this mix of people that will make funders’ mandates work in practice.

Robert Kiley, Head of Digital Services at the Wellcome Library, characterised the main issue when he reported that compliance with OA grant conditions for Wellcome Trust authors was only running at 36% or thereabouts (although the percentage was climbing). How could compliance with all funders’ mandates be raised, to achieve the OA benefits they are meant to bring?

One significant difficulty was identified as a lack of clarity for academics in what, quite, to do in order to comply: another was the ready identification, by authors and by institutions, of funding for OA publication charges where these are necessary.

After presentations and discussions, the joint response was for developing support structures and information; improving workflows and clarity; and for increasing collaboration between funders, research support offices, and other institutional staff.  All these efforts are vital if we are to move forward.

Teasing out some of the ideas and proposals:

*  authors need to be alerted to the need for compliance and its importance as a part of their funding requirements. This is a task for research support offices as much as libraries and their other open access work.

*  institutional mechanisms to check compliance have to be put in place.  Someone needs to know what outputs have come from a grant and check that publishers have filled their contracts by making them openly accessible, or that the author has complied in some other way. Who is that someone and where do they get their information?  There is an explicit responsibility on institutions from the Wellcome Trust to check compliance: OA support staff (typically repository managers), research support offices and funders can and should work together on solving this.

*  funding for OA charges is in place within grants from most funders (and all of the UKPMC funders except Cancer Research UK). Identifying or reserving this funding is a task for institutions – and then support has to be given to make sure that authors are given clear and step-by-step instructions for using this funding. Establishing a central OA fund is one option to assist this.

*  authors need a single smooth, supported workflow to allow them to comply with mandates, with relevant information on their responsibilities, the options they have and the funding available to them.

The presentations from this event are available from the UKPMC Blogspot

I was invited to speak on the University of Nottingham’s experience in creating a central fund for OA publication charges and on using RoMEO and JULIET to support processes. Chad Pillinger spoke on administering such a fund at Cambridge University – a clear workflow; Robert Kiley spoke on funder policies, including a very concise summary of the common features of UKPMC funders’ policies; Alison Henning, Ernie Ong and Paul Davey previewed developments to UKPMC and Nicola Perrin led the discussion groups which developed our thinking during the day.