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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Gold mining


Gold pan saloon

I’ve just had a look (be it brief) at the recent report “Heading for the open road: Costs and benefits of transitions in scholarly communications“, commissioned by the Research Information Network (RIN), JISC, Research Libraries UK (RLUK), the Publishing Research Consortium (PRC) and the Wellcome Trust, with contributions from many other (including publishers).

Although I was very much looking forward to this report, I was a bit disappointed that “Gold” ended up being the model that came out on top. I haven’t read the full report, so I can’t actually attempt to poke holes in the analysis, and I will have to take a look at the numbers they present in more detail when I have time. I was a bit concerned about comments that were made about not undermining the publication system – isn’t this to some extent part of the whole point of open access? I thought we were unhappy with the current publication system? Maybe not?

It is fantastic that OA is gaining momentum, and publishers are realising the role they can play (and money they can make), but following the “gold” route will likely leave the scholarly communication system in the hands of for-profit publishers. Isn’t that why the system is currebtly not working for us, and libraries are struggling to pay the bills? Do we really want publishers to have all the power?

I still would like to see some additional modelling on possible outcomes, say :

  • If some percentage (20%, 50%?) of libraries cancelled all subscriptions next week – what  would happen to publishers, how would they change?
  • If 50% of article were put into repositories next week – how would the scholarly communication system change?
  • What would collapse of the system actually mean?

Perhaps these ideas (and the modelling) are unrealistic, but it would at least be interesting to actually model some potential outcomes. I am fairly confident we would find a way to continue distributing and sharing research outputs, even if publishers disappeared (and I am sure they wouldn’t, they would just have to figure out a new business model).

Image credit: Close to Spectacular

More on Money…OA Publishing Fees and Value

I was talking to a friend this weekend (all his recent publications are open access), and he was saying that he still gets emails from people requesting PDFs of his work. So his question was – is it worth it, economically, for him (or his funder, or institution, or whoever is paying the OA fee) to make his work OA – at the individual article level (we are talking gold OA here as his funder requires deposit in UKPMC). Are the numbers of people who are actually making use of the free OA version enough to make it worth paying $1500? Is this per person/access charge reasonable? How many people would have to access the article to make it worth it? – and we have to subtract out the people who would already have access because they are attached to a subscribing institution (for hybrid journals).

Typically we speak about financial value at a much larger level – economic value for the institution or for the country, but what researchers may want to know is value at their level, the individual – or the individual article even. For him, or his funder, or institution – is it economical to make every paper OA – or should he just make the best papers (the ones that the most people will actually want to read) OA?  Clearly the value of the research has played a role in the past – think about Genome data / publications – much more likely to be OA (see here for the latest issue in that area – NPG making what is supposed to be OA,  “accidently” hidden behind a toll).

All this talk of cost per use, etc., of course made me think back to the PIRUS project I heard about a couple weeks ago. This conversation really made it relevant. With accurate usage statistics researchers could have data on how many times an article has been downloaded and where – which may demonstrate the value of OA (of course we would need some way to tag that the article is OA). This might help demonstrate (at the level of individuals) what OA can do for them (add in a little data about IP addresses and you could possibly even demonstrate that the article has been downloaded at locations unconnected to subscriber institutions – this would be really interesting – and could really demonstrate the moral reasons to academics, and you could even calculate how much you paid in OA fees for each access).

Of course putting your article in a repository (for free) would get around the whole discussion of cost per OA use – but in some instances funder mandates that require deposit into UKPMC make repository use slightly irrelevant for some academics (though of course I think funder mandates are positive – some, although working for OA, make work against the growth of repositories – who is it say if this is for better or worse).

You might also say that, morally,  paying $1500 to have one single person, that wouldn’t otherwise have access, gain access – would be worth it. But unfortunately not everyone’s money to morals equation works the same.

Image credit: -Renegade- (very busy)

More OA Journals from Big Publishers

Wiley has recently announced Wiley Open Access, “a new publishing program of open access journals”. They plan to launch a number of OA journals in 2011, including MicrobiologyOpen, Ecology and Evolution, and Brain and Behavior. There is currently no mention of the pricing model for these new journals (that I could find), but we can only assume the cost will be similar to the existing $3000 US they are charging for their OnlineOpen option for their other journals, or perhaps a bit cheaper in order to successfully compete with others.

So what does this mean that big publishers are becoming more and more “interested” in open access publishing? We recently saw Nature Publishing Group release their new Scientific Reports, and don’t forget SAGE Open as well. Perhaps more will follow? Will publishing in OA journals begin to become more popular? And what will this mean for the “green road” to open access?

Heading Down the Gold Road

More and more publishers are now offering a hybrid Open Access option for many of their journals, yet still it is reported that the actual uptake and use of these options is quite low (1-2% industry-wide). Of course publishers themselves must see this as a viable route to follow (see a previous post here) or else they wouldn’t even be going there. Many academics also see gold OA as the only route forward (perhaps because of a lack of knowledge of alternatives?), yet we also have those fighting for the green route (see Stevan Harnad’s blog). From personal conversation I do know that (some) academics are concerned about the costs that are arising from trying to publish OA. Perhaps the cost will help them explore other options… nonetheless, the conversation about hybrid OA and paying to publish continues.

Four speakers, invited by the ALCTS Scholarly Communications Interest Group, recently presented on the topic of hybrid journals at the 2011 ALA Midwinter Meeting in San Diego. Slides can be viewed here. Looks like some good talks, and I am sure they led to an interesting discussion – with contributions from a scientist /faculty member, University Librarian (and Dean of Library Services), and two publishers. Of particular interest to us, were the slides presented by Philip Bourne, which demonstrate clearly what he, as one scholar wants to see in the future of scholarly communication.

Some of the results from the recently presented SOAP research project also focus on the cost of publishing (including both full OA and hybrid journals).

They asked academics:

  • how much they paid to publish their last OA article. (slide 10)
  • how the fee was covered (slide 14)
  • how easy or difficult it was to receive funds for OA publishing (slide 17)
  • how much they would pay to publish OA (slide 22)

Interesting results to take a look at.

How much are you willing to pay? We know publishers are thinking about the sustainability of this “new” option (slide 8), but are you?

Image credit: Nick Leonard

Launch of a significant journal

Nature Publishing group have just announced the launch of “Scientific Reports”, as a multi-disciplinary open access high-level journal.

From their website:

“Online and open access, Scientific Reports is a brand new primary research publication from the publishers of Nature, covering all areas of the natural sciences — biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences.

Scientific Reports exists to facilitate the rapid peer review and publication of research that is of interest to specialists within any given field in the natural sciences, without barriers to access.”

This is an open access journal, charging an article-processing fee of £890/ $1,350:  articles will be freely available to everyone under a CC licence, deposited in PMC and authors retain copyright.

This follows in the footsteps of PLoS One and represents a significant move for NPG and, very likely, for journals in general.   This model takes advantage of the fact that “issues” of an OA and electronic journal are not limited in size and can vary up and down:  and can  accomodate all of the articles that meet their peer-review criteria, as they are assessed. With this freedom, the journal is able to work across disciplines, which could represent a challenge to traditional, slower, non-OA journals.  Backed by the Nature brand, this is a powerful mover for change.

Interestingly, although it is OA, the change and challenge that this represents for other journals is really only partially due to its OA nature.  It would be possible, although a little more complex, to have a similar model of a “mega-journal” based on subscriptions.  As I and the CRC team here have been saying for some time, OA is not the biggest challenge to publishers clinging to traditional models for their journals who see development as simply producing electronic analogues of what has gone before. Other capabilities and possibilities bought about by online dissemination and storage; multimedia capacities; meta-analyses; data-mining; and online, open peer-review are far more of a threat to closed, regular issue serials. Open access happens to be part of this suite of possibilities that have been bought by developments from outside publishing – and it fits very nicely.

We now have PLoS One, that led the way, confounding doubters:  Nature’s Scientific Reports has followed and is on course for an Impact Factor by 2013, and will be gathering adherants from now on, so by some metrics the clock is ticking.  What will the other publishers do to respond?

Bill

Green the way to win in the journals price struggle?

I’ve just read an article in today’s THES about the relentless increase in the price of journal subscriptions – and the growing feeling that enough is enough. Apparently JISC Collections has been instructed by RLUK to secure price reductions in the next round of negotiations with Elsevier and Wiley-Blackwell.

I wish them the best of luck. But we shouldn’t forget that if researchers tire of a system where they give their work to their publishers and then have to buy it back, they can use the Green route to Open Access and put their work in their institutional repository – where it will be available to anyone in the world, whether or not they can afford to subscribe to a journal. In most cases they can do this as well as publishing the article in a refereed journal. Seems like a good plan.