Paying to Publish

Foreign currency and coins by Philip Brewer

There has been some recent discussion on one of the lists I subscribe to about certain publishers doubling site licenses for 2011. That’s right, publishers are still increasing prices at a rate libraries can’t afford to pay, surprise surprise.

However, it does seem that some academics are becoming aware of the fact that publishers are continuing to make large amounts of money while libraries struggle and academics give their work away for free. In a discussion after a talk I gave last week, researchers noted that you could “do the math”. Libraries are still paying the same (or increasing) site licence fees, and if it costs $3000 for an author to make an article OA, and without the paid for OA option publishers would only be getting extra money from individuals wanting to buy/ view the article at $30 a pop (this researcher was a realist and noted that it wasn’t likely that the average paper would get 100 individual downloads) then publishers are making MORE money with the new pay for OA options. Something seems wrong here, don’t you think? But as I pointed out, publishers are looking for profits, so of course they would take advantage of a changing system if they can.

So it seems the cost of paying for open access from traditional journals is starting to hit home…one researcher even suggested that perhaps they should only pay for their best work to be open access, as it might not be worth it to pay for every article to be OA. (Sad that authors are already coming to this conclusion). I of course could only suggest the alternative that they put things in repositories instead of paying for OA, though for some reason academics still don’t seem to be convinced about repositories. I am not sure if it is just a lack of knowledge or if they are fearful of repositories in general, but something needs to bring repositories to the forefront.

At least there is some awareness that money is and continues to be one of the big issues, perhaps the connection with money will soon force academics to make choices and change their behaviour (if they are forced to use their money (their funding) to pay, they might decide repositories are the way to go). But there is no denying it, money makes the world go round, and the cost of making publications open access continues to be a concern.

Image credit: Philip Brewer


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.

Too Much Information?

Book sculpture

I read another really interesting blog post the other day. Henry Bauer, in his post Scientific publications are vanity publications, describes how Universities have changed from the business of educating to the business of well…making money, which has subsequently resulted in individuals needing to fund their own research and graduate students, and grant funding being tied directly to “success” and career advancement.

Bauer then discusses the problem of “vanity publishing” in which academics pay to get published. He gives examples of page charges, processing fees, open access journal charges, and rapid review charges, concluding that “scientific publication is increasingly a matter of having the wherewithal to support vanity publishing”.

In a not-so-recent post on the Scholarly Kitchen blog Kent Anderson commented on a Research Information Network funded project that evaluated Researchers’ e-journal use and information seeking behaviour. One thing Anderson pulled from the report and mentioned briefly was that

researchers are dealing with too much information, and feel there’s “too much literature being produced.”

Some of the largest journals are publishing more than 5000 articles a year, and I am sure many people have had the thought that journals such as PLoS One which choose to “publish all papers that are judged to be technically sound” are increasing the amount of literature out there, though the argument is that they are accelerating the publication process, which is a good thing, right?? I remember reading that the average number of times an article is reviewed before it gets published is 2.5 (Houghton et al.). That’s not really that high, and we can only assume with an average that low that if you submit to enough journals you eventually WILL get published (and this is unrelated to the idea of paying to publish). This brings up queations about the current value of peer-review as well.

So can anyone with money get published…or can anyone with enough patience get published? Are there too many publications? Is the quality suffering? Should peer-review be stricter? Or is the abundance of literature a good thing? And what does this abundance mean for academic institutions, society, and the furthering of knowledge?

Image credit: Thomas Guignard

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.