Moreover, societies carry out a broad range of activities, and therefore lack a single-minded focus on publishing. The commercial model represents a capitalist approach to publishing, and has major strengths compared with the non-profit model.
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Its structure allows for more efficient action, I believe, while commercial publishers' focus on profits demands that they are constantly seeking and exploiting market opportunities for growth. Its pricing policies are based on the value of the product, rather than cost-recovery. These strengths allowed commercial publishers to meet the explosion in the growth of publications, and the research community's publishing needs during the Cold War, when the government poured money into scientific, technological and medical research.
Scholarly societies, in contrast, were ill-equipped to handle this growth.
The Development of Electronic Publishing and Digital Library Collections on the NREN
The commercial model's weakness might be thought of in terms of its alienation from the consuming community; the capitalist business model is independent of its own customer values. Or so it appears. But there is something strange here: few academics speak out in favour of the commercial model of publishing, but it is this community which sustains the commercial model and drives its continued growth.
The editors-in-chiefs, the editorial boards, the reviewers and the authors all come from the very community that loudly voices its opposition to commercial publishers. There must be a very large silent majority. The silence is puzzling. Perhaps it is due to the 'chilling effect' of being politically-correct on campus. I consider the quality of the product as a weakness of the capitalist model not because quality is poor but because it is a secondary derivative that depends on a well functioning market.
Quality of product and service are not the commercial publishers' primary mission, but the means for them to compete with others to achieve profits. Likewise, user satisfaction is a means to increase demand, but not an end in itself. When the market functions well, these processes result in competition and outstanding quality. But markets can be imperfect when competition dies out, for example, because of a commercial publisher enjoying too much success, and a monopoly position. Markets, as they relate to quality, can also be distorted in a situation where the consumer is not the buyer.
The further removed the paying agent is from the actual consumer, the greater the possible distortion.
The Open Access model bills itself as ideal, as serving the public good. It is at home with the expressed values of the academy and it is likely to find significant institutional support. One of its strengths is to reduce or eliminate all costs associated with an access control layer, authentication, charging and billing, digital rights management, and possibly marketing as well. It fosters use by eliminating access barriers. And it eliminates aggravating rights clearances, thereby fostering comfortable and easy re-use. The 'Atkins Report' 5 held that research and publication of its results are being drawn closer and closer together both in time and in the process of interacting with the raw data in such a way that Open Access is the only logical conclusion.
As the Open Access model is currently evolving, it is perhaps unfair to dwell on its weaknesses - let us rather call them 'unanswered question marks':. The movement is academic-centric and has not addressed the publication of research by corporate labs and other research institutes. In some fields, these account for the majority of the published research. As Open Access costs shift away from the user to the producer, scientists find themselves becoming publishers. At some point, will they need to hire professionals to run these new research-publishing systems so they can get back to work?
Or is this publishing process indeed coextensive with their research activities? The most frequent question raised is, of course, that of sustainability. And, moreover, how to increase funding levels above mere sustainability to allow for innovation and growth in the publishing programme. While it is not true that the Open Access model necessarily looks to government funding to sustain publication, it is surely a reasonable thing to do. Government underwriting raises a concern about governmental control over publication - which is actually not much different from a concern about governmental control over the research itself.
First, are the publishing costs small enough in relation to the research costs to be embedded in them? Second, the publishing costs seem small in comparison to the research costs. Does this mean that publishers are doing a good job, that the present publishing system is quite efficient? What would be the right ratio between them? How can one even determine it? Third, the costs in research dollars spent per article published actually seem very high. Does this mean that researchers are doing a bad job?
That their expenses are exorbitant in relation to their productivity?
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Is the taxpayer being gouged? How does one go about estimating such a thing? I have no answers, but the questions point up two things worth considering. First, when publishers are taken to task for 'exorbitant pricing,' or even any pricing at all, I think it is fair to ask similar critical questions of the research community, and to raise awareness of the fact that there is actually a lucrative 'business of research. Open Access advocates also often argue as a reason not to transfer copyright that they get no financial benefit out of publication.
But researchers themselves profit from the system as it is well-known that publication ties directly to reputation and in turn to tenure, salary, grants, course relief, and a degree of power within the academy. Second, for a traditional publisher, the value of research, the value of publication, and the appropriate costs for each are determined by the market, by the buyer. But how are research dollars evaluated? There is in fact no true 'market' at play here. Instead, there is the notion of the 'public good' and a political process that determines how much to spend and in what areas.
It is the taxpayer's money they are spending. Yet once such a 'public good' is institutionalized, it is both very hard to change and very hard to evaluate. That this money suits the vested interests of the research community goes without saying.
Public Libraries as Publishers: Critical Opportunity
That it is in fact serving the public good is another question altogether. One possible route for Open Access to succeed is to opt for a low-end, no-frills publishing process. The lower the costs, the more readily these could perhaps be embedded within existing institutional budgets. Costlier publishing processes that add value may not be highly prized in some cases, and lower-cost electronic publishing systems may suffice and be preferable, if the trade-off is Open Access.
Electronic publishing is still too young and experimental for us to predict what value-adding services will be worth having. The pushback from the market that we see today - the libraries negotiating on pricing, and researchers on copyright and open access - is very healthy and long overdue. Experimentation is creating healthy competition, albeit on a small scale so far, as well as test cases, innovations and counter moves by threatened publishers, which can be seen as creative adaptations or co-optations or both. Despite the oppositional rhetoric, there are opportunities to learn from the antinomies and tensions in various publishing models.
It is interesting that the pushback from librarians has resulted in greater reliance on licensing as opposed to copyright and also in bigger deals with consortia rather than individual institutions. This has in fact driven the cost per user with access rights way down -- a fact which should be quantified and publicized as it is one way to measure serving the public good.
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The price of the license may go up, but the costs are spread and the numbers served by digital access increase dramatically. From one perspective, the Open Access movement and these large licensing deals actually seem to be converging.
Electronic Publishing of Scholarly Journals: A Bibliographic Essay of Current Issues
An agent, representing larger and larger communities, sometimes even representing a government on behalf of a country's entire research network, pays the freight for everyone who then has free access. This kind of big deal subscription license is not so far away from some form of institutional underwriting which is the fundamental sustaining concept of the Open Access movement. There are downsides to this model. Without a direct paying consumer, it is harder for market demand to be recognized -- the market becomes the buying agent, not the consumer - and when this happens, the market looks more and more like institutional patronage.
This can work, but it does put us back into a similar position we had in print. It re-establishes a shared system of scholarly publishing in which the value of research itself and the value of all this enormous publication activity and expense is taken for granted and cannot really be questioned. Find more information on the Altmetric Attention Score and how the score is calculated.
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