Worlds of differences between publishers (economics 101)

Many librarians have never studied economics. Now that we are playing a key role in transforming scholarly communication, we need to know a little about the topic, at least as it applies to the stuff we work with. This is true whether we’re in library management, collections, or at the front lines working with faculty on scholarly communication issues. This post is the first in a series designed to provide an easy reading introduction to librarians on this topic and for this purpose, called Economics 101.

Today’s topic introduces the concept of the worlds of differences that exist between publishers. I will be using one of my favorite examples – since it is both so extreme, and from LIS. Emerald’s Library Management, with a subscription price of Euro 11819 according to Ulrich’s (that’s 15,138 USD by today’s conversion rate), costs about 190 times as much as ACRL’s College and Research Libraries (similar in number of peer-reviewed articles per year), at a maximum non-member non-US rate of 80 USD. While this is an extreme example, it nonetheless illustrates an important point: the journals of the for-profit commercial sector can cost not only more than the not-for-profits, the commercials often cost a very great deal more.

This is important, because if we would like to see a healthy, affordable future for scholarly communication, we need to understand and support the often small, not-for-profit publishers, whether they are our own, as in the case of C&RL, or help our faculty members to see the importance of supporting such journals in their own disciplines.

Following are a few ways to think about this:

  • When it comes time for renewal, budgets are tight, and of course we want publishers to keep their prices down. But does it make sense to ask the same sacrifices of a publisher of a journal that costs only $80 and another very similar journal that costs more than $15,000?
  • If we thought about the important work that ACRL does and how low that $80 subscription ($70 in the U.S., by the way) is, and asked ACRL to double the price for C&RL, and negotiated with Emerald for a 1% decrease in the cost for Library Management, we would save money (1% of $15,000 is $150 – $80 for doubling the cost of C&RL). We would save $70.
  • Or, why not ask Emerald to be just a bit more reasonable, and halve the price of Library Management to just $7,500 U.S.? This would save us enough money to pay for subscriptions to 94 journals like C&RL.

The irony is, that when we explain the dire straights of library budgets to publishers, it is the ACRLs of this world who are the first to step up and assure us that they will keep prices flat.

A simple way to keep this difference in mind in the field: when comparing journals or publishers and their pricing changes over the years, keep in mind the actual price – not just the percentage of increase or decrease. A 1% increase to C&RL is $.80; a 1% increase to Library Management is $150, almost double the full subscription cost of C&RL.

This post is the first in the series Economics 101. While the examples here are subscription-based journals, overall the purpose of understanding the economics is transitioning to open access. What’s the connection? Publishers that have never gouged anyone, but have rather always kept their prices reasonable, often (like C&RL) have a well-deserved reputation for high quality. If they depend on library subscription dollars – let’s help them to make the transition to open access. When I talk to people involved with many of these journals, what I hear is that many of them would love to make such a transition – they just need a little help, and if librarians step up to help them, many would welcome the help.

While Waiting for Mandates: The Fruits of Tireless Advocacy at the Open University

Open Research Online:
A self-archiving success story
Smith, Colin; Yates, Christopher and Chudasama, Sheila (2010)

5th International Conference on Open Repositories 6-9 July 2010, Madrid, Spain.

Colin Smith [CS] et al:
    “…Much debate exists in the literature, on listservs, and in the blogosphere as to whether a successful and sustainable repository can be achieved solely through advocacy, management, and development, or whether this is only likely to happen if an institutional mandate is introduced. A much quoted figure is that a non-mandated repository is only likely to capture around 15% of its institution’s research output, and at the very most (for an Incentivised Repository) 30% (Harnad, 2009).
    ”In this poster, we use the example of Open Research Online – the research repository of the Open University – to show that dedicated management and active development and advocacy of an institutional repository can lead to very successful results under the self-archiving model, in this case capturing regularly an estimated 60% of peer-reviewed journal output. Also demonstrated is the significant rise in full text (i.e. fully open access) items in the repository since the implementation of this approach.”

    Note Added:
    ”To clarify [for Andrew Adams]… it is not 60% of the estimated refereed journal output of the OU that is deposited in full text format; a proportion is metadata-only items. Looking at my data over the last year, the split is around 56/44 (full text/metadata-only).

Is that 34% [56% x 60%] of OU’s yearly research article output? How did you do that estimate? (We used Thompson/Reuters Web of Science data to estimate staff annual article output.)

    “I look at it monthly based on Web of Science (WoS) data only (one month and six months after being indexed by WoS), but then I look at it on an annual basis based on WoS and Scopus data combined. I carry out the monthly check manually (i.e. by subscribing to WoS alerts and checking if they’ve been included in ORO), but for the annual analysis I got my developer to write a script which cross-checks DOIs and paper titles from de-duplicated WoS and Scopus data.
    ”In case it wasn’t clear, the poster was not about saying that mandates aren’t needed. It was more about demonstrating that if you have to hang around waiting for one to be implemented, or if you are at an institution where your superiors are against introducing one, encouraging results can still be achieved

Would you be willing to give me permission to post it, along with your response, above? — Of course, what would be even more helpful would be if I could also add a passage in your own words about what needs to be done at an institution that does not yet have a mandate, in order to achieve a deposit rate as good as OU’s [56% x 60% = 34%]. It would give institutions and IR managers something concrete to do while they are trying to get a deposit mandate adopted!

     ”Ok, here are a few thoughts…
    On the advocacy front, I would say giving people actual real-world examples/demonstrations of the benefits of green OA. If you know you are talking to, say, the Biology Department about the repository, prepare in advance some impressive Google searches featuring some journal articles already deposited by Biologists from your institution. I normally give them two scenarios to think about:
        ”(1) Imagine an academic who knows the title of the paper she wants to read… she’s tried her Library and found her institution doesn’t subscribe to the journal… so she plugs it into Google… hey presto, there it is, in the top 10 hits, in our repository… now she clicks through… wonderful, the full text is available… she goes on to cite the paper… as might many other people from around the world who find the paper in a similar way, and so on…
        ”(2) Imagine an academic conducting a general literature research… most turn straight to Google these days… they plug in “spinal cord repair research” [or whatever search you have prepared in advance]… and there you go, a paper from your department in the repository in the top 10 Google hits, and so on.
    ”Demonstrating the power of the repository leaves a lasting memory in the minds of the people you are addressing, rather than just a bunch of woolly statements that send your audience to sleep.
    ”The other thing is what I call “individual advocacy”, which basically means taking the time to communicate and educate individuals at your institution about open access, copyright etc., rather than relying solely on getting yourself on the bill of department or research meetings. No one likes being in meetings, and so having to spend another half an hour listening to someone from the Library bang on about the repository doesn’t always work, unless you capture their attention with good examples, as mentioned above. However, keeping an eye on what’s being published by your institution, and then getting in touch with an academic and talking to them about the research their group is working on… and have they thought about where they are going to publish… and do they know what rights they retain when publishing in that journal… and have they thought about open access etc. etc., I find tends to get you results. And then, of course, when you start to make some inroads in this way, the message spreads outwards from there.
    ”Moving away from advocacy, I think it’s really important to have a technical developer onboard, or at least access to one that can make the improvements to the repository you as the manager want and know your academic community needs. As part of this, embedding data feeds from the repository in as many other institutional systems as possible across campus is a real winner. For example, one of our faculties is currently rebuilding its entire website and, in the process, is using data from the repository to build publications lists for its staff and research groups. So, if academics in this faculty do not keep the repository up to date, then the publication lists in their staff pages and research group pages on their faculty web pages will also be out of date.
    ”I could go on, but I imagine this is enough for you…
— Colin Smith

Cultural Studies: for-profit journals cost up to 10 times more than not-for-profit

Striphas analyzes the relative costs of journals from different publishers in cultural studies, and finds that the journals produced by commercial publishers cost from 50% to 1000% more (10 times the cost) than the not-for-profit university press journals, with the average price at Sage the highest at $853. Striphas’ analysis on why addresses added value to the publisher databases (bells and whistles for searching), but notes that the main reason is because publishers can charge this much, because of the inelastic market. The section on alienation in this article is useful for those working on author’s rights.

Citation: Striphas, T. (2010). Acknowledged goods: Cultural studies and the politics of academic journal publishing. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 7(1), 3.

Authors’ Drafts, Publishers’ Versions-of-Record, Digital Preservation, Open Access and Institutional Repositories

Commentary on Richard Poynder’s
Preserving the Scholarly Record:
Interview with digital preservation specialist Neil Beagrie

The trouble with universities (or nations) treating digital preservation (which is a genuine problem, and a genuine responsibility) as a single generic problem — covering all the university’s (or nation’s) “digital output,” whether published or unpublished, OA or non-OA — is not only that adding an additional preservation cost and burden where it is not yet needed (by conflating Green OA self-archiving mandates with “preservation mandates” and their funding demands) makes it even harder to get a Green OA self-archiving mandate adopted at all. But taking an indiscriminate, scattershot approach to the preservation problem also disserves the digital preservation agenda itself.

As usual, what is needed is to sort out and understand the actual contingencies, and then to implement the priorities, clearly and explicitly, in the requisite causal order. The priorities here are to focus university (or national) preservation efforts and funds on what needs to be preserved today. And — as far as universities’ own institutional repositories (IRs) are concerned — that does not include the publisher’s official version-of-record for that university’s (or nation’s) journal article output. Preserving those versions-of-record is a matter to be worked out among deposit libraries and the publishers and institutional subscribers of the journals in question. Each university’s own IR is for providing OA to its own authors’ final, refereed drafts of those articles, in order to make them accessible to those users worldwide who do not have subscription access to the version-of-record. The author’s draft does indeed need preservation too, but that’s not the same preservation problem as the problem of preserving the published version-of-record (nor is it the same document!).

Perhaps one day universal Green OA mandates will cause journal subscriptions to become unsustainable, because the worldwide users of journal articles will be fully satisfied with just the author’s final drafts rather than needing the publisher’s version-of-record, and hence journal subscriptions will be cancelled. If and when we ever reach that point, the version-of-record will no longer be produced by the publisher, because the authors’ drafts will effectively become the version-of-record. Journal publishers will then convert to Gold OA publishing, with what remains of the cost of publication paid for by institutions, per individual article published, out of their windfall subscription cancellation savings. (Some of those savings can then also be devoted to digital preservation of the institutional version-of-record.)

But conflating the (nonexistent) need to pay for this hypothetical future contingency today (when we still have next to no OA or OA mandates, and subscriptions are still going strong) with either universities’ (or nations’) digital preservation agenda or their OA IR agenda is not only incoherent but counterproductive.

Let’s keep the agendas distinct: IRs can archive many different kinds of content. Let’s work to preserve all IR content, of course, but let’s not mistake that IR preservation function for journal article preservation or OA.

For journal articles, worry about preserving the version-of-record — and that has nothing to do with what is being deposited in IRs today.

For OA, worry about mandating deposit of the author’s version — and that has nothing to do with digital preservation of the version-of-record.

Nor should the need to mandate depositing the author’s version be in any way hamstrung with extra expenses that concern the publish’s version-of-record, or the university’s IR, or OA. (Exactly the same thing is true, mutatis mutandis, at the national preservation level, insofar as journal articles are concerned: A journal’s contents do not all come from one institution, nor from one nation.)

And, while we’re at it, let’s also keep university (or national) funding of Gold OA publishing costs distinct from the Green OA mandating agenda too. First things first. Needlessly over-reaching (for Gold OA funds or preservation funds) simply delays getting what is already fully within universities’ (and nations’) grasps — which is the newfound (but mostly unused) potential to provide OA to the authors’ drafts of all their refereed journal articles by requiring them to be deposited in their OA IRs (not by reforming journal publishing, nor by solving the digital preservation problem).

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

Marking and Tagging the Public Domain

I am cribbing significant amounts of this post from a Creative Commons blogpost about tagging the public domain. Attribution is to Diane Peters for the stuff I’ve incorporated 🙂

The big news is that, 18 months since we launched CC0 1.0, our public domain waiver that allows rights holders to place a work as nearly as possible into the public domain, worldwide…it’s been a success. CC0 has proven a valuable tool for governments, scientists, data providers, providers of bibliographic data, and many others throughout world. CC0 has been used by the pharmaceutical industry giant GSK as well as by the emerging open data leader Sage Bionetworks (disclosure – I’m on the Board of Sage – though not of GSK!).

At the time we published CC0, we made note of a second public domain tool under development — a tool that would make it easy for people to tag and find content already in the public domain. That tool, our new “Public Domain Mark” is now published for comment.

The PDM allows works already in the public domain to be marked and tagged in a way that clearly communicates the work’s PD status, and allows it to be easily discoverable. The PDM is not a legal instrument like CC0 or our licenses — it can only be used to label a work with information about its public domain copyright status, not change a work’s current status under copyright. However, just like CC0 and our licenses, PDM has a metadata-supported deed and is machine readable, allowing works tagged with PDM to be findable on the Internet. (Please note that the example used on the sample deed is purely hypothetical at the moment.)

We are also releasing for public comment general purpose norms — voluntary guidelines or “pleases” that providers and curators of PD materials may request be followed when a PD work they have marked is thereafter used by others. Our PDM deed as well as an upcoming enhanced CC0 deed will support norms in addition to citation metadata, which will allow a user to easily cite the author or provider of the work through copy-paste HTML.

This is absolutely critical to science, because it addresses at last the biggest reason that people mis-use copyright licenses on uncopyrightable materials and data sets: the confusion of the legal right of attribution in copyright with the academic and professional norm of citation of one’s efforts. Making it easy to cite, regardless of the law, is one of the keys to making the public domain something that we can construct through individual private choice at scale, not just by getting governments to adopt.

The public comment period will close on Wednesday, August 18th. Why so short? For starters, PDM is not a legal tool in the same sense our licenses and CC0 are legally operative — no legal rights are being surrendered or affected, and there is no accompanying legal code to finesse. Just as importantly, however, we believe that having the mark used soon rather than later will allow early adopters to provide us with invaluable feedback on actual implementations, which will allow us to improve the marking tool in the future.

The primary venue for submitting comments and discussing the tool is the cc-licenses mailing list. We look forward to hearing from you!

There are a lot of fascinating projects around how to do the non-legal work of data. The Sage Commons has seen a bunch of them come together, but in this context I want to call out – the SageCite project driven by UKOLN, the University of Manchester, and the British Library – which is going to develop and test an entire framework for citation, not attribution, using bioinformatics as a test case.

My own hope is that by making citation inside Creative Commons legal tools that work on the public domain a cut-and-paste process, we can facilitate the emergence of frameworks like SageCite so that the legal aspects fade away on the data sets and databases themselves, and the focus can be on the more complex network models of complex adaptive systems. And I’m tremendously excited to see members of the community leveraging the Sage project to do independent, crucial work on the topic of citation. Like Wikipedia, Sage won’t work unless it is something that we all own together and work on for our own reasons.

This is only still the beginning of really open data – public domain data – that complies with the Panton Principles. Creative Commons has spent six long years studying the open data issue, and rolling out policy and tools and technologies that make it possible for end users from the Dutch government to the Polar Information Commons to create their own open data systems.

We still have to avoid the siren song of property rights on data, and of license proliferation. But it’s starting to feel like momentum is gaining on public domain data, and for the Creative Commons tools that make it a reality. Making citation one-click, and making it easy to tag and mark the public domain, is part of that momentum. Please help us by commenting on the tools, and by promoting their use when you run across any open data project where the terms are unclear.

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