Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Springer sub-prime scholarly publishing deal?

Reuters recently announced that a group called BC Partners will buy Springer for 3.3 billion euros. Of this, 2.5 billion is debt - backed by Barclays, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Nomura and UBS. This debt is described as "covenant lite," a structure that offers little or no protection for lenders via financial tests".

This makes no sense at all from a financial perspective. Why buy a company whose traditional high profits are based on an outmoded model that currently enjoys revenues at 4-5 times higher than what is necessary for normal profits  in an emerging open access environment for scholarly publishing that is just beginning to open up to competition - including competition on price? Even if it made sense to buy the company, how could it possibly make sense to load the company with debt? If you're going to take risks like this, wouldn't it make sense to look for more rather than less guarantees? 

On the surface this looks a lot like the sub-prime mortgage situation - go ahead and lend money even though this obviously makes no sense at all - and appears to involve some of the same companies. Am I missing something here?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Outsell Open Access Report: missing the main point or are governments really committed to throwing away taxpayer money?

The Outsell Open Access Report is an interesting development in itself - industry looking at open access as a market rather than as a threat, and some of the information in the report is very useful. However, this report misses the mark in two very essential ways. The information in the report per se makes clear that with open access it is possible to publish at a small fraction of current publishing costs. Also, in an online environment, professional commercial publishers simply are not needed anymore. This report suggests that there is not yet a single fully open access journal in the social sciences and humanities, when DOAJ lists over 1,800 journals under social sciences and humanities.

Current gold open access (immediate free access on publishing) is responsible for  10-12% of the world's scholarly articles at about 2.2% of the total journal revenues, according to this report. The average open access article processing fee is reported at $950, less than a quarter of the $4,000 average for subscription journals. Taking these two calculations together, based on this report open access publishing is 4-5 times more cost-efficient than subscription publishing. However, this is just the commercial / professional sector. The Outsell report appears to be completely unaware of the substantial not-for-profit sector. For example, the report states that ""hybrid options support limited uptake markets, such as the social sciences and humanities, perhaps just until the market for a subject-specific “traditional” gold OA journal coalesces" p. 12 - presumably the authors are completely unaware of the well over 1,800 full open access journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals under Social Sciences.

Outsell predicts rising prices for open access article processing fees, when the reality is that scholars no longer need to rely on the commercial scholarly publishing sector at all. Publishing in the online environment just isn't that hard, or expensive. Priorities for public funding in higher education should be funding the research per se, addressing the growing problem of lack of full-time faculty, and keeping costs down for students - not protecting the profit margins of a bloated industry that has yet to note that the costs of things like computer storage in recent years have been going down, not up.

Outsell suggests that other countries will follow the UK's support for publisher profits approach. This is mad enough in the UK, where at least they have the excuse of protecting a positive balance in trade, but for every other country this is holding up innovation, increasing public costs, and shoring up a negative balance of trade.

Detailed quotes and comments

 "Drilling down to the journal market specifically, Outsell estimated that journal subscription revenue (which excludes society membership revenues) amounted to $6.0 billion in 2011, which makes open access 2.2% of this market for the most recent year in which we have built such an estimate" p. 8

Comment: In 2008, Outsell reported STM journal revenue at $8 billion - for details and citations, see chapters 2 and 5 of my dissertation. The $2 billion revenue discrepancy is not explained. I cannot afford the Outsell toll access reports. "

A 2012 paper published in BMC Medicine, the latest in an ongoing study by academics Mikael Laakso and Bo-Christer Björk, calculated that in 2011 the number of articles available in full, immediate open access journals encompassed 9% and 11% of all articles indexed in Scopus and Web of Knowledge, respectively. Hybrid articles added just under 1% of all articles to that total in both cases, meaning that the combination of gold and hybrid open access accounted for 10% or 12% of indexed articles, depending on the database".

"Outsell sees three scenarios that could drive OA revenue as a higher proportion of total STM market revenue, stemming first and foremost from the ultimate behavior of funding bodies." p. 13 Scenario 1 — New European Mandates Encourage Gold OA Scenario 2 — New Mandates Stimulate Green OA Scenario 3 — Mandates Accelerate in Non-European Research Centers: Suggests only Scenario 1 is likely.

 "We also anticipate that the average charge per article will slide upward with the launch of new, higher-value journals from strongly branded commercial and society publishers such as Elsevier, Wiley, and Nature", p. 15 "

Outsell estimates that the average APC (distorted somewhat by discounts and waivers, but excluding membership revenues) was about $660 in 2011; in 2015, this will increase to roughly $950 due in part to the increased number of well-branded journal publishers offering OA options at higher price points", p. 15

"also estimates that, based on Scenario 1, the revenue per subscription article will decrease by about $100, from $4,000 today to $3,900". p. 16

LIS publisher Emerald: profit, not knowledge-sharing?

As sent to various lists, June 17, 2013. Update June 17 - comment from Issac Gilman inserted into the message for context. LIS publisher Emerald has introduced a 24-month embargo on authors whose institutions have open access mandates, according to Richard Poynder on Open and Shut: This is a significant backtrack from what was a really good open access archiving policy. As of today, there are 146 titles listed under Library and Information Studies in the Directory of Open Access Journals, and most say Publication Fee - No:

Librarians, Emerald current and potential editors, authors, and reviewers, perhaps it is time to ditch this "it's about the profit" publisher in favour of journals that prioritize sharing of our knowledge? If none of the current DOAJ titles fit your scholarly niche - why not start your own?

I heartily agree - that's what we did! :) says Isaac Gilman of the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication
(inserted in original text for context)


Heather G. Morrison The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics

Thanks to Richard Poynder for this additional background:

Librarians have been here before: The library organisation ASLIB sold all its journals to Emerald, and then the organisation appears to have sold itself to Emerald, if I am reading this correctly:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Comments on DOAJ proposed new selection criteria

The Directory of Open Access Journals has posted a draft of their new selection criteria and is requesting comments by July 15, 2013. Kudos to DOAJ for taking this open, transparent approach to their process. Following are my comments.

DOAJ proposed criteria and my comments in bold

We have tried to construct objective criteria that can facilitate compliance verification easily. In order to be listed in the DOAJ, a journal must meet the following criteria:
  • Journal will be asked to provide basic information (title, ISSN, etc.), contact information, and information about journal policies
Comment: make sense!
  • Journal is registered with SHERPA/RoMEO
Comment: this should be a recommended good practice, not a criteria for inclusion in DOAJ. The reason is that registering with SHERPA/RoMEO is controlled by SHERPA/RoMEO, not the journal.  SHERPA/RoMEO is an important service, but it is UK-based and focuses on UK priorities. Few Canadian scholarly journals are listed, for example. Before considering such a suggestion, someone should ask SHERPA/RoMEO if they are prepared to take on the task of including all of the world's journals on request, including journals from every language used by scholars around the world.
  • Journal has an editorial board with clearly identifiable members (including affiliation information)
Comment: not every high-quality journal has an editorial board; some small journals are managed very well by a single managing editor.  Including a criterion like this may have the unfortunate effect of changing the way that journals are published, and not necessarily for the best. Suggested change to: Journal has a transparent and academically appropriate editorial practice.
  • Journal publishes a minimum of five articles per year (does not apply for new journals)
Comment: this should be struck, for several reasons. This criteria would discriminate against smaller journals. For example, last night in my scholarly communication class a student raised a point about a journal produced by a small community that one year declined to publish any articles, as no submitted articles were seen as meeting the journal's standards. As open access becomes the default and inclusion in DOAJ essential to marketing, this criteria could end up defining what constitutes a journal. Houghton and colleagues found that the most cost-effective means of providing open access in the long term would involve a peer review overlay over articles deposited in repositories. To facilitate this development we need to allow creativity in how this work is done. Eliminating small journals would not be a good idea!

Another important point is that journals that have ceased to publish should still be made available. DOAJ should work towards noting that the journals are inactive, rather than eliminating them from DOAJ. Otherwise, authors who choose to publish in a journal in part because it is listed in DOAJ may find their work eliminated from DOAJ simply because the journal ceased to exist - a common occurrence even in the print / subscription world. Also, libraries use the DOAJ list to include open access works in library catalogues and serials lists, and dropping ceased journals is a loss of valuable content.

Finally, as may be obvious from the example above of the journal that refused to publish one year, a requirement of a minimum of 5 articles per year may drive journals to publish articles that they would otherwise decline. In other words, this will sometimes be an incentive to publish lower quality articles.
  • Allows use and reuse at least at the following levels (as specified in the Open Access Spectrum, ): 
Comment: please strike any reference to the Open Access Spectrum. This is a conceptual framework for open access that is not shared by the whole open access community. For example, the website points to PLOS journals using the OAS grid and Assess a Publisher or Publication with the OAS grid. This very much reflects a gold or open access publishing perspective which does not entirely leave out green or open access archives, but places it at a much lower priority level. Another consideration is that is open access definitions are opened up to a spectrum approach, there is no reason why others could not propose alternate spectra. For example, in recent discussions in Canada it appears that there are those who confuse national free access with open access. If we entertain a spectrum approach, why not a continuum from free access to a few people to global free access? Not all alternative possible spectra are negative examples like this. For example, a scholar-centered open access spectrum (which would appeal much more to me, as a scholar) might focus on the continuum of time of sharing, from when a research idea first occurs to you through to publication. Similarly, why not a spectrum from immediate open access to perpetual copyright with extremely limited rights - something that we should all remember is the real closed access.
  • Full text, metadata, and citations of articles can be crawled and accessed with permission (Machine Readability Level 4)
  • Provides free readership rights to all articles immediately upon publication (Reader Rights Level 1)
  • Reuse is subject to certain restrictions; no remixing (Reuse Rights Level 3)
  • Allow authors to retain copyright in their article with no restrictions (Copyrights Level 1)
  • Author can post the final, peer-reviewed manuscript version (postprint) to any repository or website (Author Posting Rights Level 2)

Machine readability is another example of a good practice to encourage which should not be required for inclusion in DOAJ. There will be variations in the ease with which different journals can achieve machine readability. Even PLoS uses locked-down PDFs, for example. More research is needed to determine whether machine readability of journal articles is always desirable. For example, if pictures of people are included, does the researcher have rights to permit facial recognition software? With the PLoS locked-down PDFs, do we really want the PDFs unlocked to facilitate data mining - wouldn't it be much more useful to work towards having scholars share the data as open data, preferably linked to from the journal but housed elsewhere? Sometimes machine readability does make sense and is highly desirable - for example, I'd like to see the default for electronic works in general to be works that can be instanteously translated into the format of the reader's choice, whether PDF, html, daisy or braille. Here, what is needed is not refusal to include journals in DOAJ if they are not at this standard, but rather education and support to help journals develop this capacity.
Provides free readership rights to all articles immediately upon publication is very basic to the definition of open access; this makes sense. I suggest adding the word "global" to avoid confusion with regionally limited free access, to: "Provides free global readership rights to all articles immediately upon publication"

Reuse is subject to certain restrictions; no remixing. It is good to see that journals that prefer to include some restrictions can be included in the Directory of Open Access Journals, but this statement is confusing and counter-productive. For example, as stated any journal that does allow re-use should rejected, so good-bye to the likes of PLoS and BMC!

Allow authors to retain copyright in their article with no restrictions (Copyrights Level 1)  Comment: it may be useful to encourage author rather than journal copyright retention, however this is not an essential part of open access and may not always be possible or desirable. For example, in the case of works-for-hire, some authors will not be able to claim copyright ownership. Another example came up at a recent conference, where scholars working with First Nations peoples are granting copyright in research articles to the First Nations peoples. A narrow requirement of author copyright retention would tend to prevent innovations in scholarly copyright at a period in time when I would argue that encouraging experimentation (articulating the commons) is optimal. Plus if a journal retains copyright but is clearly open access, the journal should be included in DOAJ.

Author can post the final, peer-reviewed manuscript version (postprint) to any repository or website (Author Posting Rights Level 2)

Comment: suggest add "at minimum" to encourage the common practice of allowing deposit of any version including the final version. Finally, thanks very much to DOAJ, PLoS and everyone else involved in this initiative and the Open Access Spectrum. While as this post likely makes clear I strongly disagree with many of the specifics, I do greatly appreciate all the work that the people involved in these initiatives have contributed towards open access. Update June 13: PLoS participating in the selection criteria team is a conflict of interest, because PLoS is one open access publisher and what they are attempting to do here is to control the definition of open access - if this is accepted, this will give them a competitive advantage over other open access publishers. Reader comments that meet the standard for commenting on IJPE are welcome, i.e. no anonymous comments and if you work for or are affiliated with a journal, publisher, or other initiative with an interest in these questions this affiliation must be stated in the comment.

Other posts on IJPE on related topics include the Creative Commons and Open Access critique series and through the open access definition label.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Open access is global unrestricted access

This post is in response to an initiative to digitize Canadian historical materials ironically "leaked" on Bibliocracy. This leak describes a plan by Canadian and Library and Archives Canada to digitize and put online Canadian historical materials for exclusive access by CRKN members with "open access to Canadians" opened up at a rate of 10% per year. This is described as an opportunity to partner in "Canada's largest Open Access Initiative".

There are two major definitional problems with this proposal with respect to open access, and both are major and important problems:

 1. A plan involving exclusive access to subscribers, even for a limited time frame, is NOT open access. There are many toll access publishers that provide free access to back issues of journals in much less then ten years. It would not be acceptable to have this kind of embargoed open access permitted in response to funding agency open access policies. Library associations in Canada and elsewhere have supported strong open access policies; we should not be implementing plans that involve open access definitions that our own community would not consider acceptable.

2. National access is NOT open access. The open access movement is global in scope. There are journals and open access archives in every continent. If we each restricted access to the people in the countries where the works were produced, we would all have a very great deal less. In Canada, it is mind-boggling that anyone would consider putting forth such a proposal. The proportion of the world's knowledge produced in Canada is small - if each country only gained access to its own cultural and scholarly output, we would not have much. One way to think of this: do we want to U.S. to follow this example? Would we like our free access to PubMed and PubMedCentral switched to U.S. national access?

Anyone who is confused about the meaning of open access should learn the basic definition before using the phrase. I recommend Peter Suber's short, highly readable and affordable book, "open access", and/or his free Open Access Overview, and the Budapest Open Access Initiative, for starters. I have developed and taught a course at SLAIS on open access; convened the CLA Task Force on Open Access; and drafted responses to the CIHR open access consultations for CLA and BCLA. Feel free to send questions about open access my way (no charge). There are many other librarians and academics with expertise in OA who would say the same thing.

 One way to engage people like me in this process would be to follow an open meetings approach, as does the Digital Public Library of America. This would be a great way to implement the goals of the Open Government Partnership. There is no good reason for an initiative to digitize and make available Canada's heritage to be planned behind closed doors. Surely this is not a state secret? Opening up the process can help to avoid errors of this nature - and get Canadian engaged in and excited about the initiative.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Academic libraries could fund a fully open access journal system - and save money, too

The title expresses the gist of my article, Economics of scholarly communication in transition, published today in First Monday. Abstract Academic library budgets are the primary source of revenue for scholarly journal publishing. There is more than enough money in the budgets of academic libraries to fund a fully open access scholarly journal publishing system. Seeking efficiencies, such as a reasonable average cost per article, will be key to a successful transition. This article presents macro level economic data and analysis illustrating the key factors and potential for cost savings.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

The transnational open access movement: paper to be presented at the Global Communication Association conference in November

My proposal for the Global Communication Association's 7th annual conference this November in Ottawa has been accepted! The Global Communication Association is the founder of the innovative suite that is the open access Global Media Journal. The title and abstract of my proposal follows

The transnational open access movement

Open access is literature that is digital, online, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions (Suber, 2013). The focus of the global open access movement is the scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed journal articles, monographs, and emerging forms of scholarly communication such as research data. The growth in resources that are freely available is remarkable, and the growth rate dramatic (Morrison, 2004 - ). The potential of the open access movement is a global knowledge commons of knowledge, a free pool of all of the knowledge of humankind available to everyone (assuming an internet connection) for free, from which all may draw and all can contribute.

This paper will analyze the global open access movement in the context of the transnational advocacy networks described by Keck and Sikkink (1998). Transnational advocacy networks involve distinct groups working across borders to achieve a common set of goals. Transnational advocacy networks often share a set of motivations, such as the achievement of shared instrumental goals, shared causal ideology, and/or shared principles or values.

The Budapest Open Access Initiative of 2002 defined open access and coalesced this global movement with a common definition and a vision of what open access can achieve which reads: The public good…is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds. Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.

After more than a decade, the open access movement has achieved considerable success: more than 8,000 fully open access, peer-reviewed scholarly journals, over 1,200 open access repositories containing millions of items, and over two hundred funding agencies and universities have open access mandate policies.

Areas of emerging division within the open access movement include sub-instrumental goals (e.g. specific definitions, open access journals versus open access archiving), fundamental ideology (e.g. neoliberal emphasis on scholarly publishing as industry versus state subsidy and scholar-led publishing) and fundamental principles and values (sharing the learning of the poor with the rich and the rich with the poor versus fueling capitalist innovation for private profit).

This paper explores the potential for the open access movement as a natural experiment in achieving an effective transnational advocacy network outside of the issues involving obvious harm to human rights identified by Keck and Sikkink as most likely to succeed. The shared basic goal of open access to scholarly works may open up the possibility of a high level global conversation on the impact of neoliberal ideology with scholarly communication as an example. The potential for various participants to overcome differences in sub-instrumental goals to achieve the greater (but less specific) common vision of open access will be explored.


Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002). Retrieved April 22, 2013 from

Keck, M. E., & Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists beyond borders: Advocacy networks in international politics. Ithaca, N.Y.; London: Cornell University Press.

Morrison, H. (2004 - ). The dramatic growth of open access. The imaginary journal of poetic economics. Retrieved April 22, 2013 from Suber, P. (2013). Open access overview. Retrieved April 22, 2013 from