Memorandum from the Society for Endocrinology
The Society for Endocrinology is a learned society
and registered charity, based in the UK. We are members of the
Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP)
and support their submission. This submission is intended to shed
additional light by giving the perspective of a group that operates
as part of the academic community as well as providing services
to that community. The Society is fairly typical of societies
in the life sciences sector and can be taken as representative
of the sector as a whole in many ways. The exception is that the
Society for Endocrinology has more diverse sources of income (ie
in addition to publishing) than many societies, a large number
of which would not survive if there were a major, discontinuous
change in the pattern of their publishing income.
1. WHAT LEARNED
Our services are typical of many such societies:
1. Publishing three peer-reviewed journals
(plus two for other societies)
2. Organising two major subsidised UK conferences
each year (800-1000 and 400-550 delegates)
3. Organising the national training courses
in endocrinology for physicians and nurses
4. Organising certificates of education in
endocrinology for young scientists and for nurses
5. Providing a major web site (www.endocrinology.org)
with substantial amounts of free information for researchers and
6. Publishing a newsletter for members
7. Funding grants for postdoctoral research
in the UK (in recent years we have been funding three postdoctoral
8. Funding grants for postgraduate students
in the UK (we have funded up to three postgraduate studentships
9. Providing grants for young researchers
to attend conferences and training courses that are essential
to their work but which are not funded by their regular funding
10. Providing input to government and higher
education consultations, and to the National Institute of Clinical
11. Providing grants to patient support groups
that help patients with endocrine diseases
12. Working with the media to ensure that
coverage of endocrine topics is accurate and balanced
13. Dealing with public enquiries
14. Creating a sense of community and focus
in order to strengthen the UK scientific and medical community
In common with many such societies, the majority
of our members (almost 80% in our case) are in the UK. Many of
our services are entirely or mainly for the benefit of the UK
academic community and for the advancement of public health and
education in the UK. On the other hand, for our journals, typically
only around 15% of articles submitted are from UK research groups
and only about 9% of the subscriptions are sold to UK institutions.
Our journals have an international submission and subscription
base and are therefore important both in bringing the work of
UK research groups to an international audience and in generating
revenues to be used for supporting other services in the UK.
Somewhat unusually, the Society for Endocrinology
also has a trading subsidiary, BioScientifica Ltd, which provides
all the above services to other medical and scientific societies,
including publishing two learned journals. It also provides products
and services to the pharmaceutical industry, most of which are
From the above it can be seen that journal publishing
is a major activity, but by no means the only service provided.
It is also clear that there is a complex interlinking between
services, particularly financially. Most of the services listed
above cost money (items 4 -14 above generate little or no income
and items 2 and 3 are usually subsidised to some degree), whereas
journal publishing currently generates some funds, which are then
in turn fed back into the community. Even then, one of the three
journals (the one with by far the highest impact factor and therefore
the highest quality) cannot generate a surplus without additional
sales to the pharmaceutical industry, which are unpredictable.
This is therefore sometimes subsidised by the other two.
The two key points here are that, typically
for the sector, the UK is a net beneficiary of this society financially,
and also that all the elements of the system are interlinked in
complex ways so that any change to the income base of the journals
needs to be handled in a carefully-considered way in order not
to damage the whole academic system.
Print publications, whether educational or not,
are zero-rated for VAT. Electronic publications attract standard
rate VAT, which UK universities cannot currently reclaim. Not
only does this counter any savings from taking electronic-only
subscriptions, but it has a knock-on effect on all subscriptions
to a journal once electronic-only is offered as an option. This
is because, although while all electronic editions are given free
with the print subscription, the whole is deemed to be zero-rated,
as soon as it is possible to buy the electronic edition without
print, part of the cost of "print plus electronic" subscriptions
will be deemed to attract VAT, thus increasing the costs even
for those UK universities that have not moved away from the `print
plus electronic' option. This means that publishers who feel a
particular responsibility to the UK academic community are hindered
from offering electronic-only subscriptions to any client because
of this penalty to the UK community.
4. THOUGHTS ON
The Society for Endocrinology is very open to
new ways of working. As a learned society our mission is to provide
high-quality, cost-effective information and other educational
services to our academic community, by whatever means are cost-effective.
Thus, we do not have a commitment to current publishing practices
in the way that many commercial publishers do. Our priority is
to provide what our researchers and clinicians need, and we are
happy to change the framework of our journals or other services
as required. Open access seems to us a promising opportunity.
Before going on to answer your specific questions,
we would like to summarise the main reasons why there is a problem
that needs the Select Committee's attention. In the view of the
Society's Publications Committee there are two main factors:
4.1 In the last half-century or so, the
provision of funds for carrying out research has far outstripped
the funds to buy the output of that research. At the same time,
it is essential for all research to be published in order to be
validated and available to one's peers. This is not to deny that
some publishers have charged large prices for their journals and
made substantial annual increases, but this is not true of all
publishers. Certainly in many subject areas the learned society
journals, which often have the highest impact factors, are more
moderately priced than their commercial competitors. See annexes
1 and 2 for an explanation of impact factors and for examples
of comparative impact factors and prices in our sector.
4.2 There is currently no link between the
responsibility for choosing which journal to publish in and to
read (the academic's choice) and responsibility for the purchase
budget. Most researchers have little or no idea of the comparative
prices of the journals available to them. This has certainly fostered
a climate where some journals can have prices that are orders
of magnitude higher than those of their competitors without suffering
any loss of subscriptions. Indeed, their ability to spend lavishly
on promotion, financial support to editorial boards and so on
may even give an advantage in some cases. Open access would bring
value for money into the equation as one of the decision factors
in where to submit research, along with quality and reputation.
This is likely to be more of a factor with the quality journals
that sit just below the market leaders (often US societies).
5.1 What impact do publishers' current policies
on pricing and provision of scientific journals, particularly
"big deal schemes", have on libraries and the teaching
and research communities they serve?
Consortium licensing, whether "big deal"
or other, has the advantage that, in principle at least, there
is a straightforward route to it from the current model, and considerable
predictability for both publishers and librarians. However, it
does have disadvantages as well.
For the research community, the advantage is
access to a greater amount of research material than before. The
disadvantage is that this access is not always to material of
the researcher's choice, nor necessarily to the best material
in their field. Thus, either the material, although available,
may not be used, or it may be used despite not being the best
quality research available. The latter case would arguably prejudice
the quality of the work of younger researchers, in particular.
For the library, it has the advantage of predictability
and, as most deals are set up with the very large publishers,
a few negotiations will open up access to many new journals. However,
most deals tie the library in for several years and thus tie up
a major part of the budget. Therefore, the improved access to
journals, some of which are either not of the highest quality,
or are perhaps not even in a relevant subject area, may lead to
an inability to purchase more important journals, especially if
the market leaders are published by societies and other small
publishers that are less able to join in the consortium negotiations,
which is certainly true in the life sciences.
For the learned society publishers, especially
the majority who are relatively small, consortium licensing is
a party that we can seldom attend. There is a substantial administrative
overhead, for one thing, and libraries are also understandably
reluctant to spend time negotiating with societies that have only
a handful of journals. Add to this that a substantial proportion
of the library budget is committed to "big deals" and
we are more likely to be subject to cancellations irrespective
of our high quality. Examples have been given in the USA where
70% of a library's journal budget was committed to the biggest
three or four publishers. As consortium licences often carry an
additional charge of around 10%, this could reduce the money available
for all other journals from 30% to 23%, a drop of 23%.
Lastly, although it may alleviate the current
problems, it does not address the root cause of these problems.
5.2. What action should Government, academic
institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive
market in scientific publications?
As can be seen from the ALPSP and Publishers
Association (PA) submissions, the cost of producing open access
journals is likely to be substantial. Appendix 5 of the PA submission
quotes figures ranging from $3,500-4,000 for unsubsidised production
of a single article. Our view is that figures of £150-200
for submission charges (the cost of handling peer review, payable
whether the article is accepted or rejected) plus £900-1,200
publication charge (payable only for those articles accepted)
seem likely to be about right for science and medical journals.
The figures may be less in some other subjects. These sums will
need to come out of the grants, so it is imperative that the UK
grant bodies are encouraged to allow the inclusion of such sums
in grant applications; also that these sums, if included, should
only be used for that purpose. This would avoid the risk that,
during the introduction of open access, if some journals charge
the author and some do not, the author will submit to the journal
with no charges and thus penalise the open access journals whilst
bolstering those that support the old system.
We understand that the National Institutes of
Health in the USA, a major funder of biomedical research, only
allows researchers to use the publication cost elements of its
grants for publication with not-for-profit organisations. As mentioned
above, in many subjects, this would not only equate to better
value-for-money, but would also include the most prestigious journals,
as well as ensuring that any surplus is used for the benefit of
the academic community and the public. An equivalent system in
the UK would allow the transition to open access without too much
risk to the complex interconnectivities described abovealways
providing the journal in question was considered to be of high
5.3. What are the consequences of increasing
numbers of open-access journals, for example for the operation
of the Research Assessment Exercise and other selection processes?
Should the Government support such a trend and, if so, how?
Open access is not the issue. Quality control
of electronic articles is the issue. Articles should be usable
for RAE provided they are peer reviewed to a high quality. The
current journals system has a form of "grading" of journals,
quantitatively by impact factor and qualitatively by prestige
in the eyes of researchers. Whether these journals are in print
or electronic, paid by subscription or by open access publication
fee, should not affect their quality for RAE and other assessment
purposes. However, if material on preprint servers, repositories
etc is to be considered by the RAE, there will be issues of how
to judge quality and how to "grade" one article relative
5.4 How effectively are the Legal Deposit
Libraries making available non-print scientific publications to
the research community, and what steps should they be taking in
It is our understanding that it is not currently
the role of the legal deposit libraries to use their free subscriptions
for the research community outside their own institution. However,
there could be scope to set up a UK-wide system, similar to the
now-defunct Pilot Site License Initiative (PSLI), whereby, for
an agreed single fee, the whole UK academic community could have
electronic access to all or most journals, free at point of use.
Many publishers were disappointed that the promising PSLI three-year
trial was not rolled out to a full-scale project.
5.5 What impact will trends in academic journal
publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?
Fraud and malpractice will be easier with systems
that are not peer-reviewed and, perhaps most dangerously, on the
sorts of repositories and university web sites where refereed
and unrefereed material may be mixed. Boundaries may be blurred
and busy academics may not always realise that one item is "quality-stamped"
by peer review and another is not.
Another risk, though not intentional malpractice,
is the push to use of the "most easily available" articles,
rather than the best-quality articles, as mentioned in section
5.1 when discussing consortium licensing.
6.1 Electronic publishing of journals and
open access are two different issues.
6.2 There are issues specific to electronic
publishing that the committee may wish to consider, notably permanence
of access as software and platforms change and as journals and
publishers change hands. There may well be a role here for the
legal deposit libraries, particularly the British Library.
6.3 There are also economic issues, notably
the libraries' dwindling ability to supply a good range of information
(although the committee is aware that this assertion is disputed).
This may be exacerbated by effects on competitiveness of the recent
merger trend towards a few very large and powerful publishers,
and the effect of some large publishers' high prices on the libraries'
ability to buy other journals, which may be lower-priced and of
equal or higher quality. This is in turn made worse by the "big
deals" that tie a substantial proportion of the library journal
budget to a few large publishers, who may not be the ones that
use their money to support the UK research community. These factors
disadvantage the small publishers, who are often offering high-quality
material at fair prices and also using their surpluses to support
the academic community.
6.4 In discussing whether it could or should
promote open access, the committee will need to be informed about
the substantial difficulties that lie in the way of a transition
to this model, bearing in mind that the typical journal publishes
material from researchers in many countries, all of which have
different funding systems and priorities. Annex 3 contains an
article on open access that briefly outlines some of these issues.
6.5 The committee should consider what can
be done to address the VAT anomaly outlined in section 3 above.