Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Annex 3

OPEN ACCESS AS A MODEL FOR SCHOLARLY COMMUNICATION

SOME THOUGHTS FROM THE SOCIETY FOR ENDOCRINOLOGY

FEBRUARY 2003

OUR PERSPECTIVE AS A NOT-FOR-PROFIT PUBLISHER

  The Society for Endocrinology's charitable object is the advancement of public education in endocrinology. Disseminating research results between scholars is a direct fulfilment of this. As a charity, we do not exist for the benefit of our members, but for the "public" at large. This is consistent with the fact that, as for most learned society publishers, the vast majority of our authors and readers come from outside our membership. Thus, although our membership is about 75% UK-based, only about 8% of institutional journal sales go to UK libraries and about 13% of submissions are from the UK.

  The Society has historically derived a surplus from its journal publishing activities, despite much lower prices, and price rises, than many of its competitors. This has enabled us to fund a range of activities supporting researchers in our subject, from conferences with low or no registration fees, subsidised training days and workshops to studentships and travel grants. In our subject area, these activities have made a significant difference to our discipline, particularly in the UK, in terms of recruiting good researchers into the subject as postgraduates, keeping them there as postdoctorate researchers, and enabling them to improve the quality of their research by attending conferences (our own and others for which we provide grants) and training courses. The academic community has therefore clearly benefited (the so-called "science dividend"), but there will have been less benefit to the academic community outside the UK, and this benefit is at the expense of the library budget.

  There are steps that societies such as ours can take to reduce their reliance on journal surpluses whilst continuing to serve the academic community. However, this is likely to involve mainly shifting costs from the library budget to other budgets that can equally ill afford it, for instance if we charged commercial prices for conferences. In addition, such steps can only really apply to not-for-profit societies and do not address the dysfunctionality of the market. Any viable new business model needs to address the following points:

    —  The mismatch between funding for research and funding for dissemination of its results, as represented by library budgets. This mismatch is the root cause of the infamous serials price spiral

    —  The lack of any connection between the appeal of a journal to its end market (whether authors or readers) and its price, which some publishers (but by no means all) have capitalised on

Consortium licensing and Open Access

  The two potential solutions that are mainly being discussed are consortium licensing and Open Access. Consortium licensing 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:

    —  Whilst it alleviates the current problems, it does not address the root cause

    —  It requires substantial administrative effort

    —  It disadvantages the smaller publishers, many of whom are societies producing the leading journals in their field, often at relatively low prices

    —  It usually ties the library in for several years, reducing flexibility

OPEN ACCESS AS A POSSIBLE SOLUTION

  The Open Access model posits that authors (or their institutions/research grants) pay for their work to be published, and that online access is free to all from the outset. This is intuitively attractive to academics, who often feel that all scholarly information should be freely available: as readers, they want ease of access from any location, and as authors they want their work to be disseminated as widely as possible. These expectations are frustrated by a system that restricts access to the fraction of journals that libraries can afford.

  The mismatch between funding for research and for its dissemination could be removed at a stroke if research funding bodies included, as part of their research grants, funds for authors to pay for the publication of their results.

  The current mismatch between the price and quality of journals would be directly under attack if an author's choice of journal were influenced not only by the journal's perceived prestige and quality but also by the publication costs. Any price differentials would then be transparent to the researcher and the market would force a link between price and quality.

  Under the new model, publishers would sell a service to authors. They would be judged by the extent to which they maximised the exposure and credibility of the work they published, and by how much added value they gave the work compared with authors merely depositing their manuscripts on their institutions' web sites, for example, or on a preprint server.

  At the Society for Endocrinology, we have been enthusiastic about the Open Access model for some time. In a 1999 research document we recommended "that the academic and publishing communities begin taking action to move the funding of primary research information away from the library purchase model and towards the funding of dissemination via the research grant for each project. This would both allow for funding of information to keep pace with any increases or decreases in the funding of research, and would also allow individual research groups to choose where to submit their results in the light of both the scientific quality and the cost-effectiveness of the services available."

OBSTACLES TO OPEN ACCESS

  In order for Open Access publishing to be viable, charges to authors may well need be higher than many academics would currently expect. They will almost certainly significantly exceed the US $500 typically charged by the current experiments using this model (such as BioMed Central or the New Journal of Physics). However, as noted above, there will be greater transparency, and competition between publishers for the best authors will drive prices (and probably many publishers' profit margins) down. In addition, the fact that the libraries will no longer have to buy, store and provide access to these journals will presumably release not just the former purchase costs, but also some of the overheads associated with them

  We need to take into account that the Open Access/author pays model may not work for all subject areas or types of journal. For instance, many articles in some clinical journals are based on the authors' observations during their clinical work and have no research grants associated with them. How would these papers/journals be funded? If such papers were no longer published, clinical practice and patient care would clearly suffer. In addition, review journals are clearly not susceptible to the "author pays" model.

  The major obstacle in the case of basic research journals seems to be how we get from here to there. For Open Access to succeed there will need to be a global culture change. Funding bodies around the world will need to become willing to include an allowance for publication fees in their research grants, and publishers will need to be willing to adopt the new model. It is difficult to see how this can be effected piecemeal; an international, co-ordinated approach seems to be needed, which is likely to be difficult to achieve. All parties have grounds for being reluctant, nervous and defensive. We believe, however, that as partners in support of scientific and scholarly research, it is in our interests to work together to find and adopt the most sustainable and most cost effective model.

  As we stated earlier, we have been enthusiastic about this model for some years already. As a learned society, we consider ourselves to be part of the academic community, not an external supplier. We already make substantial amounts of information available free on our web site (www.endocrinology.org), but it's a fact of life that there are major costs associated with providing any kind of quality service, especially if we are to develop it constantly to meet new needs and standards, and we need enough funds from somewhere to cover this.

  Our "back of an envelope" calculation of the likely cost of submission and publication via Open Access is £150-200 per article for submission and £900-1,200 for publication. Of course, some individuals or institutions would still want paper subscriptions. As much of the origination costs would be covered by the submission and publication fees, the print price is likely to be more than the current run-on costs, but a fraction of current institutional prices. We had assumed that there would be resistance to the level of submission and publication fees mentioned above, but recent conversations (for instance with Fred Friend at the ALPSP/OSI Open Access meeting in October) indicate that this may not be so. We had also assumed that, as a small learned society, we would need to follow rather than lead, but if there is scope for a national (or better still, international) trial project, then perhaps the learned societies have a bigger role to play.

  Sue Thorn (Executive Director) and Steve Byford (Publications Manager), Society for Endocrinology.



 
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