Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Oxford University Press

  Oxford University Press participated in preparation of the submissions made to the committee by Oxford University, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, and the Publisher's Association, and we support the main recommendations contained within each of these submissions. At the request of the committee, we are also submitting this short memorandum to supplement these three submissions to provide some further details regarding the main questions posed by the committee.

  OUP is a medium-sized journals publisher, with 180 journals across a broad range of subjects including humanities and social sciences as well as science and medicine. Around 60% of our journals are published in collaboration with learned societies or other organisations. According to the OFT investigation into the market for stm journals, our market share of ISI-rated journals is around 1%.

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?

    —  Our policies are designed to be as scholarly- friendly as possible in order to achieve the widest possible dissemination of research results, consistent with the need to cover costs and produce sufficient surplus to enable OUP and our publishing partners to continue to provide a high quality publishing service for the scholarly community.

    —  OUP offers our customers a wide range of choices concerning access to the material published in our journals. Individual titles may be purchased in print or online formats (or a combination of the two). In addition libraries may purchase online access to a number of subject collections of journals, or the entire corpus, at heavily- discounted prices. We also offer pay per view facilities for purchase of individual articles, reduced rate subscriptions for individual researchers, and free or heavily discounted subscriptions to libraries from developing countries.

    —  Over the past few years we have invested heavily to improve our online publishing and IT infrastructure systems and this investment, together with our international reach and flexible pricing policies, has led to an increase of 250% in the number of article downloads over the past two years, (from 9 million in 2001 to 23 million in 2003), and a consequent reduction in the average cost to our customers of more than 40% during the same period (from £2.85 per download in 2001 to £1.24 per download in 2003).

2.   What action should Government, academic institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific publications?

    —  OUP faces competition from other publishers, both commercial and not- for-profit, for authors, customers, and the right to publish key journals on behalf of their scientific society owners. We believe that the market will decide on the best business model(s), without the need for further regulatory intervention. Of course publishers are always subject to application of competition rules to prevent anti-competitive practices and abuses of dominance (see conclusions of OFT 2002 report). If problems arise, there is already an effective regulatory regime in place to rectify the problem.

    —  We support the calls made in other submissions for VAT on online products to be removed, or for educational and research institutions to be given "special status" exempting them from VAT on electronic provision, in order to encourage a move to "online only" distribution with consequent cost savings for both publishers and libraries.

    —  The current lack of a secure, permanent, third party archive, is the other major barrier preventing libraries in the UK from moving to online only access (see question 4).

3.   What are the consequences of increasing numbers of open-access journals, for example on the operation of the Research Assessment Exercise and other selection processes? Should the Government support a trend and if so how?

    —  OUP believes that a variety of different pricing models are necessary and that no one model is likely to be able meet the requirements of the wide range of journals that we publish. Since open access publishing does not yet represent a viable model in that no publisher employing this model has yet managed to cover its costs, a period of experimentation seems prudent to help to decide whether open access can deliver on all of the benefits that its proponents have claimed.

    —  We are therefore conducting experiments with two journals to investigate the potential benefits of open access publishing. One journal, Nucleic Acids Research, has begun to publish some articles under an author-payment model. Although this experiment has been supported by a majority of authors we have also heard concerns expressed by well-funded researchers on behalf of their less-fortunate colleagues in small laboratories or from developing countries. Inevitably, any subsidy offered to authors unable to pay would need to be recovered through higher submission charges for those who can afford to pay. For the other journal, Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine; an author-funded model is inappropriate because a large proportion of contributions are expected to come from developing countries. For this publication we have managed to secure sponsorship to make all of the research articles available on open access, whilst the other material published in the journal will be made available under a subscription model.

    —  We share many of the concerns about open access publishing that are set out in the Oxford University, ALPSP and PA submissions. In particular, we are concerned that under an author-payment model only well-funded researchers might be able to afford to publish their work, particularly in subject areas where research is conducted largely without the support of research grants (such as Mathematics and much of the Humanities).

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 this respect?

    —  OUP has in place arrangements with the British Library for all of the material published in our journals to be made available to any researcher who needs it, either in print or electronic form, for a per article fee. Walk-in users to the British Library (and any subscribing library) can also view all print and online publications free of charge

    —   Publishers and libraries have been working together to develop guidelines and working practices to ensure that the scientific record is preserved for future generations. The main barrier to developing these archives appears to be lack of funding available to the legal deposit libraries to build the necessary technical infrastructure. If this were in place it would facilitate a move towards online only- access, with consequent cost-savings for both publishers and libraries.

5.   What impact will trends in the academic journal market have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?

    —  Despite high-profile cases, such as publication in the Lancet of the research by Wakefield on MMR, we believe that whatever publishing models might emerge it is vital to preserve the practice of peer review. In our experience peer review is a critical tool in the detection of scientific fraud and malpractice, in addition to its primary role in assessing and improving the quality of research publications.


  In order to reduce barriers to accessing scientific information published in subscription-based, online journals we propose that the Committee should recommend that:

    —  funding for the purchase of online access to research should be increased in line with increases in research funding;

    —  VAT on online journals should be abolished, or educational and research institutions should be exempt from payment of VAT;

    —  funding should be made available for the creation of a permanent electronic archive.

February 2004

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