Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from John Cox Associates Ltd


  1.  Scientific publishing is a global activity. The global market is worth somewhere between US $6 billion and $11 billion, of which 65% is journals. 70% of the market is academic and 25% corporate. The UK is a small component of the world market, although the UK's journal publishing industry is significant. The UK is a substantial net exporter of scientific journals.

  2.  In the past quarter century the number of scientific researchers and the number of papers published has doubled, while library budgets have increased by only 40%, and library expenditure as a proportion of overall university expenditure has fallen substantially. The output of papers continues to increase at 3% a year. The UK's problem must be seen in the context of consistent under-funding of higher education.

  3.  The journal market has been fundamentally changed by online distribution: speed of delivery, on-campus accessibility and improved functionality. 83% of scientific, technical and medical journals are now available online.

  4.  Online publishing has also enabled publishers to package journals into "collections" and introduce new pricing schemes. The "Big Deal" in which a publisher licenses its entire journal list has provided access to a wide range of journals the subscribing institution did not hold beforehand has enhanced accessibility of a wider range of literature than in the print environment, but has been criticised for:

    —  potentially marginalising small publishers; and

    —  compromising librarians' ability to select only that information relevant to the institution's needs.

  5.  Online publishing has resulted in the creation of library consortia that can use their combined buying power to negotiate better terms from publishers, to the benefit of member institutions.

  6.  The principal factor tending to restrict access to scientific journal is library funding: see 2 above. While the market is dysfunctional as price signals do not reach the real customer, the reader, better organisation of collective purchasing within the UK higher education community would yield significant benefits.

  7.  Open Access is an unproven business model for journal publishing; its efficacy and sustainability remain to be demonstrated. Nevertheless, it must be taken seriously as a challenge from both librarians and researchers to the existing subscription-based business model; the Annex is provided as a more detailed commentary.

  8.  Authors are already able to post accepted articles to their or their institution's web sites or online depositories. It is not clear that authors are taking advantage of this on a wide scale.

  9.  Legal deposit libraries provide archiving and preservation function for literature. Legal deposit has never been intended to supplant legitimate trade in scientific literature, and should not be used thus.

  10.  There is no necessary connection between changes in journal publishing and scientific fraud or malpractice.


  1.  This submission addresses the issues raised by the Science and Technology Committee from the perspective of a publishing professional of some 35 years' standing, with a consultancy practice specialising in scholarly and academic publishing, and with a client base of both publishers and libraries and library consortia in the UK, Europe and the USA.

  2.  John Cox is a publisher of some 30 years experience. A barrister by training, my publishing career has taken me to IBIS, The Open University and Butterworths. I spent a total of 20 years as Managing Director of publishing organisations at the OU, Scholastic, B H Blackwell and Carfax, a journal publisher, where I worked the establishment of CatchWord, an online publishing service company. I left Carfax in 1998 when it became part of Taylor & Francis, in order to set up this consultancy, which specialises in scholarly and research publishing strategy and content management issues.

  3.  I have been active public life, as Chairman of the Air Transport Users Council from 1986 to 1992, for which I was awarded an OBE in 1993. I am currently Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority's Air Travel Insolvency Protection Advisory Committee.

  4.  My standing in relation to this enquiry lies in my experience as a journal publisher at Carfax and as a subscription agent at B H Blackwell, and in my knowledge of the academic library community world-wide:

    —  Knowledge of university libraries and of library practices in the UK and internationally, derived from experience as a book and journal vendor at Blackwell, journal publishing at Carfax, membership of the BL Advisory Committee on Bibliographic Services and Document Delivery, frequent attendance at library conferences in the UK, USA, Australia etc, and work for libraries and library consortia.

    —  Experience in online journal publishing. Under my stewardship, Carfax launched its first online journals in 1995. From 1998, much of my consultancy work has been focused on licensing content to libraries and library consortia; this has involved assignments both for publishers and for consortia. In 1999 I was responsible for creating a suite of model licences that can be accessed on

    —  Considerable knowledge of library consortia and pricing methodologies, derived from a number of assignments on content management for both publishers and libraries and library consortia themselves, including competition analyses.


  5.  Scientific publishing is a global business. In its Information Content Industry Market Size, Share and Forecast 2000-07 report, Outsell Inc estimates that the total global content industry was worth $184 billion in 2002, of which $171 billion is represented by 200 companies. Scientific, technical and medical (STM) publishing comprised $11 billion, or 6% of the total content industry world-wide. J P Morgan European Equity Research (Scientific and Medical Publishing, 2003) estimates that the global market is worth $6 billion, of which $4 billion is scientific and technical information, and £2 billion medical. Such estimates need to be treated with caution, as the industry is fragmented and data is not systematically collected.

  6.  Because of the imprecision of available industry data, it is difficult to come to firm conclusions about the true dimensions of the market; a very rough estimate is that scientific journals make up about $4-5 billion, or £2.2-2.7 billion, of which 65% is made from journals. 70% of the market is academic, while 25% is corporate, and 5% "other" (J P Morgan).

  7.  Although STM publishing is dominated by a small number of large commercial publishers (Elsevier, Springer Business + Media, Taylor & Francis, Wolters Kluwer, Wiley, Thomson, American Chemical Society, IEEE), it is in essence a cottage industry comprising a large number of small publishers. Over half the market is in the hands of thousands of small publishers. In a report for the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) in 2002, TFPL analysed the survey results from 169 UK publishers, with a combined turnover in 2000-01 of £550+ million:

    —  64 had a journals-related turnover of less than £100,000; and

    —  only 11 had a journal turnover of more than £10 million.

  8.  The market for scientific literature is dominated by the USA, J P Morgan estimate that the USA accounts for 58% of STM literature, Europe 26% and the rest of the world a mere 16%. The UK is a small part of the global market for scientific journals. The JISC estimates that total UK University expenditure on journals is £76 million in the current year.

  9.  Although the UK is a small component of the world-wide markets for STM literature, its publishing industry is significant. As well as a wide range of learned societies publishing journals, the UK is home to major journal publishers including Taylor & Francis, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Blackwell Publishing, as well as substantial UK publishing units of international companies like Elsevier and Wiley. The UK is a substantial net exporter of scientific journals.

  10.  Scientific journals operate in a dysfunctional market. Price signals do not reach the customer. The reader may select but does not bear the cost of acquisition, while the library deploys the budget but is driven by readers' requirements. In parallel, library budgets have continued to deteriorate in relation to the volume of information they are expected to acquire.


  11.  In the 25 years following the Second World War, investment in scientific research was substantial. During this period, commercial journal publishers became significant players, as they were much more innovative in reacting to the resulting demand for scientific publishing capacity than the learned societies. At the same time, university education was rapidly expanding. The abundant resources for scientific research were matched by abundant funds for libraries collecting the resulting literature.

  12.  In the 1970s disillusionment set in. Science began to be seen as failing to deliver. It failed to solve the oil crisis in 1973. It has failed to show how we can avoid ecological disaster. We have turned away from nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. The popular regard for science in such areas as the genetic modification of crops or the safety of vaccines like MMR is low. Government support has been reduced. Nevertheless, research and development manpower has continued to grow in the last quarter century, albeit reverting to the growth rate of about 3% that prevailed before 1939. But while there are twice as many scientists in research as there were in 1975, publishing twice as many papers per year (Tenopir C & King D W, "Trends in Scientific Scholarly Journal Publishing in the United States", Journal of Scholarly Publishing 28 (3) 1997), library budgets have increased by only 40% during the period.

  13.  The output of scientific papers is still growing at about 3% a year. Overall figures show that an increase of around 100 new peer-reviewed papers a year world-wide results in the launch of a new journal. New titles result from the growth of new fields—set against the decline of others—and the overall growth rates of scientists and researchers (Mabe M & Amin M, "Growth Dynamics of Scholarly and Scientific Journals" Scientometrics 51 (1) 2001).

  14.  In the 1970s, library expenditure as a proportion of total university expenditure in the western world was running at 4% of total university expenditure. Since that time, that proportion has steadily declined. It is currently well below 3%. It is simply undeniable that university libraries have not been successful in selling the value of the library to the university community at large, and the faculty in particular. And faculty have failed to support the one facility that provides them with the literature they need for scholarship and research. The problem in the UK is compounded by the consistent under-funding of higher education over many years, which by general agreement is some £8 billion less than it should be.


  15.  The market for journals has been changed fundamentally by the adoption of online distribution of scientific journals by many publishers from the mid-1990s onwards. The benefits of online distribution are numerous, all of which improve the accessibility of published scientific research:

    —  Speed of delivery has been improved. Articles are accessible from the moment of publication, with no delays for mail or other delivery systems. This benefits UK readers in respect of journals published overseas (and vice versa).

    —  Accessibility on campus has been improved. Online journals are available on the campus network and accessible from departmental offices and halls of residence as well as in the library.

    —  The speed and functionality of the technology has improved the ability to search and locate research papers, to link from citations to the articles cited, and to link from articles to databases and other resources. Indexing of online literature has become easier and more effective.

    —  The growing availability of usage data on journals, now based on international standards, provides hard evidence on which librarians can base selection and acquisition, which will lead to information services better targeted on what is required by the institution.

  16.  One effect of online publishing has been to release publishers and their customers from the straitjacket of individual journal subscription prices that apply to printed journals. The first manifestation was licence offered by Academic Press (now part of Elsevier) in which consortia of libraries were offered online access to the whole Academic Press list for an annual fee comprising the total expenditure on Academic Press journals by libraries in the consortium plus a premium of around 10%. The benefits of the "Big Deal" is a matter of controversy:

    —  The early anecdotal evidence, from organisations such as OhioLINK, the University of Toronto in Canada, the University of Warwick in the UK and Macquarie University in Australia, is that, where a package of journals is opened up to users, the pattern of usage does not follow the journals actually purchased by the library. OhioLINK provides an example. It is a consortium that comprises 82 member institutions from research libraries to public and school libraries. Before its creation, an average of 25.1% of 4,800 key journal titles from 25 leading publishers were held on subscription. The highest holding was 55.1% at Ohio State University. By 2001 it had negotiated licences for access by all its members to some 3,700 titles, and reported on usage over three years:

      —  85% of usage came from 40% of the titles available online via OhioLINK; and

      —  52% of usage was from titles not previously held on subscription at the user's campus; at Ohio State, with a huge collection, the figure was 30%.

  Clearly the smaller libraries benefit from access to volumes of journal literature that were previously unavailable. More significantly, the major ARL libraries within OhioLINK—Ohio State, University of Cincinatti, Case Western Reserve—now regard access as more important than selection (Sanville T, "A Method out of the Madness: OhioLINK's Collaborative response to the Serials Crisis—a Progress Report", UK Serials Group Conference, April 2001).

    —  Many librarians contest the efficacy of offering large collections of journals to their readers that include many titles that would never have been held otherwise. This has come into sharper focus as budgets have tightened. In conducting a recent survey of academic librarians in the UK and the USA, I have been struck by the desire to return to individual title selection to more accurately reflect the needs of faculty and research.

    —  Many librarians and smaller publishers have criticised the range and extent of "Big Deals" effected by major publishers such as Elsevier, Kluwer, Springer, Wiley, ACS, AIP, IEEE, Blackwell as putting at risk smaller journal publishers by potentially excluding them from consortia purchases; "Big Deals" are difficult to get out of, and limit librarians' ability to select what is most appropriate for their readership. This particularly threatens society publishers with only a handful of titles (albeit key titles in their respective disciplines). The possible marginalisation of such smaller publishers is a concern shared not only by the publishers themselves but also by academic libraries worried about the sustainability of important titles that represent value-for-money. There are a number of initiatives that are attempting to compete with such deals by forming coalitions of small publishers, eg ALPSP's Learned Journal Collection (UK), and BioOne (USA).

  17.  Publishers have reacted to this controversy by offering a multiplicity of different pricing models, based on simultaneous users, size and/or type of institution, and subject-based packages that are subsets of their journal lists. Some are also experimenting with "self-select" packages in which discounts are offered on a sliding scale, depending on the number of titles ordered.

  18.  On the customer side, a notable feature of the market has been the development of library consortia, in which libraries have pooled their resources and use their combined buying power to negotiate better deals from publishers. OhioLINK was one of the first, established by the State of Ohio. Others are membership-based organisations. In my firm's work, we track the development of library consortia; there are now over 230 world-wide that actively buy scientific literature for their constituent libraries. In the UK, NESLi2 is the UK's national collective effort to license online journals for higher and further education for the period 2003-06. It has to be recorded that UK higher education has failed to establish a permanent organisational structure for collective acquisition. Moreover, it has failed to engage with major publishers in a systematic and organised manner, as compared with many other consortia, until very recently.

  19.  In 2003 I undertook a survey for ALPSP of publishing practice of a cross-section of journal publishers in the UK, Europe, the USA/Canada and Asia (Cox J & Cox L; Scholarly Publishing Practice, ALPSP 2003). Of the 275 publishers surveyed, which included all the major commercial and society journal publishers whose output dominates the acquisitions of most academic libraries, 66% responded, and their responses analysed. In relation to pricing and accessibility, the following practices were reported:

    —  57% were STM publishers.

    —  83% of STM titles are available online.

    —  The prevailing approaches to pricing individual titles are either to provide online access free with print, and/or to offer online subscriptions at a discounted price.

    —  Society publishers offer "bundles" of journals comprising the complete list more frequently than commercial publishers; many, by definition, publish only in one subject. A significant number of commercial publishers offer subject bundles or sub-sets of their lists.

    —  Many publishers are using combinations of four or five methods to establish a bundle price; this indicates that most publishers are still experimenting, and that there is no custom and practice in pricing at this stage.

    —  Most publishers base pricing for library consortia on previous print subscriptions. Discounting the full price and pricing by size (usually by the number of sites) are also widely used. Large commercial companies who have been dealing with library consortia for some time have the most uniform models.

    —  While a third of publishers license the whole journal list to consortia, without any variation, 7% will license a sub-set selected by the publisher (eg a subject bundle).

    —  34% of publishers allow the customer to select the titles they want, and then base the consortium offer on that aggregate selection.

    —  Most publishers provide active subscribers with access to the back volumes available online at no extra cost. Many small not-for-profit organisations make their journal archives freely available to non-subscribers once a set period after publication has elapsed.


  20.  The principal requirement is for more funding to equip UK academic libraries to develop complete and coherent collections to meet the needs of scientific research. This cannot be disconnected from the general issue of higher education funding. Suffice it to say that, in the context of overall government expenditure, the current journal expenditure of £76 million is very low—considerably lower than average expenditures of the principal research libraries in the USA with which the UK is competing (see Association of Research Libraries statistics on

  21.  While it may not lead to a fully functioning market, with all the checks and balances that are implied (see 7 above), the creation of a more effective consortium for the purchase of scientific literature for UK higher education would assist the HE community in securing better and more appropriate deals from publishers than has been possible via the current JISC-operated mechanisms. I believe that this would best be effected by central funding and an organisation empowered to act on behalf of the entire community, as OhioLINK and similar state government agencies are in the USA.

  22.  The machinery for the monitoring and control of competition and, in particular, the abuse of dominant power in a market by the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading should be sufficient for the management of a competitive market. There is no case for treating scientific publishing as separate and distinct from other commercial activity, if university administrators and libraries use their buying power as consumers of information.


  23.  The concept of scientific information being freely available to everyone is a seductive one. Within the past two years the "Open Access Movement" has gathered a head of steam, and has certainly engaged the attention of both librarians and many researchers. I am in the position of a sceptic, if only because open access is unproven as a sustainable business model and also because the enthusiasts for open access tend to describe its advantages in quasi-religious terms rather than in objective systemic and organisational terms. The Annex to this submission contains background information on Open Access and observations on the practical problems of making the transition from the current subscription-based business model to an open access model where the financial burden falls on the author or his agent in the form of the university or research funding agency.

  24.  The Committee should note that much of the demand for Open Access has arisen in the life sciences. The two most substantial Open Access publishers, Public Library of Science and BioMed Central, both publish exclusively within the biological and medical disciplines. In considering the efficacy of Open Access as an alternative publishing model, the Committee should explore its appeal and applicability to other disciplines.

  25.  There are two aspects to Open Access: the development of Open Access journals, and the posting of published papers in institutional depositories that are freely accessible in parallel with formal publication in a journal.

  26.  Open Access journals form a very small part of current scientific journal literature: some 700+ titles out of 18,600 active English-language peer-reviewed titles (Ulrich's Periodicals Directory, 4 February 2004). As is noted in the Annex, it is a difficult proposition to persuade an author to submit a paper to an unproven Open Access title and pay for the privilege, instead of an established high-impact journal that will publish the paper at no charge to the author. Furthermore, there are three issues that must be addressed in judging whether a transition to open access journals will serve the scientific community well:

    —  At present, non-academic purchases comprise some 25% of journal revenues—corporate, government and other non-academic libraries—while non-academic authors are much less significant as a proportion of total authorship. If open access journals establish themselves, these libraries will access the literature free of charge. The academic community will have to bear almost the entire burden of financing the publishing cycle. Even if open access publishing is less expensive than the subscription-based model, the advantage to the academy is lost by excluding revenue from corporate and other sources.

    —  Many learned societies depend on publishing revenues to finance other member activities—seminars, conferences etc. Open access may well destroy the financial underpinning of most learned society activities.

    —  Much of the information infrastructure that publishers and librarians have developed over many years will remain necessary so that the literature emanating from a fragmented publishing industry can be indexed, navigated, searched, accessed and linked together in an effective information service will remain necessary. Some open access advocates talk of "scholarly skywriting" etc (Harnad S,£8) and confuse the formal publishing process with the full range of communication between scientists that has always been a feature of the research community. It is not explained how this unstructured, anarchical, approach to disseminating the "minutes of science" benefits science.

  27.  Posting published papers to an institutional depository in parallel with formal publication involves financing a parallel information system. It requires the establishment of appropriate servers in each university and the probable expansion of JANET, the UK academic network. Most important of all, it requires the active participation of authors. In the ALPSP survey, it was found that, while most publishers require authors to transfer copyright, most also allow published articles to be posted to web sites; they are more inclined to allow posting published articles to the author's own site than their institution's (although retrieval technology makes the difference between the two minimal). Few publishers disallow the re-use of authors' material within the academic institution, subject to proper acknowledgement of the journal and publisher. Publishers are not inhibiting posting to institutional depositories; authors have, in general, not yet been persuaded that this is a desirable thing to do.


  28.  Legal deposit has always been intended to preserve the publishing output of the nation for future generations, and never to supplant the legitimate trading activities of publishers. It is quite antithetical to the interests of orderly scientific publishing to propose to use Legal Deposit electronic publications to circumvent copyright. It would amount to the theft of material in which the publisher has invested substantially. It has never been intended that legal deposit should be used for purposes other than the maintenance of the archive.


  29.  There is no necessary connection between changes in journal publishing business models and the controls necessary to detect and eliminate malpractice. The system of peer-review is not perfect—particularly in cases of deliberate fraud—but it has been in place for over 300 years and has served the scientific community well. It is, of course, undertaken by scientists for scientists, and is facilitated by the publisher by funding the process and providing administrative support. It is difficult to see how a largely self-regulated academic process is likely to be put at risk by changes in scientific publishing.

  30.  There is a very slight risk that Open Access publishing, in which the author or his/her agent funds publication, may weaken the integrity of peer review. If the publishing process is funded by the author, there is a potential for the exercise of undue influence on editors anxious to build the flow of papers for publication in their journals. In the current subscription-based publishing system, the flow of money is wholly divorced from the process of review and acceptance for publication. In Open Access publishing, the flow of money to support the enterprise is very closely linked to acceptance for publication.


  31.  The market for online journals is still in a process of development and experiment; it is less than 10 years old. Publishers are still grappling with the implications of migrating from a print to an online publishing environment. For the foreseeable future, publishers' journals will be available in both modes. Nevertheless, there are some important indicators:

    —  Four out of five scientific journals are now available online; almost all will be in the near future.

    —  Pricing models are still at the experimental stage, and are still tied to the print price. This is likely to be eroded as publishers feel more confident of the market for online journals.

    —  Access to journal back volumes is becoming an integral part of the online product.

    —  Although most publishers still require journal authors to assign copyright, the author is not restricted from using the work for personal or institutional purposes, including open depositories.

  As a matter of competition law, publishers are properly prevented from co-operating to create pricing models. As a result, the market is inundated with different approaches to pricing and packaging access to online journals. A process of convergence in policy and practice is likely, although it is not clear how quickly stable and predictable business practices will emerge. Much will depend on the vigour with which libraries demand appropriate pricing mechanisms from their suppliers.

February 2004

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